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About Paul Troger

There is no doubt that Paul Tro­ger (1698–1762) is one of the most important Aus­tri­an pain­ters of the Baro­que. His impor­t­ance and fame is main­ly due to his work as a fres­co artist, alt­hough his oil pain­tings and drawings are just as exten­si­ve and artis­ti­cal­ly signi­fi­cant. After several years of trai­ning across Italy’s artis­tic hubs and, fol­lowing the first com­mis­si­ons by his patron, Prince-Bishop Jakob Maxi­mi­li­an von Thun und Hohen­stein, in Gurk and Salz­burg, Tro­ger went to Vien­na to kick off a suc­cess­ful care­er. Howe­ver, he wasn’t as pro­duc­ti­ve in Vien­na as in the important foun­da­ti­ons loca­ted Lower Aus­tria, such as in Alten­burg, Geras, Gött­weig, Melk, Sei­ten­stet­ten and Zwettl, as well as in the for­mer Augus­ti­ni­an monas­te­ries of St. Pöl­ten and St. Andrä an der Trai­sen.

The fres­coes in the church of the ‘ehem. Eng­li­schen Fräu­lein’ in St. Pöl­ten, in the Kuefstein’schen Gruft­ka­pel­le in Röh­ren­bach-Greil­len­stein, in the cha­pel of Hei­li­gen­kreuz-Guten­brunn and in the pil­grimage church of Maria Drei­ei­chen should not be for­got­ten, as well as tho­se on the other side of the Lower Aus­tri­an bor­ders, such as his work in Hra­disch, in the monas­te­ry of Eliza­be­than order in Bra­tis­la­va and in the St. Igna­ti­us church in Raab. Final­ly, the ear­ly cup­o­la fres­co in the Kajeta­n­er­kir­che in Salz­burg (1728) and the magni­ficent late work in the Bress­ano­ne Cathe­dral (1748–1750) sim­ply have to fea­ture among the list of Tro­ger fres­coes. In the abbeys men­tio­ned abo­ve, his main focus was deco­ra­ting the repre­sen­ta­ti­ve rooms such as the stair­ca­se, the libra­ry, the ban­quet hall and the refec­to­ry.

A very pro­mi­nent examp­le of a repre­sen­ta­ti­ve stair­ca­se is the ‘Kai­ser­stie­ge’ in Stift Gött­weig, whe­re Tro­ger pain­ted the cei­ling fres­co in 1739. The the­me – depic­ted using all tech­ni­ques avail­ab­le in Baro­que alle­go­ry – is the apo­theo­sis of Emperor Charles VI, who appears in the midd­le of the fres­co as a Heli­os Apol­lo, tra­vel­ling on the sun car­ria­ge drawn by two hor­ses. One year pri­or to the Kai­ser­stie­ge fres­co in Gött­weig, Tro­ger also pain­ted the cei­ling fres­co abo­ve the stair­ca­se to the impe­ri­al wing in Alten­burg Abbey.

With this work, the con­vic­tion is expres­sed to the emperor and the guests that in addi­ti­on to monastic life, the arts and sci­en­ces also have their place in the monas­te­ry, with the main alle­go­ries of reli­gi­on and wis­dom reaching out their hands in the cent­re. The cho­sen the­me of the har­mo­ny bet­ween faith and sci­ence is embo­di­ed by the for­mu­la ‘Quam bene con­ve­ni­unt’ (Look at how com­pa­ti­ble they are), pla­ced below the main figu­res, was alrea­dy encoun­te­red in 1735 in the fres­co of the Marb­le Hall in Sei­ten­stet­ten Abbey and was alrea­dy used by Tro­ger in a vari­ant in the Marb­le Hall of Melk Abbey. The the­me, con­sis­ting of mytho­lo­gi­cal and theo­lo­gi­cal ele­ments, focu­ses on Her­cu­les’ fight with Cer­be­rus, the three-hea­ded hell­hound, and the tri­um­phant pro­ces­si­on of Pal­las Athena, god­dess of wis­dom. The inclu­si­on of the mytho­lo­gi­cal figu­res of Her­cu­les and Pal­las Athena were popu­lar allu­si­ons in baro­que sub­jects to the size and strength of the impe­ri­al fami­ly, in par­ti­cu­lar Emperor Charles VI.

