Baroque ecstasy in the Asamkirche, Munich
The brothers Asam, leading architects of late Baroque Bavaria, bequeathed this church (1833-46) to the city of Vienna. It stands right next to the family residence of Egid Quirin Asam, built in 1733-4 on the Sendingerstrasse. The church occupies a narrower street frontage than the architect’s house, but what the religious building lacks in width, it makes up in interior height and drama. The voluptuous figures flanking its doorway to the house, echoed by sculpture in lower relief on the walls above, show the florid taste of the Asams. The classical allusions in secular sculpture on the facade harmonize with the images on the church.
The interior must seem shocking to people with a puritannical outlook. Those who feel a greater spiritual connection to the neo-Romanesque Annakirche in Munich of 1892 (right) may be nauseated by the apparent excess in the Asamkirche. However the purity of the Anna Kirche evokes an appearance that was rare in the 11th century.
We must remember that many Romanesque churches were originally covered with frescoes. Since a dominant theme in the Romanesque era was the last judgement, parishioners may have stood for hours gazing at the horrors of hell. Those who built the Anna Kirche seven centuries later were probably reacting to the florid character of the German Baroque. They preferred plain, whitewashed walls to terrifying images of hell. In contrast, the Asamkirche is a product of the counter reformation a period in which architecture was intended to fill the hearts of the faithful with a feeling of religious ecstacy. Their eyes were lured up to heaven not down into the inferno. Saints gesticulate, spiraling columns soar upwards, gilded rays of light radiate from windows, and the vault offers an image of heaven.