Hildebrandt, Johann Lukas von

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Hildebrandt, Johann Lukas von (1668-1745): Italo-Austrian architect.

A practical architect rather than theorist, Hildebrandt moved from his birthplace Genoa to a Roman training with the Engineering Corps in military and civil architecture in the 1690s and went on to appointment as Engineer to the Viennese Imperial Court in 1700. He held several important offices but in his earlier years failed to make as much an impression at court as his chief rival the Court Architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. Though he inherited the position from Erlach upon the latter’s death in 1723, the appointment of Erlach’s son as the new Court Engineer ensured the continuation of the rivalry. In addition to his Viennese commitments Hildebrandt travelled widely across central Europe owing to his frequent involvement in several projects at once. He was ennobled in 1720 and, though achieving rather more than normal distinction as an architect, was mercurial in character (especially in the matter of the Erlachs) and had occasional monetary difficulties. He also had epilepsy and, later in life, failing eyesight. Though retaining his honorable title of Chief Court Architect, Hildebrandt was in the years approaching his death considerably less able to participate in activities the title would suggest. In his first known undertaking of significance, what is now the Schwarzenberg palace in Vienna, begun in 1697, Hildebrandt made good use of his military training to the extent that he used the full range of open ground available to him on site. Both Hildebrandt’s original plan and Erlach’s minor revisions to it in 1716 owed something to a palace by Guarini in Turin, which Hildebrandt had studied first-hand. Guarini also influenced Hildebrandt in the design of churches in Austria and Bohemia. The period after 1713, when Hildebrandt was obliged to concede the office of the head of the Imperial Works to Erlach, is often delineated as his mature phase. His work here is, to begin with, usefully seen in contrast to that of Erlach (senior). While Erlach’s austere formalism in design may be seen as reflecting the spirit of court officialdom and power, Hildebrandt’s work can be seen as closer to the ordinary citizens of Vienna. This is evident in the proportion of the private houses he built to his public and ecclesiastical commissions. The key here was Hildebrandt’s sharing of the concerns of some of his contemporaries, such as Neumann, Johann Balthasar and Prandtauer, for the effect of an interior as the end result of a thoughtful blending of architectural and decorative elements. One of the features of his work this gave rise to was his striking treatment of walls, which were no longer merely structural but combined horizontal planning with drama, especially in the use of lighting. Hildebrandt thus ably transplanted his experiences and procedures from the private sphere to public buildings. They helped him conceive and execute staircases, a typical preoccupation of Baroque architecture, in innovative ways. His legacy to official Viennese architecture alone makes him preeminent as a figure whose work reached broad and imaginative standards.

Further Reading:

B. Grimschitz, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt 2 vols., 1959.

Kevin O’Regan

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