Fischer Von Erlach, Johann Bernhard

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FISCHER VON ERLACH, JOHANN BERNHARD (16561723), Austrian architect and sculptor. Born near Graz, Fischer initially trained as a sculptor and stucco worker with his father, a decorator of castle interiors for southern Austrian nobility. He moved to Rome in 1670, where he apprenticed with Philipp Schor (b. 1646), a member of a Tyrolean family of artists who designed sculpture, interiors, gardens, and ephemeral architecture for special events. He was also drawn into the learned circle of Christina, the former queen of Sweden (ruled 16321654), whose members included the exceptional sculptor, painter, and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680), famous for his monumental Piazza of St. Peter's in Rome; antiquarian and theorist Giovanni Pietro Bellori (c. 16161690), who served as Christina's librarian; composer Alessandro Scarlatti (16601725); and philosopher, scientist, and archaeologist Athanasius Kircher (1601?1680). Within this rich cultural setting, Fischer grew into a learned architect, who, after returning to Vienna in 1685, created a distinctive imperial architecture that promoted the aspirations of the Habsburg court.

In Vienna, once the Turkish siege was ended in 1683, a new confidence within the imperial court, the aristocracy, and the general citizenry generated a building boom that rapidly changed the city from a bourgeois, fortified frontier town into an imperial capital. Fischer, ennobled as Fischer von Erlach in 1696 and appointed court architect in 1704, was a crucial figure in this transformation. He translated the experience that he gained in Rome designing pageants and processions, and his familiarity with the theatrical productions promoted by Queen Christina, into a remarkable architecture. He organized his buildings to engage spectators and participants as they approached, entered, and moved through them, heightening the drama of gateways, spatial sequences, and of the buildings within the existing circulation patterns of the city. For the interiors, hedrewonseventeenth-centurystagepractices to orchestrate light, shade, scale, and color. Fischer employed this architectural theater to shape the functions and messages of the buildings for their various users.

From 1687 on, Fischer was involved with imperial commissions, working in succession for emperors Leopold I (ruled 16581705), Joseph I (ruled 17051711), and Charles VI (ruled 17111740). One of his most important projects was the vast building and grounds of Schönbrunn Palace outside the city (begun 16881690, resumed in 1693, with the gardens begun in 1695 but never completed, and the palace built 16961700). Another was his scholarly work, the ambitious Entwurff einer historischen Architektur (Outline for a history of architecture), which he began in Rome and used as the basis for tutoring the future emperor Joseph I in architecture beginning in 1689; the Entwurff was published in 1721. He worked as well for the court aristocracy, among them the Dietrichstein, Liechtenstein, and Althan families, and in Salzburg he undertook an extensive group of projects for Johann Ernst, Count Thun, prince-bishop of Salzburg, 16871709: the Kollegienkirche (university church, 16941707), a new hospital and church for the poor north of the city (Johannesspital), a theological seminary and church (Dreifaltigkeitskirche [Church of the Holy Trinity]), and a girls' school for Ursulines (Ursulinenkirche, 16991705, and nunnery, 17071726).

