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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

April 5, 2024

As one who, back in 1976, accepted the commission to produce a successor to Eberhard Hempel’s Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965; 370 pp., 200 bl/w ills.), but, with the realisation that I lacked both the time and some of the necessary languages to accomplish the task, had to give it up, I am lost in admiration of the achievement of this book. It is shorter, and its compass is admittedly narrower, than Hempel’s – it does not cover Hungary, Poland, or Switzerland, nor does it specifically cover architecture (but one of its great strengths is that it discusses and illustrates the architectural context of the sculpture) – but it deals with almost all the major sculptors of the period, and situates their work within the wider context of European sculpture of the age. Drawing on the author’s personal area of expertise, as exemplified by her catalogues of European ambers, and Baroque and later ivories, in the Victoria & Albert Museum, it deals with small-scale sculpture, which is not only virtually entirely absent from Hempel, but also – to the best of my knowledge – never previously integrated with the study of monumental sculpture in a general survey in this way.

The book consists of seven sections, dealing respectively with Sculpture in South Germany 1600-40 (which also looks at some of its antecedents); Small-Scale Sculpture and Patronage in Berlin and Vienna:1630-1700; The Court of Saxony in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries; Munich and Bavaria in the Late Seventeenth and First Half of the Eighteenth Century; The Mid-Eighteenth Century in Bavaria; Sculpture in Prague c.1650-1750; and Sculpture in Vienna, Gurk, Würzburg and Trier. Ceramics. Just in this last chapter, as its heading indicates, is there a certain lack of cohesion. Only sculpture in Bohemia beyond Prague (though full importance is given to Kuks and the extraordinary sculpture in Bethlehem Wood – entirely omitted by Hempel, because then quite overgrown) and in Silesia fails perhaps to get its due (Oldřich Blažíček’s Rokoko a konec Baroku v Čechách and – extraordinarily – the catalogue of the pioneering exhibition for this country in the author’s own museum, Baroque in Bohemia, are absent from the bibliography).

Hempel’s book is entirely devoid of colour illustrations, which, for the Baroque, is the equivalent of monaural music. This book, by contrast, is both lavishly and intelligently illustrated in colour. The illustrations are often whole-page, and show something such as an interior or an altar or pulpit as a whole, alongside a single figure or group of figures in them. A succession of altars on both sides of the church, each almost always with flanking figures, is one of the essential architectural elements of Baroque churches in South Germany and Austria (so it would have been useful, though it is only illustrated in black-and-white, and covers more than just the Baroque and Rococo, to have included Richard Hoffman’s Bayerische Altarbaukunst (1922) in the bibliography). One of the finest products of the Gesamtkunstwerke created by the combination of Johann Michael Fischer as architect, with sculptors and fresco-painters from Bavaria, Swabia, and the Tyrol, and stuccadors (I prefer this Italian-derived term to ‘stuccoists’ ) of Wessobrunn though it is, however, the twelve illustrations devoted to the interior, altars, and sculpture, of the Benedictine church of Rott am Inn do seem excessive. The colouring of the illustrations of the Asamkirche also seems slightly awry.

But it would be extremely inappropriate to end this review on a negative note. What still needs to be said is how fluently this book is written, and how sheerly readable it is. For a subject as complex and unfamiliar as Central European Baroque and Rococo sculpture, that is a remarkable achievement.

Marjorie (Holly) Trusted, Baroque Sculpture in Germany and Central Europe 1600-1770, Harvey Miller Publishers, London/Turnhout, 2022. Hardcover, 288 pp., with 3 black and white & 215 colour illustrations ISBN 978-1-909400-95-5. £50.