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Posts Tagged ‘St John the Baptist’

Photo: Angelika Porst.
New examinations of John the Baptist wall paintings in Augsburg cathedral date them to more than 1,000 years ago
. Above, a decorative detail of the frescoes in the southern transept, which were only revealed in the 1930s.

A word to the wise for artists who hope their work will still be enjoyed in 1,000 years: try frescoes. The Oxford dictionary describes a fresco as “a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.”

So even though watercolor is transient, plaster holds it.

Catherine Hickley reports at the Art Newspaper, “A series of frescoes showing the life and death of John the Baptist in the cathedral of the Bavarian city of Augsburg have been recently dated to the first decade of the 11th century, ranking them among the oldest wall paintings in a medieval church north of the Alps.

“The frescoes, located high in the southern transept of the church, were whitewashed over and forgotten until the 1930s, when they were uncovered. But it was not until conservation work began on the roof structure in 2009 that they could be proven to date back to the construction of the cathedral more than 1,000 years ago.

Dendrochronological tests revealed that wood in the masonry dated from AD1000, contradicting the previously held dating of the cathedral to around AD1065. The new dating ‘fits with what we know about a massive destruction in 994,’ says Birgit Neuhäuser, a spokeswoman for the Bavarian State Office for Heritage Protection.

“ ‘The oldest frescoes are the first layer above the masonry, and are therefore part of the original decor of the church,’ Neuhäuser says. ‘We can assume that in the case of an important Episcopal church, the frescoes would have been painted soon after the construction, so soon after AD1000.’

“In artistic style, the frescoes bear a strong resemblance to the tenth-century wall paintings at the Church of St George on the island of Reichenau on Lake Constance, near Germany’s border with Switzerland. The island owes its Unesco World Heritage status [read about a World Heritage site I visited, here] in part to the frescoes. Apart from the Reichenau church frescoes, the Augsburg paintings are the biggest preserved frescoes of their era in the German-speaking countries, says Mathias Pfeil, the head of the Bavarian State Office for Heritage Protection. …

“Given the height of the frescoes in the church, there is no need for special conservation measures in the long term, according to Neuhäuser. ‘They are not under any particular stress’ from the humidity or heat generated by visitors’ traffic, she says. ‘After cleaning and conservation, they are in a stable and sustainable condition.’

“The team plans to examine the roof area and the northern transept of the church for further fresco remnants. The research and conservation work is financed by the Beate and Hans Peter Autenrieth Foundation, the Siegfried and Elfriede Denzel Foundation and the Augsburg diocese.” More at the Art Newspaper, here.

Have you ever seen any frescoes? I saw Leonardo da Vinci’s frequently restored Last Supper in Milan when I was a teen. I really liked doing a research project about the frescoes of Giotto in high school although I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any Giottos except in pictures. Below, I’ve added a nice dragon fresco from the Cloisters. (I wrote about my 2019 visit there in this post.)

Twelfth Century Spanish fresco at the Met Cloisters in New York City.

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