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The oldest ecclesiastical Baroque residence on the Upper Rhine

Bruchsal Palace

Schloss Bruchsal, Außen, Kirchturm; Foto: Dr. Manfred Schneider, Nußloch, www.manfred-schneider.de
Dispute over the frescoes of the palace church

Schönborn and

the painter

Cosmas Damian Asam created the ceiling frescoes, which have since been destroyed, in Bruchsal Palace church. He was famous and self-assured. Prince-Bishop Schönborn made bitter accusations against him due to his highhandedness. Yet in the end, he was given a freshly shot deer as a thank you from the bishop.

Portrait of Cosmas Damian Asam, by Egid Quirin Asam, circa 1720/30. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Robert Bothner

The painter Cosmas Damian Asam circa 1720.

The search for a new painter

In 1726, an Italian began to paint the palace church in Bruchsal: Antonio Gresta. Yet only a year later, he unexpectedly died. Court intrigues annoyed him to death, or so the story goes. Schönborn was satisfied with Gresta's work, but now a new painter was needed: enter Cosmas Damian Asam (1686–1739). He was famous, in demand, and expensive. From 1728 to 1729, he painted the churches of St. Damian and Hugo, and was paid 5,000 guilders for his work.

Detail from the historical photograph of the ceiling painting by Cosmas Damian Asam in Bruchsal Palace church. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, credit unknown

Saint Damian being burned at the stake.

Disputes between Schönborn and Asam

he first dispute happened soon after work began. In October, 1728, Asam requested permission to travel home during the winter, though he had only been working in Bruchsal for seven weeks. He could not have accomplished much so quickly, the bishop thought, and found his behavior "nothing more than pure chicanery." But when he climbed the scaffolding, he saw the truth was quite the contrary: Asam had already made substantial progress. However, the painter had changed the design on his own authority!

Detail from the historical photograph of the ceiling painting by Cosmas Damian Asam in Bruchsal Palace church. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, credit unknown

Saint Damian with book and entourage.

What had happened?

Asam had sent the suggested changes to Schönborn and had not received a reply. He took this as agreement and continued working to avoid losing time. Schönborn felt that "the wool had pulled over his eyes" and wrote: "This good man is curious, ... he thinks that he alone is permitted to explain the contract, I would say nothing to this high-handedness, and he would have nothing to do with any such peasant ... No one may play with us thus. If he wishes to treat us so brusquely, such shall he receive in turn."

Historische Fotografie des Deckengemäldes von Cosmas Damian Asam in der Hofkirche Bruchsal;  Foto: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Urheber unbekannt

The ceiling painting in the nave of Bruchsal Palace church by Damian Cosmas Asam, 1728/29, photographed before its destruction in 1945.

Detail from the historical photograph of the ceiling painting by Cosmas Damian Asam in Bruchsal Palace church. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, credit unknown

Cosmas and Damian in the floods.

Changing motifs

Asam added to the planned scenes with the holy doctor Damian by including his brother, Cosmas, because both are part of the legend. He also improved the distribution of the ceiling painting and imitated stucco decoration as a frame zone instead of painted architecture. The consequence: The old paintings by Gresta no longer fit with it and had to be removed. However, it all ended happily: After completion, Schönborn had a deer shot for the painter as thanks.

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