Asam, Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin

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Asam, Cosmas Damian (1686-1739) and Egid Quirin (1692-1750). Brothers; German Architects and Painters.

Sons of a painter in the style of the Italian Baroque, the Asam brothers were born and grew up in Bavaria. They were apprenticed to their father, Hans Georg, with Egid Quirin also training in sculpture in Munich. Cosmas Damian, and probably Egid Quirin, went to Rome in 1711, after their father’s death, for two years. There they attended the Accademia di S. Luca, where Cosmas Damian was awarded the first prize for his brush drawing of the Miracle of St Pius and Egid Quirin studied the works of Bernini. Cosmas Damian married on his return to Germany while the deeply religious Egid Quirin remained celibate throughout his life. During their careers both held court appointments and worked on large-scale commissions. Cosmas Damian subsisted mostly under ecclesiastical patronage and his brother entirely. All of their numerous collaborations were on ecclesiastical projects. Cosmas Damian died in Munich the same year he built a chapel on his own estate and Egid Quirin died in Mannheim, reputedly through sustaining a fall from a scaffold while working on stuccowork and frescoes in a Jesuit church. The Asam brothers are less renowned for architecture as such, not having trained formally in architecture, than for their other respective crafts. The only churches on which they collaborated in both decoration and architecture were the abbey church at Weltenburg, on the river Danube near Regensburg (the interior completed finally in 1735), and the church of St Johann Nepomuk in Munich (interior completed in 1746) –also known as the Asamkirche. The latter particularly evokes a private, intimate atmosphere and creative conception. It was the personal shrine of Egid Quirin, constructed in the middle of a row of houses bought by him in 1729 for this purpose and representing the bulk of his fortune. The roof was elevated in order that Cosmas Damian’s ceiling fresco could be illuminated without obstruction from the adjoining houses. The St Johann Nepomuk church displays to a high degree the harmonious and cooperative combination of the arts of architecture, painting, sculpture and stucco. In this it is doubly a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), being a fine combination of arts and being wrought through a complete collaboration of two inspired craftsmen, brothers in trade and in fact. Outside of the sphere of religious worship, Cosmas Damian worked on a number of castles and private houses, producing, for example, the staircase fresco at Schleissheim castle near Munich in 1720 and the fresco in the oval room Alteglofsheim castle near Regensburg in 1730. His altarpieces more than his frescoes reflect his father’s training in Roman Baroque painting, exhibiting a greater tendency towards chiaroscuro. As his career progressed Cosmas Damian’s colour schemes grew bolder while he retained his sense of the dramatic enaction in art of theological concepts. Egid Quirin likewise involved the spectator, particularly in his superb statuary groups. Even apart from their collaborative Gesamtkunstwerk, the Asam brothers severally imparted a lasting and portentous individualism to the German Baroque.

Further Reading:

B. Rupprecht, Die Brüder Asam, 1980.

Kevin O’Regan