Dientzenhofer Family

views updated Jun 11 2018


DIENTZENHOFER FAMILY. Architects active in Bavaria and Bohemia, six members of this extended family are associated with over 250 buildings: the five brothers, Georg (16431689), Wolfgang (16481706), Christoph (16551727), Johann Leonhard (16601707), and Johann (16631726); and Christoph's son, Kilian Ignaz (16891751). In the churches that dominate their oeuvre, they created spatial sequences by means of curved, open forms in which plan, elevation, and vaults are woven into works of complex counterpoint.

Georg built the large Cistercian monastery and church at Waldsassen, the pilgrimage church nearby known as the Kappel bei Waldsassen, and St. Martin in Bamberg. The Kappel (16841689) consists of three apses, a triangular vault, three campanili, and a low ambulatory. Inside, the three curved spatial units are united into a centralized whole. Drawing on a broad architectural inheritance of medieval, Slavic, and folk traditions, Georg's exploration of architectural space produced an original achievement that set the tone for his brothers' buildings.

Wolfgang was responsible for brilliantly stuccoed wallpier churches in Bavaria, among them Michelfeld, Speinshart, and the pilgrimage church Maria Hilf in Amberg. The wallpier, a buttress drawn into the body of the church, permitted a skeletal structure and thin, nonsupporting walls as the bases for spatialized interiors. His tentative explorations of this potential would be developed by Christoph.

Leonhard served as court architect in Bamberg, designing large complexes such as the new Residenz, and the monasteries at Ebrach and Banz. His severe if precise elevations, reminiscent of work from the 1670s and 1680s in Prague and Vienna, suggest a conservative architectural attitude. On the other hand, his projects for centralized churches exhibit a lively, inventive approach to design.

Johann was responsible for the cathedral and palace in Fulda, and the imposing palace at Pommersfelden; he was appointed Bamberg court architect after Leonhard's death, and built the church at Banz. Johann, the only brother to receive a formal architectural education, later traveled to Rome for further study. At Banz, he employed transverse ovals, curved entablatures and vault ribs, and narrow and wide bays arranged in counterpoint to the vaults, to develop a range of spatial possibilities. The distinctive feature of the great palace at Pommersfelden is its dominant, projecting center, which contains a grand staircase and imperial hall above. This architectonic assertion of ritual and prestige would resonate in Middle European palace architecture, as at Neumann's Würzburg Residenz.

Christoph and Kilian Ignaz, father and son, worked primarily in Prague, where their two churches of St. Nicholas, one in the Lesser Town and one in the Old Town, remain decisive shapers of the urban setting. In many of his churches, Christoph centralized longitudinal plans. For the monastery church of St. Margaret at Brevnov (on the outskirts of Prague), he employed two transverse ovals bracketed by smaller ovals and extended at one end by a choir. The bays in elevation and vault are reversed in relation to one another, the vault is interpreted as two shells (one open to the other), piers and entablatures curve into the space, and walls are thin, curved planes. The whole, including the vault frescoes and liturgical furniture, is lucid and transparent, a spatial complexity realized with consummate ease.

Among Kilian Ignaz's many centralized churches, St. Nicholas in Prague is extraordinary. Set on a narrow site in the heart of town, the flank is treated as a two-towered facade with an idiosyncratic entrance and polygonal dome. At right angles and to one side of the flank is the main entrance, to the other the choir apse. Inside, piers, chapels, balcony, and pendentives are organized vertically below the octagonal dome, forming a dominant centralized counterpoint to the strong horizontal axis running from entrance to altar. Here the duality of center and path, of skeletonized forms and multiple sources of light, create an intensely expressive architecture.

Both father and son worked on St. Nicholas in the Prague Lesser Town. Christoph designed the facade and nave, Kilian Ignaz the choir. The nave is defined by deep wallpiers, chapels, and gallery. Pilasters on the pier faces are placed obliquely to support vault arches that twist across the nave, so that the reading of a bay established in elevation is reversed in the vault. These spatial dynamics were made more unusual when, shortly after completion, the ribs were removed and the vault transformed into a single undulating surface for an extensive fresco. Kilian Ignaz further expanded the interior by adding a huge dome supported on paired columns and vertical pendentives, extended on three sides by shallow transepts and choir. Part of a large Jesuit complex, the church stood within a large space. Christoph's undulating facade dominated the square on one side, while on the choir end, overlooking the Charles Bridge and the Old Town, Kilian Ignaz constructed a bell tower, asymmetrically, next to the dome. This unique combination creates an urban ensemble in which dome and tower dance about one another as they are experienced from different locations within the city.

See also Architecture ; Baroque ; Neumann, Balthasar .


Die Dientzenhofer, Barocke Baukunst in Bayern und Böhmen. Exh. cat. Rosenheim, 1991.

Heinrich, Gerhard Franz. Bauten und Baumeister der Barockzeit in Böhmen: Entstehung und Ausstrahlungen der böhmischen Barockbaukunst. Leipzig, 1962. Classic study of the Dientzenhofer family within the context of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Bohemian architecture.

