Neumann, Balthasar (1687–1753)

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NEUMANN, BALTHASAR (16871753), German architect. Born in Eger (western Bohemia, now Cheb, Czech Republic) to an impoverished weaver, Neumann was trained in a foundry and also learned about hydraulics and techniques of fireworks display. In 1711 he settled in Würzburg (southern Germany), where he developed his career as an architect and city designer as well as military officer. This coupling of professions occurred often at this time because military training included surveying and drawing, geometry, and mathematics, disciplines basic to the practice of architecture. Neumann's major clients were members of the Schönborn family, important political and ecclesiastical leaders within the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire and major patrons of the arts. Neumann's extensive practice included several score churches, almost two dozen palaces, other secular and utilitarian structures, and urban projects.

His buildings comprise some of the most complex and sophisticated explorations of architectural space ever created in the West. In them, space is shaped by open, curved, elegant frameworks and vault shells, rather than being shaped by the continuity of wall. Their space is transparent and lucid, charged with direction and counterpoint, the unexpected, and the startling. Huge windows deluge the interiors with light, which Neumann orchestrated with dramatic certainty. He promoted the integration of painting, statuary, stucco, color, gilding, metalwork, and carving to amplify spatial splendor and specify its meaning. This conception of design contrasted with traditional practice in the West, where continuous surfaces defined the interior. Only at moments during the Byzantine and medieval periods and in seventeenth-century Italy and France did the relation between mass and space depart from this norm. In the twentieth century, modern architecture would again be based on continuities of open, transparent space and lightweight, minimal (though reticulated) structure. A curvilinear architecture was recovered later, in the twentieth century, but based on different geometries than those employed by Neumann and his contemporaries.

Neumann's most ambitious secular structure is the Residenz in Würzburg, with which he was involved from the beginning to the end of his career. The imposing Residenz, which served both the court and government of the principality, was a statement of political prestigethe impressive representation of a well-organized, wealthy state. Based on a C-shaped plan, the centers and corners of the facade were marked by projecting pavilions, and the entire exterior was painted and gilded, giving it a festive appearance. For the major public areas inside, Neumann created one of the grandest sequences of spaces known in the West: a rectangular vestibule large enough for coaches, an oval garden hall, a grandiose stair spanned by a single vault, an elaborately stuccoed white hall, and the spectacular throne hall. This sequence of spaces served rituals of arrival and reception for important visitors to the principality.

Neumann's churches are greater in number and design variety than his almost two dozen palaces, in which the epic power of his architectural language is boldest. He employed a range of design strategies to achieve extraordinary spatial compositions, exploring relations between spatial figures, their arrangements within differently shaped outer shells, and lucid transparencies of the whole. He choreographed movement in the architecture (and for the user), orchestrated light, and promoted the elaboration of all his innovations by means of various artistic media such as painting, sculpture, stucco, and gilding. His great pilgrimage church at Vierzehnheiligen (17431753; completed 1772) and monumental Benedictine monastery church at Neresheim (17491753; completed 1792) are two of his most spectacular churches.

Neumann also undertook urban design projects for Würzburg, including its water system, transforming the walled medieval town into a representative Residenz city. Throughout Franconia, he built houses, monasteries, hospitals, a hotel, a city hall, a courthouse, and miscellaneous religious structures as well as fortifications for several towns, barracks, bridges, gardens, and fireworks displays.

Neumann worked within the design traditions for secular and sacred architecture that extend back into the sixteenth century. Even the more recent phenomenon of an architecture based on space composition had become an accepted approach among Neumann's central European contemporaries such as the Asam brothers and Johann Michael Fischer (16921766), the Vorarlberg architects, and the Dientzenhofers. But Neumann accepted this common ground only as a point of departure for explorations of architectural space that showed astonishing range and brilliance. With consummate authority, he combined clarity with complexity in plan and section. He boldly charged interiors with light and dematerialized mass, and thrust both into powerful encounters with space. Neumann orchestrated spatial experiences for the beholder in ways that were at once striking, lucid, and imposing, gradually revealed, demanding, and human, thereby transforming standard architectural assemblages into unique and bold statements.

