Instructions from Above
Representative interiors in Early Modern Europe are often characterised by an intense interaction of architecture and various forms of pictorial art. They are created as unity in complexity. Mural paintings on walls and ceilings can radically change the sensation and the meaning of a given space, formally and thematically. Ceiling paintings literally give instructions from above: Framed in stucco, stone or wood, and accompanied by secondary figural scenes, personifications or emblems in cartouches, lunettes or wall panels, they convey both historical functions and meaning.
Quadri riportati and finestra aperta
Decorations on walls and ceilings may be painted on plaster, applied directly to the stone or the wooden vault, in fresco or secco technique, or can simply be composed of framed canvases. Murals may even allude to this practice and create the illusion of framed images installed high above, the so-called quadri riportati. Ceiling paintings may open an elaborately painted frame of illusionistic architecture for a view into the open sky, or a fictitious space, like a window into another level of reality according to the principle of the finestra aperta.
Ceiling Painting: The Soul of a Room
Figural and illusionistic paintings on walls and ceilings have developed complex visual programmes with hierarchical and narrative iconographic structures. They are meant to communicate with the viewer: According to the contemporary art theory of Gérard de Lairesse, ceiling paintings are the soul of a room. With a wide range of themes ̶ from the world of pagan gods and Christian saints, to emblems, signs and symbols ̶ they convey a message based on cosmology, mythology, ancient history, the history of salvation or ethics and politics.
Introducing Baroque Ceiling Painting: A short Bibliography
Mural painting was a primary tool of visual communication in the early modern period. The Corpus of Baroque Ceiling Painting in Germany (CbDD) will decipher these visual codes within the context of their constituting architectural frame and its various representative functions. The project will document, analyse and interpret mural paintings within their iconographic, historical, sociological, art historical, or literary context. The focus lies on the programmatic and iconological function of this highly innovative visual medium, on the development and refinement of its artistic principles and its complex iconography.
Historical Frame of Reference: Early Modern Europe and The Holy Roman Empire
The term Baroque, understood as a historical period rather than a style, is a reference to the preceding Corpus project published in print form. The new research scheme will broaden the timeframe from the Renaissance to Classicism, from around 1550 to 1800: the Early Modern Period is the setting. For sheer pragmatic reasons, the project will remain focussed on monuments within the Federal Republic of Germany. International cooperations, interdisciplinary networks, conferences and workshops across borders, territories and disciplines will put the objects back into their historical context: The Holy Roman Empire before 1806.
The Corpus of Baroque Ceiling Painting in Germany (CbDD) wants to make all the available documentation about the objects, their complex history, and iconographic contents easily accessible for further research, and for other disciplines in the fields of arts and humanities. The systematic appraisal and documentation of the art works, of sources and archival material are prerequisites for the rediscovery and analysis of the historical context, of the thematic correlations of the programmes, and the conceptual relations between the objects.
The documentation will embrace preserved as well as restored monuments; due to the fragile character of ceiling murals restorations are frequent. The Corpus will also include objects destroyed in World War II, like the ceiling paintings in the former Residential Palace in Berlin, or the former château at Herrenhausen, Hannover. Today, many of these objects can only be studies on the basis of historical photographic documentation preserved in archives.
The Deutsche Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte ̶ Bildarchiv Foto Marburg holds numerous documents of historical photography, amongst others the highly important „Farbdiaarchiv der Wand- und Deckenmalerei 1943 ̶ 1945“, a documentary campaign launched by the Ministry of Culture in Berlin towards the end of the Second World War, known as the "Führerauftrag Monumentalmalerei“. Using the expensive new medium of colour slide film, the project documented buildings and paintings sometimes only days before they were finally destroyed. This important archive could be recollected by the Deutsches Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte ̶ Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich. Both institutions digitized the slides and made them available to the public in an open access database hosted by the Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur, Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and at Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte München, Farbdiaarchiv – Mitteleuropäische Wand- und Deckenmalerei, Stuckdekorationen und Raumausstattungen.
The new Corpus of Baroque Ceiling Painting in Germany (CbDD) will make all research results available to the public in an internet platform in accordance with Open Access guidelines in a continuous publication process. The project will remain open to new standards and follow the flow of continuous development within the world of the Semantic Web. The online publication database, adapted for the specific needs of this image-based research-project, will be hosted at the Deutsche Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg.
Art Historical Research and Digital Humanities
The comprehensive overview and accessible internet publication will make Baroque ceiling painting accessible for researchers, for the general public, and on an international level. Mural painting of the Early Modern period is a specific form of pictorial art, which is especially important because of its architectural setting. It is a subject of transnational and interdisciplinary interest and it deserved special attention. The database with links to further working tools will provide the reader with new opportunities a book publication cannot offer in the same way. The documentation relies on the new technologies of digital photography, and on new forms of multimedia visualisations, too. Thus, the art historical research on the Baroque can profit from the potentials of the latest innovations within the field of digital humanities.