Fischer's two great projects in Vienna were the Karlskirche (built 17161737) and the Hofbibliothek (imperial library), which he began the year before he died (built 17221736); both were finished by his son Joseph Emanuel. The Karlskirche was commissioned by the emperor in thanksgiving for the deliverance of Vienna from the plague in 1713 and dedicated to St. Carlo Borromeo, the emperor's name saint, renowned for attending to the plague-stricken in his Milan bishopric. The library was designed as part of the Hofburg, the extensive Habsburg palace within the city, whereas the church stood on a hill outside the walls overlooking the city. Both employed heraldic symbols, primarily paired columns (two sets within the library, and one monumental pair as part of the church facade). Fisher's design for the church combined architectural elements from his Entwurff : a Roman temple facade for the portico, versions of Trajan's column for the paired columns, a dome derived from St. Peter's, the combination of columns and dome from Hagia Sophia, and Chinese temples for the end pavilions. The emblem of twin columns flanking the imperial crown, with the motto "Plus Ultra" (Farther beyond), was created for Holy Roman emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556) and adopted by the Habsburgs thereafter, to refer to the Pillars of Hercules (that is, Gibraltar in Spain and Mt. Acha in northern Morocco, flanking the Strait of Gibraltar, gateway to the New World). It served as a statement of the Habsburgs' belief in a destiny of world empire, as gateway to the realm of learning, and as entrance to the heavenly realm. Charles VI, the last Holy Roman emperor descended directly from the Habsburg line, provided the twin columns with a new motto, "Constantia et Fortitudine" (With constancy and fortitude), the Latin translations of the names of the two pillars in front of the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem. The unique use of the Hebrew letters of the name of God in the glory over the Karlskirche altar extends that reference. Fischer was here functioning both as scholarly expert in Habsburg heraldry and the history of sacred architecture, and as the architect of the most important building in the imperial capital (Dotson).

Fischer's city palaces for members of the Habsburg court all employed a traditional rectangular form, as established in earlier Viennese palaces by Italian architects. His innovation was bold sculptural frames for the central portals that employed the vocabulary of pageant architecture and of theater to suggest independent triumphal arches breaking the facade plane. The portal design was extended to entrance halls and stairwells in "dramatic successions of lighted, shadowed, and half-lighted spaces with brilliantly illuminated climax at the end" (Dotson).

See also Bernini, Gian Lorenzo ; Charles VI (Holy Roman Empire) ; Christina (Sweden) ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Joseph I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Leopold I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Vienna .


Aurenhammer, Hans. J. B. Fischer von Erlach. London, 1973. The only book-length study of Fischer in English.

Dotson, Esther Gordon. J. B. Fischer von Erlach (1656 1723): Architecture as Theater. Exh. cat. Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Chicago, 2002. The most informative new understanding of Fischer's architecture.

Lorenz, Hellmut. Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. Zurich, 1992.

Chris Otto

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach

views updated May 11 2018

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723) was the greatest architect of baroque Austria. He blended Italian baroque ideas with French classicism and created an architecture magnificent enough to express imperial authority and grandeur.

On the upsurge of the arts that took place in central Europe after the lifting of the siege of Vienna (1683) and the subsequent expulsion of the Turks from Hungary and the Balkans, Austria, as the hereditary home of the Hapsburgs, and through them of the Holy Roman Empire, enjoyed what was probably its most important and splendid period of artistic development. Inspired by French and Italian examples, enough native artists appeared on the scene to compete with the Italians, who had dominated the arts north of the Alps since the Renaissance. Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach was one of the first figures in this group and certainly the most imposing.

Fischer was born in Graz on July 18, 1656. (When the artist was ennobled in 1696, von Erlach was added to his name.) The son of a Styrian sculptor, Johann was trained as a sculptor by his father. After a lengthy sojourn in Rome (about 12 years, it is believed), Fischer returned to Graz in 1687 and immediately found employment executing stucco decorations in the interior of the ducal mausoleum.

Fischer's study of architecture led to his appointment as instructor to the heir apparent of the crown, Archduke Joseph (later Joseph I), in civil architecture. While thus occupied Fischer also designed two triumphal arches for the entry of the Emperor into Vienna and, from 1690 to 1694, the Althan Palace at Frain (Vranov) in Moravia. This palace, his first important building, was particularly noteworthy for the large oval Great Hall, a form that became almost his trademark. The high dome of the room, pierced by oval windows, was decorated in fresco by Johann Michael Rottmayr.