Selbst­por­trät Paul Tro­gers, Inns­bruck, Tiro­ler Lan­des­mu­se­um Fer­di­nan­de­um (Inv.-Nr. 1227)


Obitua­ry, 24 Novem­ber 1762

In Melk, due to the archi­tec­tu­ral cor­re­spon­dence of the marb­le hall and the libra­ry, the fres­coes are to be seen in con­nec­tion, also com­ple­men­ting each other in the fur­nis­hings. Just as hap­pens in the marb­le hall, refe­rence is also made in the libra­ry to sta­te power in gene­ral and to the emperor in par­ti­cu­lar. Just as in Melk Abbey, the libra­ry fres­coes in Zwettl Abbey are dedi­ca­ted to the the­me of ‘Her­cu­les Chris­tia­nus’. Tro­ger also faith­ful­ly repro­du­ced some sub­jects from the Mel­ker fres­coes in the marb­le hall and in the libra­ry, e.g. the figu­re of Wis­dom and Her­cu­les upon kil­ling Cer­be­rus, in the Zwett­ler libra­ry. Des­pi­te the com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent spa­ti­al situa­ti­on, all five monas­te­ry libra­ries that Tro­ger deco­ra­ted with fres­coes have one thing in com­mon: the alle­go­ri­cal refe­rence to reli­gi­on and sci­ence or the glo­ri­fi­ca­ti­on of faith in front of the sci­en­ces.

Tro­ger dealt with the topic of the four tra­di­tio­nal bran­ches of sci­ence – theo­lo­gy, phi­lo­so­phy, medi­ci­ne and law – both in the libra­ry of the for­mer St. Pöl­ten Augus­ti­ni­an Canons‘ Abbey, today’s dio­ce­se buil­ding, and in Alten­burg Abbey libra­ry. The com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent rooms ine­vi­ta­b­ly led to com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent solu­ti­ons. The two small rooms in St. Pöl­ten, adap­ted from for­mer monas­te­ry cells, saw Tro­ger pain­ting the four bran­ches in two medal­li­on sec­tions each with a few figu­res: theo­lo­gy asso­cia­ted with the ecsta­sy of the apost­le Paul, phi­lo­so­phy with the obser­va­ti­on of the solar eclip­se by Dio­ny­si­us Areo­pa­gi­ta which occur­red during Christ’s death on the cross, medi­ci­ne with the healing of blind Tobi­as, and law with the para­ble of the Tri­bu­te Money. In the spa­cious and repre­sen­ta­ti­ve libra­ry in Alten­burg, the depic­tions of the bran­ches are dealt with in much more detail and in a more dif­fe­ren­tia­ted way. Two domed sec­tions are dedi­ca­ted to the four stu­dies, while the cen­tral dome, simi­lar­ly to the libra­ry in Melk and in Zwettl, depicts divi­ne wis­dom in the cent­re and earth­ly wis­dom in the sur­roun­ding
peri­pheral zone fea­turing the visit of the Queen of She­ba to King Solo­mon.

The sub­ject of the fres­co in the libra­ry of Sei­ten­stet­ten Abbey is based on the Reve­la­ti­on to John, name­ly the depic­tion of the lamb offe­ring and the 24 elders (Pas­sa­ges 4:1 to 5:11). With the quo­ta­ti­on, ‘Quis est dignus aper­i­re librum?’ (Who is worthy enough to open the book?), the abbot of the monas­te­ry, Paul II. de Vitsch, who came up with the con­cept of the fres­co, appar­ent­ly wan­ted to tell his bro­ther fri­ars and the libra­ry visi­tors that they should pro­ve them­sel­ves worthy of the Holy Scrip­tures and the books in gene­ral. Like the libra­ries, the fur­nis­hings of the fes­ti­val halls are usual­ly based on a more or less com­plex theo­lo­gi­cal con­cept, which was usual­ly assi­gned to the pain­ter by the cli­ent, a theo­lo­gi­an, or scho­l­ar of the monas­te­ry. The cli­ents were not pri­ma­ri­ly inte­res­ted in merely deco­ra­ti­ve deco­ra­ti­on: what was even more important was the con­tent or the the­me. Not just any pain­ter could be ent­rus­ted with brin­ging the con­cept to life, and cli­ents pul­led out all the stops to com­mis­si­on only the very best. And, as it so hap­pens, this was none other than Paul Tro­ger bet­ween 1730 and 1750.

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Geboren und aufgewachsen in Südtirol. Studium der Kunstgeschichte in Wien. Beruflicher Einstieg in der Denkmalpflege in Tirol, Diözesankonservator und Leiter des Diözesanmuseums in St. Pölten, Direktor des Dommuseums in Salzburg, seit 2008 Direktor des Diözesanmuseums Hofburg Brixen. Zahlreiche Publikationen mit Schwerpunkt auf der österreichischen Barockmalerei, u.a. auch die Monographien über Michael Angelo Unterberger, Jacob Zanusi, Johann Georg Grasmair und Paul Troger.

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