2013 - Bavaria

Visit to Munich 8-13 Sept 2013

Beryl Elliott

On 8th September 27 members flew to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. From our local guide, Carolena, we learnt about the city’s history from its monastic (hence ‘Munich’) foundation to the darkness of World War II.

The first day’s orientation tour introduced us to the old city. We assembled on the Mariënplatz, Munich’s city centre. Its column of St. Mary marked the end of the Swedish invasion in 1638 and symbolised the city’s triumph over war, plague, famine and heresy. Later in the week we heard and saw the famous animated Glockenspiel with its 43 bells and 32 figures. On the Frauenplatz we saw Munich’s greatest church with its two onion-domed towers. Its pomp and grandeur reflects its importance as a royal resting place. But the highlight was our visit to thevast Residenz München. This jewel in Munich’s crown is can match any of Europe’s great palaces. From 1502 to 1918 it was the seat of government and the residence of Bavaria’s Wittelsbach dukes, electors and kings. Its architecture, interior decoration and works of art range in time from the Renaissance, via the early Baroque and Rococo periods, to the neo-classical era. We marvelled at the treasures of porcelain and silver, the sculptures, tapestries and paintings – all used as an expression of power.

The next day we visited Landshut, once the capital of Lower Bavaria. As we walked down Main Street, we admired the gables of its houses – pointed, stepped Gothic, and many curved Baroque ones. We arrived at the Landshut Residenz, the town mansion of Duke Ludwig X. Its Italian wing was the first Renaissance palace north of the Alps. Especially admired was the splendid banqueting hall where the German and Italian painters illustrated themes of Greek and Roman art and science in stucco and paint. Some members visited the gigantic Gothic St. Martin’s Church with its highest brick steeple in the world. A noteworthy piece of art in the church is the wooden ‘Madonna and Child’ carved by Hans Leinberger and showing Baroque tendencies in its movement and lines, well ahead of the artist’s life-time.

On our return to Munich we visited the Glyptothek (glypto = sculpture from the Greek to carve), commissioned by King Ludwig I, to house his collection of Greek and Roman statues. Today the museum houses sculptures from the archaic age (ca. 650 BC ) to the Roman era (ca. 550 AD ). Some members, remembering the visit to the Peloponnesus, admired statues from Corinth. The most famous sculpture of the Hellenistic period, the Barberini Faun, attracted attention. A large collection of Roman portrait busts kept us busy trying to recognise the many Emperors: Augustus, Nero, and of course Hadrian. From a Roman villa in Tuscany came the colossal statue of Apollo (1st and 2nd centuries AD). There were several Roman sarcophagus reliefs and mosaic floors. Originally built completely of marble, the museum was bombed during the World War II and later reconstructed.

On Thursday we had visited the Wieskirche, a masterpiece of Bavarian Rococo which many members thought too exuberant. In stark contrast was the Herz Jesu Catholic Parish church of Munich-Neuhausen, Its cornerstone was laid on June 19th 1998 to mark the Feast of the Sacred Heart. After winning the competition open to architects in upper and lower Bavaria, the winners created a church the concept of which never existed before – openness to the outside yet protective shelter on the inside. The form of the church is a large simple cube (48 metres long, 21 metres wide, 16 metres high) with a very striking blue portal occupying almost the entire front. Inside are gigantic glass walls without plinth or base, rising directly from the ground.

To remind us that it was a church was a complicated iconographic programme. Separate depictions of the five wounds of Christ could be seen through little windows in the floor. The great cross was within metal tissue behind the altar. The 14 stations of the Cross were marked by black and white slides showing authentic sites on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem – images without one of Jesus in respect for something hard to depict.

The most difficult to interpret was Alexander Beierschenke’s azure portal. He formed the Cross from a pattern of nails encrypting the text (passages from :St.John’s Gospel) with a code devised for the purpose. The nails themselves are reminiscent of ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform script. A little better understood was the ‘Madonna and Child’ painted around 1500 AD in the workshop of Jan Polack and housed in a quiet place of devotion with the confessions. Subtly elegant, contemporary international avant-garde in style, this beautiful building provided much ‘food for thought’ – some liked it, some didn’t – but this is what art is all about!