A masterpiece of German Rococo, the Residence was commissioned by two prince-bishops, the brothers Johann Philipp Franz and Friedrich Karl von Schonborn, as an Episcopal palace. Its construction between 1720 and 1744 was supervised by several architects, including Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt and Maximilian von Welsch. However, the Residence is mainly associated with the name of Balthasar Neumann, the then young and unknown creator of its remarkable Baroque staircase.
Born in Venice, the Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) is considered the last great master of Venetian art. He created numerous altarpieces and frescoes for churches, castles, palaces, and villas in Italy and Germany. Almost all the interior decoration of the Würzburg Residence was created by Tiepollo, including magnificent ceiling frescoes in the Imperial Hall and above the staircase, or Treppenhaus, completed from 1751 to 1753.
The Residence is such a fine example of German Rococo that it had a style named after it: Würzburg Rococo. Typical of this style are the vast trompe-l’ oeil painted ceilings and large, domed rooms. The term Rococo is derived from the French word rocaille, meaning “rock-work,” a decorative trend for both interiors and facades featuring abstract, shell-like forms and curves. Trees, flowers, and Chinese scenes were among the most popular motifs. Stucco craftsmen and woodcarvers became as revered as architects and painters for the quality and splendor of their work.
Many of those involved in the building of the Würzburg Residence were members of the Schonborn family, a powerful 18th-century dynasty of princes and electors on the rivers Rhine, Maine, and Moselle. Among them was Johann Philipp von Schonborn, who became prince-bishop of Würzburg in 1719. He was succeeded by his brother, Friedrich Karl, one of the chief instigators of the Würzburg Residence project. The brothers engaged renowned architects and painters from all over Europe for what was to become a Gesamtkunstwerk — a unique synthesis of various branches of the arts into a total experience. The Residence was devastated by a fire during World War II and underwent a painstaking 27 milion-dollar reconstruction program between 1950 and 1987. Today, 40 rooms are open to the public, with a splendid array of 18th-century furniture, frescoes, tapestries, and other treasures.
This room is naed after a tapestry depicting the Venetian Carnival. Further ornaments include decorative panels with paintings by Johann Thalhofer, a pupil of Rudolph Byss.
The work of the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the largest fresco in the world adorns the vault of the staircase. It is an allegorical depiction of the four continents.
This low, vaulted hall, supported by slender marble columns, has Rococo stuccowork by Antonio Bossi dating from 1749. There is also a painting on the ceiling by Johan Zick, dating from 1750, depicting The Feast of the Gods and Diana Resting.
The centerpiece of the palace, the sumptuous Kaisersaal features 20 half columns in red stuccowrk, each almost 29 ft (9m) high, and a large oval dome. The three ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo testify to the close relationship between Würzburg and the Holy Roman Empire.
Antonio Bossi’s stuccowork rests on a pale gray background in this almost colorless room, which was designed to contrast with the brightly colored Treppenhaus and the glittering Imperial Hall.
The interior of the court chapel (1743) is richly decorated with paintings, sculptures, and stucco ornaments. The side altars were designed by the architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt and feature paintings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
Arms of the Patron
The richly decorated facade by Johann Wolfgang der Auwery bears the personal arms of Friedrich von Schonborn, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg.
A fountain, designed by Gabriel von Seidel, was constructed in the parade square in front of the Residence om 1896. It was funded by donations from the inhabitants of Würzburg.
This oblong room (1772) with stucco reliefs by Materno Bossi was used as a dinning room, games room, and a concert hall.
Tiepolo was not without a sense of humor: on the Treppenhaus fresco he included a portrait of the architect Balthasar Neumann dressed as an artillery officer and with his dog by his side.
1720-44: Building of the Würzburg Residence.
1732-92: The Residence garden is laid out and landscaped.
1751-53: Decoration of the Residence with ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo.
1765: Ludovico Bossi oversees the decorative stuccowork in the stairwell.
1945: The palace is damaged in a bombing raid during World War II.
1981: The Residence becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2003: The restoration of Tiepolo’s Treppenhaus frescoes begins.