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Art Lover's Guide to Speyer Cathedral

While we were climbing to the top of every aviation and boat exhibit we were allowed in the Technik Museum of Speyer, we could see the Cathedral waiting patiently, a jewel box on the horizon. It certainly built the anticipation. The museum and the cathedral are close enough, and Germany is in general pedestrian-friendly enough, that it was an easy, safe walk from one to the other. One weird intersection with crosswalks and a street until you’re in the larger park leading to the cathedral.

From the Technik Museum of Speyer to the Speyer Cathedral, about a 10 minute walk

Largest Romanesque Architecture
You could describe this cathedral as so many firsts, largest, best. Being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List tends to suggest as much. Speyer Cathedral, or Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, Kaiserdom zu Speyer, is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World, the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe, the first to have an exterior gallery and system of arcades around the entire building, a pilgrimage site, the resting place of 8 Kings and Emperors, and was the biggest church in the western hemisphere at the time of it's completion in 1106. Phew! To say this is a very important building feels like an understatement.

Speyer Cathedral is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World and the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe.

But, how does it make you feel? Personally, it was a calming, solemn, space. Not in anyway creepy as some older European churches are. With minimal ornamentation and varying natural colors shining purely from the carefully placed red sandstone from the nearby Palatine Forest Mountains, this cathedral is the most naturally beautiful church I’ve seen. I have to wonder if the architect Antoni Gaudi hadn’t once visited the Speyer Cathedral? The smooth, soaring semi-circular columns offers the same feeling of being in a quiet forest, just as I had felt in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

The view of the nave from the western portal in the Speyer Cathedral in Germany

An Image Worthy of a Pilgrimage
A delicate, carefully painted standing Madonna statue quietly demands your attention at the front of the nave with fresh flowers at her feet and candles lit before her. This image, sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker, consecrated by Pius XI in Rome, was brought into the Speyer Cathedral in 1930. In doing so, the pilgrimage history for the Speyer Cathedral gained a new chapter to a centuries-long legacy.

Speyer Standing Madonna Statue Sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker in 1930

Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s. These frescoes were part of an even larger installment and collaboration with Joseph Schwarzmann that was unfortunately removed in the 1960s in an attempt to make the cathedral appear more ‘romanesque.’ Some of the frescoes that were removed have been restored and are now in a new display in the Emperor's Hall of the Cathedral.

Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s.

The Mount of Olives
Beside the Cathedral in a leafy clearing, you discover the sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856. A roof was built above the statue to prevent further wear and tear. Not sure why the roof has a rooster on top. Puzzling, but charming.

The outdoor sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856.

Speyer Cathedral Bowl
Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories. Prisoners would make a run for the bowl in order to be out of the city's jurisdictional area, now being protected by the church. And historically, to welcome a new bishop, the bowl was filled with wine for the citizens to freely enjoy.

Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories.

The view of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilianstrasse

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The view of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilianstrasse

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Crash Course in Prince-Bishops at the Neues Schloss Meersburg

Grimm’s Fairy tales and Disney princesses does nothing to explain Prince-Bishops, but when you visit the Neues Schloss in Meersburg Germany, you’ll sufficiently round out your education.

There are three things you need to know about the Prince-Bishop situation in Meersburg.

  1. Being a Prince-Bishop was not a hereditary role.
  2. Prince-Bishops are called such because first they were elected as a Bishop, but after becoming Bishop they may take on more princely, governing roles that were outside the Church.
  3. Having a dual-role as a Bishop does not cure the urge to impress.

Before building the Neues Schloss, Meersburg Castle, Germany’s Oldest Inhabited Castle, was the home of the Prince-Bishop. In the 17th century, the medieval-ness of Meersburg Castle was not suitable for the entertaining and governing role of the Prince-Bishop, or so according to Prince-Bishop Johann Franz Schenk von Stauffenberg. In 1710, construction officially began. The palace was tinkered with over many years, and ultimately became the residence in the 1860s.

The new castle sits prettily up on a terrace with sweeping views of Lake Constance. Today, the ground floor has a small shop and an inside/outside garden cafe. The shining star architectural feature of the palace is the Baroque staircase up to the large reception hall on the second floor. It’s white, open design filled with windows, larger than life statuary on the landings, and the trompe l'oeil fresco on the ceiling is what truly makes this palace feel like a palace. Balthasar Neumann designed the staircase. The illusionist frescoes were painted by Giuseppe Ignazio Appiani.

