300th anniversary of Johann Wenzel Bergl (1719-1789)

Simply enchanting!

Born in the Bohemian town of Dvůr Kralové, the painter Johann Wenzel Bergl is usually not considered among the most influential artists of Central European baroque painting. The charm of his exotic Bergl Rooms for which he is mainly famous is nevertheless still delighting: With these murals for clients as famous as Empress Maria Theresa, the artist lures his viewers into distant landscapes inhabited by rare animals and foreign peoples.

More than just a highly gifted decorator

On the eve of the Josephinian Reforms (which would ruin a number of his monastic clients), the painter fulfilled the imagery dreams of his prelates in an ideal way. His many activities were not limited to Melk Abbey. He also worked for the monastery of Klein-Mariazell where he created playful garden pavilions as well as serious cycles on a religious topic.

It is the narrative pleasure that gives such strength to Bergl’s paintings. His love for sumptuous fabrics and beaded robes is unmistakeable. And then, his way of handling colours is also breathtaking: His frescos glimmer expertly in all the tones of the rainbow. His figures may be irritating – withering beauties whose forms are bent into shape by the ideals of antiquity in favour of a bitter-sweet expressiveness. The motto is temper, not character.
While the contemporary art theory around the year 1760 was already fantasising of noble simplicity and quiet grandeur, Bergl presented the baroque era that drew to its end with a final cheerfulness of a harmoniously balanced world. This good-natured order (so he thought) certainly had enough room for the saints from Heaven, the gods of the Olympus, but also for the savage peoples of the distant “America”. It is therefore less of an irony but rather the fortune of destiny that Bergl was to die in January 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution that brought the dramatic end of all baroque fantasies.

In all insouciance

Johann Wenzel Bergl’s paintings are not provocative in their lack of respect. Yes, he ignores the crises of human existence and does not bring forward any comments on the crises of faith in view of the Enlightenment. He neither plays the tamer of secret desires – even in his frisky decorations he ultimately does not care for excesses. He does not want to penetrate. Or see through it. Because – let’s be honest! – what for…? Why take to disillusioning, unmasking (and he is quite sharp-witted in this) when the entire world is nothing but a stage.

There is so much to discover!

The 300th anniversary of Johann Wenzel Bergl is an invitation to rediscover the artist’s imagery. An examination of his unjustly forgotten oeuvre may reveal aspects of the painter that go much deeper than a fluffy wilderness for spoiled rococo princesses.

Some of the most important places with works from the master will together commemorate the painter and his oeuvre on the occasion of his anniversary year. It is an event that crosses the boundaries of countries and allows a glimpse of the vast expanse of Central Europe in the baroque period. The main event locations are situated in Lower Austria (Melk Abbey, Basilica of Klein-Mariazell, Zwettl Abbey), Vienna and the Czech Republic (Dvůr Králové and Olomouc).

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