Johann Michael Rottmayr

Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654-1730) was the first native-born Austrian painter of the 18th century to achieve preeminence over the Italians, thus beginning the great century of Austrian baroque painting.

Johann Michael Rottmayr born in Laufen, a small town near Salzburg, on Dec. 10, 1654, probably learned the rudiments of his craft from his mother, who was a painter. About 1675 he went to Venice, entering the workshop of Karl Loth, an expatriate Bavarian, with whom he remained for 13 years. About 1688 he returned to Austria and soon entered the service of the prince-bishop of Salzburg, Johann Ernst Graf Thun, who favored German artists over the Italians, who still dominated art north of the Alps.

Rottmayr's lifelong friendship and collaboration with the architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach began in Salzburg. Rottmayr painted altarpieces and frescoes for most of Fischer's buildings in Salzburg—the Church of the Trinity (ca. 1702), the Church of the Hospital of St. John (1709), and the University Church (1721-1722)—as well as for the Residenz (1689, 1710-1714) and other secular and religious buildings in the city. The two men also collaborated at Frain Castle (Vranov) in Moravia (1695), creating, in the so-called Ancestral Hall, the first of their huge oval cupolas, where through painted illusionistic foreshortening and perspective the impression is given of seeing the open sky filled with mythological beings glorifying, in this case, the family of the owner. Rottmayr's early style, though very much like that of his master, Loth, is characterized by his own bright local color, massive forms, and strong movement.

Rottmayr moved to Vienna about 1699, where he continued to work with Fischer on such projects as Schönbrunn Palace (1700). But Rottmayr also began to receive other commissions, notably the fresco decoration of the Jesuit Church in Breslau (1704-1706) and of the Liechtenstein Summer Palace outside Vienna (1706-1707), as well as paintings for the Council Chamber of the Vienna City Hall (1712).

In Vienna, Rottmayr's style became more fluid, with subtler, more ingratiating color and more harmonious compositions, suggesting the influence of the works of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck available to him there; yet it retained the strong plasticity and dynamic movement of his early years. During the first 2 decades of the 18th century he was the leading painter of Vienna and the Hapsburg domains. Although he continued to work intermittently elsewhere in the Holy Roman Empire—Salzburg, Franconia, and Bohemia—his work from this time on was largely in Vienna and its environs. He decorated the interior of the church of the monastery of Melk with frescoes and altarpieces (1716-1722), and in the Karlskirche in Vienna, Fischer von Erlach's most famous creation, Rottmayr painted the Glorification of St. Charles Borromeo in the dome as well as the entire fresco decoration of the church (1725-1729). One of his last important commissions was the frescoes for the church of the monastery of Klosterneuburg outside Vienna (1729).

A painter of great imagination, Rottmayr imbued his essentially idealized figures with a robust liveliness and naturalism of great appeal. His color, especially in his maturity, is often of enchanting beauty and refinement. The visionary effect of his ceiling paintings is sometimes reduced by the massiveness of his figures, but all are eminently effective in their swirling compositions.

Rottmayr was ennobled in 1704 with the title "von Rosenbrunn." He died in Vienna on Oct. 28, 1730, almost literally with his brush in his hand.


Further Reading on Johann Michael Rottmayr

There is no monograph on Rottmayr in English. He is discussed in Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965). Edward A. Maser, Disegni inediti di Johann Michael Rottmayer (1971), in Italian, dealing with his drawings, is illustrated in color.