See also Architecture ; Art: Artistic Patronage ; Baroque ; Dientzenhofer Family .


Aus Balthasar Neumanns Baubüro, Pläne der Sammlung Eckert zu Bauten des grossen Barockarchitekten. Exh. cat. 1987.

Balthasar Neumann in Baden-Württemberg: Bruchsal, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Neresheim. Exh. cat. Stuttgart, 1975.

Freeden, Max H. von. Balthasar Neumann: Leben und Werk. 3rd rev. ed. Munich, 1981.

Hansmann, Wilfried. Balthasar Neumann: Leben und Werk. Cologne, 1986.

Schütz, Bernhard. Balthasar Neumann. Freiburg, 1986.

Christian Otto

Neumann, Johann Balthasar

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Neumann, Johann Balthasar (1687–1753). German architect and military engineer, one of the greatest of the late-Baroque and Rococo eras. He worked mainly in Franconia under the aegis of the Schönborn Prince-Bishops in the areas around Bamberg and Würzburg, where his brief covered responsibility for all military, religious, and secular architecture. His first significant major architectural work was on the new Residenz (Seat of the Court) at Würzburg from 1719, although Johann-Dientzenhofer, Hildebrandt, de Cotte, Boffrand, and von Welsch were all consulted about the design. Hildebrandt's influence is clear in the great central pavilion (the roof and pediments resemble his Belvedere in Vienna), the Kaisersaal (Emperor's Hall), the Chapel, and the fine Treppenhaus (stair), although Neumann seems to have finalized the designs about 1735. With its ceiling painted (1750–3) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770), the stair at Würzburg is one of the most splendid of the Baroque period, comparable with Neumann's other ceremonial stairs at the St Damiansburg Palais, Bruchsal (1728–50), and Schloss Augustusburg, Brühl, near Cologne (1740–8). All three are spacious, ingenious, breathtakingly beautiful, and elegant.

Neumann's churches are many and invariably interesting. His first was the Schönborn Mortuary Chapel attached to the Romanesque Cathedral, Würzburg (1721–6), an adaptation of a building begun to designs by von Welsch. Among other ecclesiastical works were the Parish and Pilgrimage Church, Gössweinstein (1729–39), the Residenz Chapel (Hofkirche), Würzburg (1730–43), the Collegiate Church of St Paulinus, Trier (1734–54), the Pilgrimage Church of the Visitation of Mary (called the Käppele), Würzburg (1740–81), and the Parish and Mortuary Church of Sts Cecilia and Barbara, Heusenstamm, near Offenbach, Hesse (1739–56).

His celebrated Pilgrimage Church (Wallfahrtskirche) of the Assumption of Mary, Vierzehnheiligen (Fourteen Saints), Franconia (1742–72), had been started on site, but the spot where the Fourteen Helper Saints are said to have appeared was left in the middle of the nave rather than in the chancel as intended. Neumann turned this error to advantage, creating a large elliptical space around the Nothelfer (Helper in Time of Need) shrine, within a basically cruciform-basilican plan, and making the nave and chancel five overlapping ellipses, three of which had their long axes on the centre-line of the church, and two at right angles to the main axis. The transeptal arrangement consisted of one of the two ellipses at the crossing, with intersecting circles at either end. The resultant interlocking vaults have almost a Gothic flavour about them, but this is disguised by the sumptuously joyous Rococo decorations, with which Neumann had no connection whatsoever. It was Johann Jacob Michael Küchel (1703–69) who supervised (1762–3) the construction of the vaulting of the church, and contracts were signed (1763) with Franz Xaver Feichtmayr (1698–1763), Johann Michael Feichtmayr (1696–1772), and Johann Georg Üblhör (1703–63). for the stucco decorations. However, the deaths of two of these in 1763 left J. M. Feichtmayr in charge of the execution of the stucco-work, and Giuseppe Appiani (c.1701–c.1786) painted the frescoes. The lovely Gnadenaltar (Altar of Grace), a Rococo tour-de-force resembling a sedan-chair covered in marine encrustations and standing within an elliptical space to the west of the crossing, was designed (1762) by and made by J. M. Feichtmayr and Üblhör (it was completed in 1764). Neumann has been praised to the skies for this lovely building (notably by Pevsner), but the beauty of the interior owes much to those identified above, and the plan itself resembles Guarini's Santa Maria della Divina Providenza, Lisbon (1656–c.59), published in the latter's Architettura Civile (1737). However, Neumann may have evolved his plan by way of Dientzenhofer's churches in Prague, which he had visited in 1738.

Larger and grander was the huge Benedictine Abbey Church at Neresheim, near Nördlingen (1745–92), completed after Neumann's death by Dominikus and Johann Baptist Wiedemann. It is a Wandpfeiler church, but with seven ellipses, two each in nave and choir, one in each transept, and a large one over a vast space at the ‘crossing’. In Neresheim spatial interpenetration is eloquently demonstrated, as it is in many of Neumann's creations, especially his three great stairs and, perhaps most effectively of all, at Vierzehnheiligen. His son, Franz Ignaz Michael von Neumann (1733–88) was a pioneer of fire-resistant roof-construction, and proposed an early system of stiffened concrete vault-construction for Neresheim that was not implemented.


Brinckmann (1932);
Freeden (1952, 1963, 1981);
Hitchcock (1968a);
Hubala (1987, 1989);
Korth & Poeschke (eds.) (1987);
Ortner (1978);
C. Otto (1979);
Pevsner (ed.) (1960);
Reuther (1960);
Teufel (1953, 1957);
Jane Turner (1953

Balthasar Neumann

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Balthasar Neumann

The German architect Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753) created some of the finest baroque buildings of the 18th century for the Schönborn family in central Germany, notably the Residenz in Würzburg and the church of Vierzehnheiligen.

In the great flowering of the arts which took place in central Europe during the early decades of the 18th century, it was largely in the field of architecture that the most famous achievements were made. The greatest architect of the time, it is acknowledged, was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach of Vienna. His spiritual heir was Balthasar Neumann, who, working for the powerful Schönborn family, key figures at the imperial court and rulers of several important principalities within the Holy Roman Empire and passionate builders all, was provided with almost limitless possibilities to display his talents.

Neumann was born in January 1687 at Eger (Erlau) in Bohemia, the son of a clothier. He was trained as a cannon and bell founder but apparently showed such promise that he was sent to Würzburg to study civil and military engineering, as well as to continue his work in the foundries. In 1714 he enlisted in the palace guards at Würzburg as a lieutenant of artillery; he served in the imperial forces in the Belgrade campaign of 1717 as a military engineer.

After 3 years of travel Neumann returned to Würzburg, where, with the architect Johann Dientzenhofer, he shared responsibility for planning the future episcopal palace, which the Prince-Bishop Philip Franz von Schönborn had decided to build in place of his residence in the fortress of Marienburg overlooking the city. This enterprise occupied Neumann for most of his life and was the crowning achievement of his career.

The Residenz

Although Neumann's control over the planning of the episcopal palace was anything but absolute at the beginning, for the prince-bishop sought advice about it every-where—from his relatives, from other German architects like Maximilian von Welsch and Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, and even from the French architects Robert de Cotte and Gabriel Germain Boffrand—Neumann gradually won the confidence of his patron and served as the stabilizing influence and coordinator of all their suggestions and alterations, adding his own ideas as well to the general scheme. It is chiefly Hildebrandt's influence, particularly in the treatment of surfaces, that predominates over all the others. The result of this collaboration was a huge building complex, with a cour d'honneursurrounded on three sides by blocks with inner courts, the central block accentuated by the large octagonal dome over the main hall, and the exterior facades enlivened by pavilionlike projections. The palace chapel, designed by Neumann and decorated by Hildebrandt (begun in 1730), has a basic plan of intersecting ovals, and its almost bewilderingly rich interior decoration is in marked contrast to the relatively plain exterior of the building.

