A conference and a fortress

March 29, 2011

I’m just back from the Deutscher Kunsthistorikertag, the big biennial conference meeting of art historians from Germany or, more precisely, the German speaking world which, of course, includes Austria. This year, the meeting was held in Würzburg, and like most large scale conferences it featured a disproportionally high number of papers that were mediocre if not downright crappy. Then again, like most large scale conferences the Kunsthistorikertag isn’t really about the papers anyway, but first and foremost about meeting people. And meet people I did…

Würzburg: The Old Bridge across the river Main and Marienberg Fortress

While I made some interesting new acquaintances, the best part was that I got to meet many old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for years. So my calendar was filled with social events and I didn’t get too much sleep ;-)

Neither did I get to see too much of Würzburg…

Würzburg: The Old Bridge across the river Main and the city centre seen from Marienberg Fortress

I didn’t even make it to the famous Residenz, the splendid episcopal palace built by Baroque architect Balthasar Neumann from 1720 to 1744 and decorated some years later by Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It’s a shame to have missed that, but being a medievalist, I decided to rather spend the little spare time I had at the Mainfränkisches Museum which houses some 15th century panel paintings I wanted to look at and, most importantly, a large collection of works by Tilman Riemenschneider, one of Germany’s most prominent late medieval / early modern sculptors who was active in Würzburg from 1483 until his death in 1531.

Würzburg, Marienberg Fortress: The entrance to the Mainfränkisches Museum

The Mainfränkisches Museum is located in the Fortress Marienberg, an imposing structure on a ledge high above the city (see first photo). Actually, I found the fortress almost more interesting than the museum itself. I was intrigued by its many picturesque corners…

Würzburg, Marienberg Fortress: View across the moat towards the 15th century Scherenberg Gate

…and even more by its idiosyncratic mix of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque elements.

Würzburg, Marienberg Fortress: The late 16th century Renaissance wing and the early 13th century keep

This is most evident in the small Marienkirche [St. Mary’s Church] which, at its core, is still a Romanesque rotunda. To this however, there has been added a late Gothic chancel as well as a Renaissance porch and cupola:

Würzburg, Marienberg Fortress: The Marienkirche

Most guidebooks – both offline and online – will tell you that the Romanesque rotunda of the Marienkirche dates to the early 8th century A.D. and is therefore one of the oldest buildings in Germany. This, however, is only a legend, a bit of local patriotic folklore which isn’t supported by any historical or archeological evidence. So what most (art) historians will tell you instead, is that based on stylistic analysis the rotunda most probably dates “only” to the 11th century.

On the other hand, Marienberg fortress is, without doubt, situated in a strategically advantageous position and there is archeological evidence that a Celtic refuge fort existed on the site as early as 1000 B.C. So, yes, it is quite likely that, when the Franks settled in and around what is now Würzburg in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D., they would have built some sort of fortification in that very same spot. It’s just that there aren’t any reliable traces to actually prove this – in other words: It’s the perfect soil for myths and legends.

One Response to “A conference and a fortress”

  1. Lindsay said

    Wow, that fortress is just stunning!

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