During a visit, you’ll discover the typical sequence of rooms for a Baroque court. Immediately off the landing of the staircase is the large festival hall, and a true centerpiece with it's dazzling chandelier, murals, mirrors, and view overlooking the lake. On either side are princely offices, and beyond that are living spaces. The apartments and offices are peeks into interior decorating tastes in the 1800s.

Surprisingly, the Prince-Bishops had time for accumulating a vast collection of fossils and shells, and even stranger they loved hunting. Seems oddly counterintuitive to being a Bishop, but you’ll see these hobbies and more throughout the palace. There's also a castle church within the palace that is not visible from the exterior facade. A stable was converted into a Rococo-style feast for the eyes.

The staircase ceiling fresco photo was taken by Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg/ Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg.

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Essential Highlights at the Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau in Konstanz, Germany

Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

We wandered only a short distance through the old part of town before spotting the highest tower of the Cathedral, then used it as our compass. In Konstanz, Germany, we sought out the Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau, Cathedral of Our Dear Lady. We opened one of the side nave doors, and found ourselves surrounded by tracery windows, and stained glass windows with the afternoon sun shining through them. Stained Glass Windows at Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, and I took a deep breath. The interior of the cathedral is brighter than I expected, and with almost all church/castle/cathedral/palace.. your eyes tend to wander up. The original Romanesque painted wood ceilings are long gone, but the whitewashed, plastered ribbed vault ceiling is pretty, and does make the Cathedral bright and spacious.

White washed, plaster, arch ribbed ceiling at Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

Baroque-Style Ceiling at Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

Don't Miss This-
Allow a healthy hour to explore the whole cathedral. There are truly details everywhere, even the crypt. Don't let the word 'crypt' scare you. It felt more like a basement or a cellar, and while it did have low-sloped ceilings, its not cramped. If you venture down, you'll discover three copperplates, one large plate depicting Christ which dates back to the 10th century, and two smaller copper plates from the 13th century. The faceless figure in one of the smaller copper plates depicts the patron saint of Konstanz, Saint Pelagius, whose relics were held for a time in the tomb that is opposite the copperplates.

Copperplates from 10-13th Century and Saint Pelagius Tomb in the Crypt of Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

Its hard to beat stained glass windows in wow-factor, but look for the wooden spiral staircase that leads to the pulpit. If you have time, try and plan for hearing the Cathedral bells ring, which are fondly considered by some as one of the most harmonious in Germany.

Wooden spiral staircase pulpit in Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

BONUS Konstanz Cathedral Architectural History, in English

Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany Architectural History, as Displayed in the Church

It would be a disservice to try and summarize the English synopsis of the cathedral's history that was on display in the entryway. I've looked online and I can't see it posted anywhere, so I've retyped it from a photo I took. The Wikipedia page for Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau in English is an 1/8th of the size of the page in German, so here's to bridging the language barrier in regards to this stunning building.The official website for the cathedral is completely in German as well.

"Cathedral of Our Dear Lady in Constance is a cruciform, three-nave column basilica with a square east end. The former episcopal church (circa 600-1821) is considered the most significant Romanesque church building in South-West Germany. The patron saints of the present minor basilica (designated in 1955) are the Virgin Mary, St. Conrad of Constance (10th century) and St. Pelagius (3rd century). The cathedral dates back to the early days of the bishop's see and was mentioned for the first time in official documents in 780. For over twelve centuries, it served as the bishops' cathedral and was used as a meeting place during the Council of Constance (1414-1418). Since the dissolution of the bishopric in 1821, the cathedral has been used as a Catholic parish church.

Nave
The main section of the three-nave Romanesque basilica (consecrated in 1089) is supported on eight monolithic columns with bell-shaped capitals made of sandstone from Rorschach. It is spanned by a plastered ribbed vault (1679/80) made of brick that- as in the aisles- replaced a flat painted wooden ceiling. Demand during Baroque times for light-flooded rooms was met by enlarging the clerestory windows and the whitewashing the church interior.

Transept and chancel
The main chancel with a square end and classic high altar (1774) join the almost square crossing to the east. To the north and south are the St. Thomas choir and Maria-End choir with monumental Baroque side altars. The interiors moulded in the French Classicism style from the period around 1775, created by the famous French castle and church builder Jean Michel d'Ixnard, still determines the appearance of the cathedral today. The rear wall has been windowless since the three large gothic east windows were closed off in 1923. In front of the middle window hangs a significant oil painting of the "Assumption of Mary" (1701) by Franz Carl Stauder, flanked by the statues of the church's patron saints Conrad and Pelagius (1923).