Imperial and Princely Palaces

In 1696 Emperor Leopold I commissioned Fischer to design a new palace for Archduke Joseph at Schönbrunn on the outskirts of Vienna. The architect had submitted a plan, the famous "first project," some years earlier. It combined Italianate and French ideas with some suggestions from Fischer's studies of ancient site planning and was perhaps the most audacious design for a palace to come out of the baroque period. Obviously intended to overshadow Versailles, it placed the palace at the top of the hill at Schönbrunn, with huge ramps and stairways leading up from the entrance to the main building, which took as its inspiration Gian Lorenzo Bernini's design for the Louvre facade. The "first project" was too daring and grandiose even for the Emperor, and Fischer had to produce a more conservative design, with the palace at the foot of the hill, and only elaborate formal gardens leading up to a small summerhouse at the top. This plan was executed between 1696 and 1700, but much of it was changed some 40 years later for Maria Theresa.

Fischer was also employed by the prince bishop of Salzburg, for whom he produced some of his best church designs, including the Church of the Holy Trinity (1694-1702), the Ursuline Church (1699-1705), and the University Church (1696-1707). In Vienna he built a large number of palaces, such as the Winter Palace for Prince Eugene of Savoy (1695-1698), later altered by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, Fischer's greatest rival; the Batthyany Palace (1699-1706); the Trautson Palace (1710-1712); the Bohemian Court Chancellery (1708-1714); and the Rofrano Palace (now Auersperg; 1721-1722).

As court architect, Fischer was in charge of all works under three emperors, and for the third, Charles VI, the last of the male Hapsburgs of the main line and the father of Maria Theresa, he produced his two most famous works, the Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles Borromeo) and the Hofbibliothek (Imperial Library). During this time Fischer was also working on a scholarly work dealing with the great buildings of the past as well as some of his own, called Entwurfeiner historischen Architektur (A Plan for a History of Architecture), which he presented to Charles VI in manuscript form on his accession to the throne in 1712. It appeared in print, in an enlarged and fully illustrated version, in 1721, and it is as much a monument to Fischer's erudition as his buildings are to his talent. On the basis of descriptions and his own observations he reconstructed such buildings as the Forum of Trajan in Rome, the palace in Persepolis, the Porcelain Pagoda in Nanking, and Stonehenge in England.

The Karlskirche

In 1715 Fischer received the commission for the church, vowed by the Emperor in 1713 for the deliverance of Vienna from the plague. This is Fischer's masterpiece and one of the outstanding architectural creations in Western art. Using the oval form again, he designed a church that was to be seen on a height outside and above the city proper, as much a monument to imperial glory as to Faith triumphing over disease.

Drawing on his knowledge of the monuments of architecture past and present, Fischer placed before the church with its high drum and cupola a low facade incorporating French classicistic elements and references to the broad facade of St. Peter's in Rome. Probably inspired by the minarets of Moslem mosques (and those of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople), he placed high Roman triumphal columns on either side of the entrance, with reliefs depicting scenes from the life of St. Charles, similar to those on the columns of Trajan and Antoninus Pius in Rome. The broad low front over which the huge dome hovers, flanked by the columns, achieves an interplay of vertical and horizontal movement and a projection and recession of forms that give an almost unparalleled grandeur to the whole.

The Hofbibliothek

Fischer did not live to see the Karlskirche completed; it was finished by his son, Joseph Emmanuel Fischer von Erlach (1693-1742). The same is true of Fischer's other great architectural achievement in Vienna, the Hofbibliothek, begun in 1722.

If the "first project" for Schönbrunn is one of the most daring plans of the whole period for a palace and its setting, and the Karlskirche one of the greatest churches, the Great Hall of the Hofbibliothek is certainly one of the period's greatest secular interiors. Here Fischer again used the oval cupola form but set transversely to the length of the hall. The exterior, following French ideas closely, for all its simplicity clearly reveals the interior arrangements, and it is dominated by the central dome (the projecting side wings enclosing the square in front of the main building are later additions). The interior blends the monumental with the practical in the high open bookshelves (inspired by Francesco Borromini's libraries in Rome) and the interrelation of the central space with the adjacent vaulted side halls. Like the first design for Schönbrunn and the Karlskirche, the significance of the building is not only the obvious one based on its function but is also a glorification of imperial power—in this case its patronage of the arts and sciences.

Fischer died on April 5, 1723. His son, Joseph Emmanuel, in spite of Hildebrandt's efforts to the contrary, took over his father's official position and commissions and completed the Hofbibliothek in 1735.

Further Reading

The best study of Fischer von Erlach in English, and one of the best books on Austrian baroque art, is Hans Aurenhammer, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1972). Based on the author's catalog of the commemorative exhibition of 1956-1957 in Graz, Vienna, and Salzburg, it far exceeds, in scholarship and interpretation, the monograph in German by Hans Sedlmayr, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1956). Fischer is discussed in surveys of central European art, such as John Bourke, Baroque Churches of Central Europe (1958; 2d ed. 1962); Nicolas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959); and Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965). □

Fischer von Erlach, Johann Bernhard

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Fischer von Erlach, Johann Bernhard (1656–1723). Distinguished Austrian Baroque architect. He studied in Rome from 1671, where he became acquainted with the work of Bernini and Carlo Fontana, and developed an interest in Antique objects and architecture. After the defeat of the Turks in 1683 and the rise of Austria as a European power, Fischer settled in Vienna. He designed Schloss Frain, Moravia (1688–95), with its elliptical hall clearly influenced by his Roman stay, and shortly afterwards he developed the theme in his three Salzburg churches. At the elliptical Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Holy Trinity Church—1694–1702) the long axis is that of the entrance-high-altar, while (owing a debt to Guarini) twin towers flank a concave front (a theme derived from Borromini and Rainaldi's Church of Santa Agnese, Rome, although the middle of the façade was influenced by the work of Hardouin-Mansart, and the basic plan by Vignola's Santa Anna dei Palafrenieri, Rome). His mastery of synthesis was demonstrated, and he may also have been influenced by Zuccalli's Salzburg churches. Then came the Kollegienkirche (College or University Church—1694–1707—a mixture of the longitudinal and central church-plan, with a soaring cupola over the central space) and the Johannesspitalkirche (St John's Hospital Church—1699–1704—where influences from Borromini are again apparent). While in Salzburg he designed the exquisite high-altar (1709) for the Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church). The Ursulinenkirche (Ursuline Church—1699–1705) is also attributed to him. These Salzburg buildings, in a sense, were trial runs for the Karlskirche (Church of St Charles), Vienna (from 1715), with its Antique Roman portico, biblical allusions to the Temple of Solomon (enhanced by the twin Trajanic columns doubling as the Pillars of Hercules and Jachin and Boaz), elliptical central space crowned by a cupola, and wide front, one of the most original and powerful designs of the entire Baroque period. Mention should also be made of his Electoral Chapel next to the choir of Breslau (now Wroław) Cathedral (1715–24): it mixes Palladian and Borrominiesque themes, again exploiting the ellipse.

His secular architecture includes the Town Palace of Prince Eugen of Savoy (1663–1736) in Vienna (1696–1700), influenced by Bernini and Le Vau, the Palais Clam-Gallas, Prague (1713–c.25), designs (only partly realized, and much altered) for Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna (from 1696), and the Hofbibliothek (Court Library), Vienna (1722–30), one of the finest Baroque rooms in Europe. At both the Karlskirche and the Hofburg (Imperial Palace) much of the work was carried out by his son, Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach (1695–1742). Johann Bernhard's Entwurff einer historischen Architektur (Outline of Historical Architecture—1721) appeared in English as A Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture in 1730, and was among the first books to include illustrations of Egyptian and Oriental buildings, although the images were fanciful in the extreme. Nevertheless, they had a profound influence on later generations, and especially on Boullée.


H. Aurenhammer (1973);
Bourke (1962);
Brucker (1983);
J. Curl (2005);
Fischer von Erlach (1964);
Fuhrmann (1950);
Lorenz (1992);
Polleross (1995);
C. Powell (1959);
Sedlmayr (1996)

Erlach, Johann Bernhard Fischer von

views updated May 17 2018

Erlach, Johann Bernhard Fischer von (1656–1723). See Fischer.

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Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach

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