Neumann, Johann Balthasar

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Neumann, Johann Balthasar (1687-1753: German Architect.

Johann Balthasar Neumann achieved his fame as Germany’s major Rococo architect of court and ecclesiastical residences and churches. He was a major innovator of architectural concepts in central Europe, inspiring palace and church design in Vienna and Stuttgart.

Neumann was the seventh child born to Hans Christoph Neumann, a weaver, and Rosina Grassold. The family lived in Eger (later to become Cheb), Bohemia. The young Neumann started a career in his godfather’s foundry at the age of thirteen. Pursuing an apprenticeship in this trade brought him to his adopted city of Wurzburg in 1711.

Neumann’s interests expanded beyond the skills of his trade at an early age, and he broadened his education to include the study of architecture, geometry, and surveying. He continued his training as an architect in the corps of engineers, under the tutelage of Andreas Muller. Neumann’s subsequent military experience led to his commission as Captain of the Engineers in 1718.

In 1719 the newly elected prince-bishop of Wurzburg, Johann Philipp Franz Graf Schonborn, appointed Neumann the master builder of his palace complex. The palace was one of Neumann’s greatest achievements and led to a period of great productivity under the sponsorship of the Schonborn family. In 1718 his artistic sensibility was matured by at trip to Milan where he studied the Classical motifs of Italian architecture, and in 1723 he made a three-month study of Rococo architecture in Paris.

The Kaisersaal, the imperial hall at the Wurzburg Residenz for Johann Philipp Franz, Count of Schonborn, was his first mature achievement as an architect. Aided by a large staff of painters, tapestry weavers, stone masons and stuccoers, he developed an architectural style that evolved from Baroque complexity to Rococo delicacy, merging structure and decoration to create ethereal visions of curvilinear forms. His ornamental forms were carved and molded in high relief on the surfaces of walls and ceilings. His preferred white and gold color scheme was accented by soft, delicate colors culminating in visionary ceiling paintings by the Venetian painter, Tiepolo, Giovanni Battista (1696-1770), who often worked with Neumann.

In 1728, Cardinal Schonborn, prince-bishop of Speyer, commissioned Neumann to finish his palace at Bruchsal. Here Neumann employed stairways to function as bridges and passageways throughout the great halls. The sequential arrangement of rooms and halls led from dark and narrow to increasingly lighter and more spacious passages culminating in the radiant Hall of Princes and the Marble Hall.

Counted among Neumanns’ last great works was the pilgrimage church of Vierzehnheiligen, started in 1745 but finished after his death in 1772. Here his concept of space was fully realized through two distinct and separate directional thrusts. The floor leads down the nave to the Grace Altar in the center of the church through a rhythmic flow of oval shapes. The vaults, cupolas and dome, also defined by spheres and ovals, enhance the visual tension between floor and ceiling and create an exciting play of space and form while decorative elements resemble delicate porcelain figures.

Further Reading:

Otto, Christian F., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, Vol. 3, 1982.

Sarah Tusa

Lamar University