Side naves/Side chapels
After the Council of Constance, the Romanesque interior was converted to a late Gothic style with ribbed vaults and tracery windows (1423-53), a measure that still characterizes the appearance of the interior today. From the 1470s onwards the side chapels were successively expanded starting with the south chapels in the east and finishing with the last chapel in the east of the north side built in 1623. The chapels are largely furnished today with the altars from the 17th and 19th century and stained glass windows (1880-1906).

Towers
The mighty sandstone facade is divided into a northern, a middle, and a southern tower. The northern and southern towers (13th and 14th centuries) are divided visually by circumferential cornices. The foundation stone for the middle tower joining the two was laid in 1497; the vestibule is topped by an embellished four-part stellar vault (1518). The tower was completed in 1853 by placing on it an octagon with a tracery spire.

Bells
The cathedral has 19 bells weighing some 35,000 kg in total. Together, they form the second-largest group of bells after Cologne Cathedral and even the largest in terms of numbers. Of the seen historic bells, St. Ursula's bell (1584) made by the H.C. Löffler from Innsbruck had one of the most beautiful chimes in the 16th century. Its foundry pit was uncovered during excavations in 1990 in the area south of the church. In 1966, the historic bells were supplemented by 12 new ones, a gift from the state of Baden-Württenberg to the minor basilica. The bells as a whole are considered among the most beautiful in Germany on account of their harmonious sound."

Exterior of Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

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The Art Within the Art: Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

The Art Within The Art: Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

You have to admit, the building is impressive. It reinforces the idea that you’re about to witness man-made achievements before you even buy your ticket. I wonder if the architects were playing against the idea that you should think outside the box when they decided to literally build a modern, cold-looking, glass box, and then enclose the art in warm, Jurassic-age limestone. The new museum building was opened in 2005, and designed by architects Hascher and Jehle, the triumphant winners of a competition amongst 341 architect offices. They sought and accomplished building a museum that offered varied exhibition spaces, and felt open to the city outside. For the museum visitor, the act of changing floors is both becoming a part of the public art of the museum architecture itself, as revealed by the glass windows to passersby outside, and a visual delight with its panorama views of the city-center.

Swabian Impressionism
Thanks to Count Silvio della Valle di Casanova's donation of his private collection of Swabian Impressionist works in 1924, the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart had a hearty foundation to start. Impressionism is my favorite art period, and the ‘Swabian’ element grabbed my curiosity. What made this Impressionist collection ‘Swabian’? Swabia refers to a region of fluctuating borders within Germany, one that usually included the city of Stuttgart. In today’s geography Swabia has been swallowed up by the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württenberg.

Swabian Impressionist referred to where the artists were from, more than a different variation of Impressionism. Although some may point out that their paintings consisted of more earthy tones than their French counterparts, this was in reflection of the Swabian landscapes they were depicting. The names to know are Hermann Pleuer, Otto Reiniger, and Christian Landenberger. Hermann Pleuer, whose landscapes often included some form of rail or trains in the scene are easy to identify. Impress your friends when you name the artist without looking at the calling card.

Otto Dix
We’ve discussed Expressionism before as it related to the architecture of a special street in Bremen, Germany called Böttcherstrasse. You can check out those earlier posts here, Böttcherstrasse: An Introduction (Part 1), Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum (Part 2) Mostly Expressionist, Sort of North German Gothic (Part 3). Expressionism also has a painting counterpart, a style that Otto Dix is very well known for. He distorted the figures in his painting for an emotional effect, to express a feeling. Expressionist; expressing feeling.

Dix had plenty to express! He was the perfect age to suffer through the entire duration of World War I, which thematically weaved through his subject matter for his entire art career. As a professor his artwork met the ire of Hitler, and was exhibited at the Degenerate Art Exhibit in Berlin. Hitler wasn’t fond of his Anti-War sentiments, nor his distorted painted figures. In the final years of WWII, he was drafted with the older men and young boys. He ended up a prisoner of war in France. Otto Dix died in 1969.

If you only have time for one painting, see his massive triptych Metropolis. Be forewarned it is not the most lovely thing you’ll see in Stuttgart. That's beside the point. The artist risked his life for a country, which upon losing the war and paying reparations, was degraded to prostitution in exchange for basic needs and widespread neglect of its veterans. His disillusionment spilled over into this piece, Metropolis. On the far left is the lowest of the low, and the far right is only slightly better. The middle is the bourgeois who are physically separated from their miserable counterparts on either side.

Metropolis by Otto Dix, part of the permanent collection of Kunstmuseum Stuttgart | Germany • Gallery Photo Attributed to Peter Bilz-Wohlgemuth

Always New
As a municipal museum focused on modern art, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart always has new exhibitions being shown.Check their English website for the latest and greatest.

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler