All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Vienna seen by an Italian XVIIIth century traveller - A political manifesto: Karlskirche
The political objectives behind the erection of Karlskirche were not limited to its dedication to Saint Charles Borromeo: the design of the church was meant to enhance the role of Vienna as a new Rome, the capital of a great empire and at giving true significance to the title Charles VI was most proud of: Imperator Romanus (or Romanorum).
While the majesty of the dome is a clear reminder of St. Peter's, the portico and the two spiral columns are tributes to the monuments of Ancient Rome: the Pantheon and the columns of Trajan and of Marcus Aurelius.
The dome has an elliptical shape so that in its frontal view one is struck by its vertical thrust; by walking around the church one progressively sees a horizontal expansion and eventually the dome becomes more similar to its Roman cousins Fisher von Erlach knew so well.
Many details of Karlskirche lead to works by Borromini (the angel heads, the double shells) and Bernini (the impression that the church is embracing the viewer).
Bernini suggested to Pope Alexander VII to relocate Trajan's column in Piazza Colonna (where he had just completed the pope's family palace) next to the other one. In 1694 Carlo Fontana developed a project for relocating the column in nearby Piazza di Montecitorio and then merging the two squares in one; so the idea of placing the two columns in the same location had been extensively debated in Rome.
Fischer von Erlach built on it, as if to show that Vienna could achieve what Rome had not been able to.
Karlskirche, which is located without the walls, was built at the assumed end of a Via Triumphalis which from the Hofburg palace should have linked the old city with the new one: so it was designed to be the focal point of a large alley longer than a mile and the two tall columns were instrumental to achieving this objective. Via Triumphalis was never opened and we cannot see the church in its entirety from a long distance as planned by Fischer von Erlach.
The interior of the church is very bright with a decoration of white stucco and gold; Fischer von Erlach, following the example set by Bernini in S. Pietro, placed a circle of angels and sun rays around a source of light behind the main altar: another Roman quotation can be seen in the ten angels holding elements of the Passion which are placed (8) around the drum or (2) on the steps leading to the church.
The elliptical dome was entirely frescoed by Johann Michael Rottmayr, while the church was being completed: he preferred to follow the composed ceiling of Palazzo Barberini by Pietro da Cortona, rather than the more frantic ceilings by il Baciccio: this is particularly evident in some joyous details.
Rottmayr had to follow some religious Catholic guidelines which lead him to portray an angel setting fire to the books written by Martin Luther.
Sometimes XVIIIth century art shows a lack of strength, but undoubtedly its elegance compensates for it.
Pages in this section of the website in recommended order:
Introduction: the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations
The 1683 Siege of Vienna
XVIIth century churches
XVIIth century palaces
Monuments celebrating the end of plagues
The walls of Vienna
XVIIIth century churches
XVIIIth century palaces
Italian sculpture and sculptors
A political manifesto: Karlskirche
Churches without the walls
Palaces and Villas without the walls
A day in the countryside: Perchtoldsdorf