Ossiach Collegiate Church and Josef Ferdinand Fromiller's Frescos
Dr. Birgit Stegbauer
Ossiach is a well known address for music enthusiasts here in Carinthia: The Carinthische Musikakademie CMA, which focuses on jazz and brass, as well as the Carinthischer Sommer festival, with its more classical and contemporary classical musical orientation, house many of their events at the former abbey. Next time you're listening to a concert there, let your eyes wander as well: Josef Ferdinand Fromiller's frescos in the former collegiate church and in the Barocksaal are a wonderful example of baroque interior design in Carinthia.
Ossiach, Carinthia's oldest monastery, was founded around 1000 AC as a Benedictine community. The three-aisled Romanesque pillar basilica also dates back to this time. During the period of the Turkish raids, in 1484, the monastery caught fire and the basilica was heavily damaged. Basilica and convent were rebuilt in the Gothic style, then converted to the Baroque style in the middle of the 18th century. However, only a few years later, in 1783, Emperor Joseph II suppressed the monastery and since that time the entire property has been state owned.
But let me return to the period around 1750: In a first step to redesign Ossiach collegiate church, its ceilings and walls were richly covered with stuccoes. A decorative system was carved out of the white plaster, full of rocaille and foliage and strapwork elements. The Ossiach stucco workers very evidently based their work on the style of the Wessobrunner School, who dominated the art of stucco in southern Germany in the 18th century. Now the collegiate church had an empty framework of stuccoes that longed to be filled by frescos.
Joseph Ferdinand Fromiller (1693-1760) was the painter chosen for this job. Fromiller was anything but a nobody. He was the most sought after artist of his time in Carinthia, favoured by clergymen as well as by the aristocracy. Certainly, Fromiller was not a genius. But he did know how to copy from engravings the masterpieces of the real "big names", and how to compose new works out of a basket of various copied details. That was his profession and that was what his customers demanded.
Ossiach collegiate church was consecrated to Our Lady, consequently Fromiller depicted the life and assumption of Mary in the ceiling frescos of the nave and the side aisles. In less prominent parts of the church he painted stories with local connections in the grisaille style, like the legend of the Polish king Boleslaus above the windows in the side aisles or the hand over of three crystallised quartz balls to Abbot Werner depicted under the organ loft.
For the main representative room of the monastery, the Barock- or Fürstensaal, Fromiller created a painted illusionistic architecture with a total of 14 niches, each containing a full-size figure of a Hapsburg ruler. Medallions above the figures give information about their names and their importance for Carinthia and Ossiach monastery. Other parts of the decoration system of that room refer to the history of Carinthia and Ossiach monastery as well. Placing the representation of the monastery on the same level as the representation of the country's sovereigns reveals how the Abbots of Ossiach wanted to demonstrate their own importance to the public.
In his frescos for Ossiach Fromiller has verifiably "borrowed" from the Flemish artist Rubens, from the German Johann Georg Bergmüller and from the Italians Paolo Veronese and Andrea Pozzo. Gaze at this wonderful, 250-year-old crossover of different cultural influences and then let your attention return once more to the musical performance.
It's good to know:
9570 Ossiach 1
Collegiate church open daily 9 AM until 6 PM (17.04. -01.11.2011)
Barock- or Fürstensaal accessible for event use only