Paul Troger (1698-1762) was an Austrian painter whose highly dramatic style and use of light colors, particularly in his frescoes, dominated Austrian painting about the middle of the 18th century and profoundly influenced succeeding generations.
Paul Troger was born on Oct. 30, 1698, at Welsberg, near Zell, in the Tirol. There, at the age of 16, under the patronage of the Firmian family, he studied art with Giuseppe Alberti. Then, with the help of the prince-bishop of Gurk, Troger went to Venice, where he was influenced by the new developments in painting sparked by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Sebastiano Ricci, and Giovanni Battista Pittoni. Troger also studied in Rome, Naples, and Bologna, the leading artistic centers of Italy at the time, where the works of the Caracci, Luca Giordano, and Giuseppe Maria Crespi were also important for his development.
On his return to Austria, Troger first worked at Salzburg. He then moved to Vienna permanently, where he soon joined the Academy of Fine Arts. By 1751 he was a professor at the academy, and in 1754 its head. As a teacher, he was a dominant influence on large numbers of students there; the painters Franz Sigrist, Franz Karl Palko, and Franz Anton Maulbertsch were among his pupils.
Although Troger did many easel paintings, it was for his frescoes that he was famous and much in demand throughout the Austrian lands. Noteworthy among them are his ceilings in the Marble Hall and the Library of the monastery of Melk (1732-1733), the Apotheosis of Charles VI as Apollo over the main stairway at the abbey of Göttweig (1739), and frescoes in other large monastic buildings of Austria— Altenburg, Zwettl, Seitenstetten, and Geras. He also painted frescoes in the church of St. Ignatius in Györ, Hungary (1744; 1747), the ceiling of the Cathedral of Brixen (now age church of Maria Dreieichen near Vienna (1752).
Troger's frescoes are noteworthy for their immense vitality of movement and color; done with supreme illusionism, they seem to wipe out the ceiling and present the viewer with a celestial vision of startling reality. His most important contribution to Austrian painting, noted by his contemporaries, was his rejection of the strong dark colors of the beginning of the 18th century in favor of an increasingly lighter palette, typical of the rococo, known as his leichte Manier. He never totally abandoned his essentially Tyrolese naturalism, however, and even in mythological and allegorical subjects he introduced realistic detail. His painting adapted the colorful idealism of Johann Michael Rottmayr to the new taste of the rococo and presaged the highly idiosyncratic and emotional painting of the young Maulbertsch.
The authoritative monograph on Troger by Wanda Aschenbrenner (1965) is in German. In English, only two works deal with Troger at any length: Nicholas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959), and Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965). □