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Würzburg’s Prince Arch-Bishop’s Palace and Baroque Art as Propaganda


Baroque art was propaganda — for the state or for the Church. It inspired the masses to believe that the authority of the prince and the bishop was legit. In Würzburg the prince-bishop was the same man and his palace was a fine example. The art decorating St. Charles church in Vienna is another good example.

Complete Video Script

[25, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna] The art and architecture of this age was also used as a powerful political tool. The kings and queens of the day claimed they were ordained by God to rule without question. These so called "divine monarchs" used art as propaganda — to convince their subjects that their authority was legit.

[26, Prince-Bishop's Residenz, Würzburg] This magnificent German palace in Würzburg was home to the so-called "prince-bishop." He was a ruler with both secular and religious power. It was built in the Baroque style and decorated in the even frillier Rococo style that followed. As VIP guests arrived, they'd glide gracefully up the stairway, inspired by a grand fresco as it opened up overhead.

[27, Fresco of Four Continents, Tiepolo, Würzburg] The prince-bishop was the center of the cosmos, honored by the Greek gods, and ruler of the four great continents…including a bare-chested figure of America…seated on an alligator…at a rowdy cannibal barbecue. And Lady Europe points her brush to the center of all culture…the capital of his realm…Würzburg.

[28] Palaces of this age feature grandiose architecture with decoration that abhors a straight line and is full of motion. Artists used mirrors and lavish gilding to enliven interiors. They were masters of three-dimensional illusion, using all the tricks from painting mathematically correct architecture to fake shadows — all to give a believable sense of 3-D reality.

[29] Again, art of this period was pure marketing, paid for and serving either the Church or the State, or — in the prince-bishop's case — both. Here, the bishop is being blessed by the imperial scepter, reminding all that he was part of a divinely ordained and secular chain of command.

[30] In Vienna, the powerful Habsburg family — rulers of a vast empire — also impressed the masses with their imposing palaces…while reinforcing their alliance with the Catholic faith with magnificent churches.

[31] St. Charles Church is classic Baroque: grand columns, stately pediment, and an elliptical dome. Ascending into the clouds with cupids and angels, you notice a trick the artist employed: he warped the perspective, understanding that his images would be seen not from straight on but from far below and at an angle.

[32, St. Charles Church, Vienna, with scaffolding to let visitors see dome up close] As always, the art had a purpose: teaching…or advertising — depending on your perspective. Here, Faith, Hope, Charity, and Catholic priests triumph and inspire — while Protestants and their trouble-making books are trashed. At the very top is the dove of the Holy Spirit, surrounded by a cheering squad of sweet-lipped cupids…a grand Baroque vision of how all was right with the world thanks to their enthusiastically Catholic rulers.