In the great stairway, which Neumann began in 1737, he revealed his special talent, the manipulation of dynamic space. A single flight of stairs leads from the ground floor to the landing, where two flights then lead up and back to the main floor. In this huge space, for the ceiling is unsupported by arcades or columns, the visitor only gradually becomes aware of the size of the stairway hall and of the vastness and complexity of the fresco decoration executed by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1752-1753). In his representation of the four continents he created his finest fresco. On the cornice before the personification of Europe, he portrayed Neumann in his military uniform, seated on a cannon, one of the more appealing portraits of the period. The stairway lacks the elaborate balustrade which Hildebrandt certainly planned for it, and the rich effects he had intended have been diminished. This is not the case in the Marble Hall, which serves as the climax for the whole stairway, where the huge enclosed oval space is enriched with splendid stucco ornament and with frescoes by Tiepolo (1750-1752).

At Schloss Bruchsal (destroyed), where Neumann was called to work in 1728 after much of the palace had been done, he was able to continue his work on stairways. Here he constructed (1731-1732) an oval landing joining the staterooms, with the stairways encircling it as they ascend, presenting a rather enclosed feeling until one arrives at the spacious and elaborate landing on the main floor. He was able to resolve, again, the problem of the stairway (1740) at Schloss Brühl by lightening the supporting walls of the upper flights with arches, thus giving a spacious effect to the whole lower level of the stairwell. The stairs seem to float in the air as they rise upward to the richly decorated upper level, topped with an oval dome pierced with windows.

Church Architecture

During the 1740s Neumann began his two greatest churches: the pilgrimage church of Vierzehnheiligen near Bamberg, and the abbey church at Neresheim in Swabia. The church at Vierzehnheiligen (1743-1772) was to have, as its central element, an altar built over the spot where the 14 saints known as the Helpers in Need had appeared in a miraculous vision. At first it was thought that the church should be built on a central plan, but Neumann's design for a longitudinal-plan church with the altar under the dome over the crossing was accepted. The builder entrusted with the construction began the chancel incorrectly, and Neumann had to step in and alter his plan, so that the altar was now in what would have been the nave. He skillfully resolved this unfortunate situation by breaking the nave up into ovals; in the center of the largest oval was the altar, thus giving the impression that it is, indeed, in the center of the whole edifice.

This concern with blending a central-plan church with a longitudinal nave, so fortuitously worked out at Vierzehnheiligen, found its fullest expression at Neresheim, Neumann's last great church (1747-1792). Here the longitudinal oval of the crossing grows out of the ovals of the transepts and the two ovals which make up the nave and the two of the deep chancel, yet the whole is broken up in such a way that one sees only a vast and intricate articulated space over which the dome seems to float. Although altered somewhat after Neumann's death, it still is the purest expression of his architectural ideas.

Other Activities

Throughout his life Neumann remained an officer in the bishop's military and continued to concern himself with problems of military engineering. He also developed a freshwater supply for the city of Würzburg (1730), built a glass factory and a mirror factory (1733), and taught military and civil engineering at the University of Würzburg.

Neumann was fairly prosperous, the owner of vineyards and a fine country house. Although under the less splendid successors of the Schönborn bishops he was not always able to build as he would have wished, he continued to concern himself until his death with plans for great palaces, complete with vast and complex stairways, such as his designs for the Hofburg in Vienna (1747) and the palaces at Stuttgart (1747, 1749, 1750) and Karlsruhe (1749), none of which were executed. He died, a colonel, in Würzburg on July 18, 1753.

Further Reading

The only literature on Neumann in English is contained in Nicolas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959); John Bourke, Baroque Churches of Central Europe (1962); Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965); and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Rococo Architecture in Southern Germany (1968). □