The Austrian baroque architect Jakob Prandtauer (1660-1726) is famed chiefly for his monastic and religious buildings, notably the abbey and church of Melk.
Jakob Prandtauer, born in mid-July 1660 in Stanz in the Tirol, was the son of a master mason, and he too learned the trade. He also studied sculpture and architecture, however, for by the time he was 19 he was working as a sculptor in Sankt Pölten, a city in Lower Austria not far from Vienna. By 1700 he was a master builder (Baumeister), working on many projects in Sankt Pölten.
From 1701 until his death Prandtauer worked for the monastery of Melk on the Danube in Lower Austria, totally rebuilding the church and all the buildings of the huge monastic complex, one of the largest of its kind. Like his great contemporaries Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, Prandtauer turned to Italianate forms for his inspiration, but, as did the others, he also introduced highly personal notes into his architecture. The huge church at Melk, whose towers dominate the landscape over the Danube Valley, is embedded into the structure of the whole monastery by two wings projecting forward on either side and bound together with a curved terrace; the whole ensemble juts up out of the rock over the river. Here he created one of the most thrilling examples of baroque architecture. The stately interior, a harmony of dark-red marble and gilded ornament with golden-toned frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr, is reminiscent of Roman baroque examples, although Prandtauer could only have known them through engravings.
While Melk remains his most famous creation, Prandtauer also built the beautiful pilgrimage church on the Sonntagberg (1706-1728) and the monastery at Garsten near Steyr (1703-1708), and he reconstructed the monastery of Sankt Florian near Linz, taking over the works from Carlantonio Carlone. There he built the grand staircase (1706-1714) and the great hall (Marmorsaal; 1718-1724). From 1708 on he was also in charge of works at Kremsmünster, and from 1720 at Herzogenburg, both monasteries. In every case, as was usually the practice during the period, Prandtauer not only was the architect but was actually in charge of all aspects of the construction and of the exterior and interior decoration of a project, his early training as a mason and a sculptor standing him in good stead in all these enterprises.
Prandtauer is often cited as an example of the local architect who, without training in Italy, nevertheless was able to create great buildings in the baroque style, displaying a native inventiveness and imagination which brought his work to a level of quality equal to that of Fischer von Erlach and Hildebrandt, his more formally trained contemporaries.
When Prandtauer died on Sept. 16, 1726, at Sankt Pölten, most of his projects were still unfinished. They were completed by his pupil, assistant, and cousin Joseph Mungenast, whose famous tower at Dürnstein (1721-1725) is thought to have been largely inspired by his master.
Information on Prandtauer can be found in John Bourke, Baroque Churches of Central Europe (1958; 2d ed. 1962); Nicholas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959); and Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965). □