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One of the most famous architects of late baroque palace design was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723). His Winter Palace for Prince Eugene of Savoy and his Trautson Palace demonstrate the scale of his architectural ambitions, as do his plans for the Schönbrunn Palace, also at Vienna. Fischer von Erlach was heavily influenced by Italian baroque architecture and we can see a number of influences in his Viennese palaces: for example the Trautson Palace bears clear similarities with the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, which was initially built in the seventeenth century as the City Hall of Amsterdam.
Whereas Fischer von Erlach’s contemporary palaces receive very little elaboration in his magisterial Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur (Leipzig, 1725), the plans for the Palace of Whitehall form a dominant sub-section in Worth’s copy of The Designs of Inigo Jones Consisting of Plans and Elevations for Publick and Private Buildings. Published by William Kent with some additional designs (London, 1727). This is fortuitous because much of the Palace of Whitehall burnt down in 1698 and only Inigo Jones’ Banqueting Hall survives. Inigo Jones’ classical plans for the Palace of Whitehall clearly were of a different nature than the later baroque embellishments of Fischer von Erlach’s Viennese palaces.
Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur: in Abbildung unterschiedener berühmten Gebäude des Alterthums und fremder Völcker; umb aus den Geschicht-büchern, Gedächtnüß-münzen, Ruinen, und eingeholten wahrhafften Abrißen, vor Augen zu stellen (Leipzig, 1725), Book 4, plate 5 (Palace of Eugene of Savoy, Vienna).
In this plate of the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), we not only see the façade of the palace but also an allusion to one of the chief functions of any palace: it was to be an imposing place to meet foreign dignitaries and to impress local nobility. Here we see depicted the arrival of Seyfullah Agha, sent by the Grand Vizier to Vienna in 1711. One of Prince Eugene of Savoy’s most famous battles had been against the Ottoman Turks, at the Battle of Zenta in 1697. This had led to the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), which recognised Hapsburg control of much of Central and South Eastern Europe. Seyfullah Aga had been sent to reassure Vienna that the Ottoman Pruth River campaign was solely directed against the Russian empire.
Eugene of Savoy employed two architects to realise his new city palace: Fischer von Erlach and Lukas von Hildebrandt (1668-1745). The latter duplicated Fischer von Erlach’s façade when asked to extend the palace by the prince who had been his commanding officer during Prince Eugene’s Piedmont campaign of 1696-7. Some of the elements of the palace would have been familiar to anyone in Vienna interested in baroque architecture: as Dotson notes (2012), the ‘rusticated ground floor, a piano nobile and attic joined by a giant order of pilasters, with rectangular windows at each level’, was a style imported from Italian baroque architecture which had become popular in Vienna. But Fischer von Erlach did introduce some new touches: the use of elaborate sculptures at the portal and windows would subsequently become a general feature in Viennese architecture afterwards.
Some of these features are also visible in Fischer von Erlach’s design of the Trautson Palace in Vienna. The Trautson Palace was commissioned by Johann Leopold Donat Graf von Trautson (1659-1724), who became the first Prince of Trautson in 1712. Unlike Prince Eugene of Savoy’s Winter Palace, Trautson had accumulated a large expanse enabling Fischer von Erlach to produce a Garden Palace on a grand scale, befitting a new prince of the Holy Roman empire. Some of the features are familiar: the reference to a triumphal arch in the central portal is reminiscent of his plans for Eugene of Savoy and, as Dodson (2012) notes, the extension of the central building block beyond the wings on either side was a classic characteristic of Fischer von Erlach’s work. As Oechslin reports, Fischer von Erlach’s palace designs concentrate on the façade more than any other component.
Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur: in Abbildung unterschiedener berühmten Gebäude des Alterthums und fremder Völcker; umb aus den Geschicht-büchern, Gedächtnüß-münzen, Ruinen, und eingeholten wahrhafften Abrißen, vor Augen zu stellen (Leipzig, 1725), Book 4, plate 7 (Trautson Palace, Vienna).
Dodson draws attention to the theatricality of Fischer von Erlach’s palace designs – in both of these images we see the palace as a working palace and the same is true of his design for the Schönbrunn palace. The Trautson palace, which proved to be one of Fischer von Erlach’s most decorative works, is now the Austrian Federal Ministry for Justice.
Dotson, Esther Gordon and Mark Richard Ashton, J. B. Fischer von Erlach. Archtecture as Theater in the Baroque Era (Yale University Press, 2012).
Erünsal, İsmail E., ‘Seyfullah Agha’s Embassy to Vienna in 1711: The Ottoman Version’, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 90 (2000), 7-28.
Oeschlin, Werner (2007-2016), ‘Fischer von Erlach’ entry in Oxford Art Online.
Text: Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.