K. I. Dientzenhofer, seznam dila a texty k ilustracim. Exh. cat. Prague, 1989.

Christian Otto

Dientzenhofer Family

views updated May 17 2018

Dientzenhofer Family. Master-masons and architects originally from Bad Aibling, near Rosenheim, Bavaria, they made an enormous contribution to the complexities of Baroque architecture in Germany and Bohemia. Georg (1643–89) built the Cistercian Abbey Church at Waldsassen (1682–1704) to designs by Leuthner (who seems to have given the Dientzenhofer clan their chance to rise above artisan status, possibly for family reasons, as he married Anna Dientzenhofer in 1678). Georg also designed the Pilgrimage Church (Wallfahrtskirche) of the Holy Trinity at Kappel, near Waldsassen (1684–9), with a triapsidal plan and three slender cylindrical towers, an unusual arrangement clearly intended to symbolize the Trinity. It was completed by his brother Christoph (1655–1722), who was strongly influenced by the geometries of Guarini (published in 1686), and who designed several churches of great splendour in Bohemia, including St Joseph, Obořiště (1699–1712), the Chapel in the Castle, Smiřice (1700–11), Sv Mikuláš (St Nicholas), Malá Strana, Prague (1703–11), and Sv Markéta (St Margaret), Břevnov, near Prague (1708–15). Christoph's uses of ellipses mixed with the Wandpfeiler arrangement made his interiors particularly complex, and demonstrate how he synthesized motifs drawn from Borromini and Guarini. His beautiful façade of the monastery of Our Lady of Loreto, Hradčany, Prague (1717–23), has a central belfry, one of the most elegant in Central Europe.

Wolfgang (1648–1706) is remembered for several buildings, notably the Abbey Church of Speinshart (1691–1706) and the Pilgrimage Church at Straubing (1705–7), while Leonhard (1660–1707) was responsible for the abbeys at Ebrach (1686–1704) and Banz (1695–1705). However, Johann (1663–1726) completed Banz, designing the Abbey Church there (1710–19) in which complex interlocking ellipses (not unlike Christoph's scheme at Obořiště) again feature, contributing to an interior of great beauty, arguably the finest design by any Dientzenhofer. Johann's first great church was the Stiftskirche (Monastery Church now Dom (Cathedral)) at Fulda (1704–12), with echoes of St Peter's, Il Gesù, Sant'Ignazio, and (especially) Borromini's remodelling of San Giovanni in Laterano, all in Rome. Johann Dientzenhofer worked at Pommersfelden, near Bamberg, in 1711, and there, for Lothar Franz, Graf von Schönborn (1655–1729), Elector-Archbishop of Mainz and Prince-Bishop of Bamberg, built Schloss Weissenstein, one of the noblest Baroque palaces in Franconia (1711–18), with a stupendous symmetrical Treppenhaus (staircase—partly designed by Hildebrandt and von Schönborn himself) rising in a vast galleried hall the full height of the building.

Christoph's son, Kilian Ignaz (1689–1751), trained with his father and with Hildebrandt. He may have been partly responsible for completing the latter's stunning Church of Maria Treu, Vienna, but the first building for which he was solely responsible was the Villa Amerika, Prague (1715–20), which has obvious Hildebrandtian echoes. He collaborated with his father in the building of the Prague Loreto, Hradčany (1721–4). His Ursuline Church of St Johann Nepomuk, Hradčany (1720) and the Pilgrimage Church at Nitzau (Nicov—1720–6) represent his earliest independently designed churches, but in both buildings Hildebrandt's plan for St Lawrence at Gabel (influenced by Guarini) is synthesized with the Dientzenhofer family's much-used Wandpfeiler theme. At the noble Church of St Johann Nepomuk am Felsen (Sv Jan na Scalce), Prague (1729–39), Kilian Ignaz's mastery of Baroque rhetoric, drama, and plastic modelling is admirably expressed. His Church of Sv Mikuláš (St Nicholas, Staré Město, Prague (1732–7) ), has astonishing originality and fluency, with a complex central space surrounded by ellipses: the twin-towered façade is parallel to the long axis. Elliptical elements again form the basis of the plan of Sv Majdaléna (St Magdalena), Karlovy Vary (1732–6). He added the beautiful cupola (1750–2) and tower (1755) to his father's Church of Sv Mikuláš, Malá Strana, Prague. Among his last churches, St Florian, Kladno (1746–8), and St John the Baptist, Paštiky (1748–51), show a tendency towards restraint and simplification.


Bourke (1962);
Büchner (1964);
Dientzenhofer (1991);
H. Franz (1942, 1943, 1943a, 1962);
H. Hegemann (1943);
E. Hempel (1965);
Kreisel (1953);
N S (1968, 1986, 1986a);
Swoboda (ed.) (1964);
Vilímková & and Brucker (1989)