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Liechtenstein Museum Celebrates the 300th Anniversary of Andrea Pozzo's Death with Exhibition
Andrea Pozzo (1642–1709), Fresco representing Hercules’ deeds and apotheosis in the Hercules Hall of the Liechtenstein Garden Palace, 1704-1708. Photographed after completion of the restoration work, 2003.

VIENNA.- In 1704, in order to bring the interior decoration of the Liechtenstein summer palace to its long-delayed completion, Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (1657–1712) engaged Andrea Pozzo (1642–1709) to decorate the Great Hall, following several failed attempts by Marcantonio Franceschini (1648–1729) and Antonio Bellucci (1654–1726). A native of Trento who had achieved fame in Rome, Pozzo originally came to Vienna in 1702 to paint the church of St Peter in the centre of Vienna. As its dome had not been completed, he was commissioned to paint the nave of the Jesuit church in 1703, and in 1704 was engaged by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I to decorate the Great Hall in his summer palace.

Pozzo approached the project with a large-scale vision, altering the architectural concept of the hall: simplifying the monumental order of columns drawn by Domenico Egidio Rossi (1659–1715) in longitudinal section in the first design for the palace, he extended the smooth red stucco-clad half columns downwards to below the now continuous main cornice. The fine stucco decoration by Santino Bussi (1664–1736) that had already been partially completed when he embarked on his commission was removed, indicating the degree of trust placed in the great Roman virtuoso by his patron right from the start of the project.

Both of the hall’s longer walls were originally identical and had five openings above and below. On the inner wall these led on the lower level into the Great Gallery, and on the upper floor into the mezzanine (2nd floor), thus illuminating the hall and in particular the ceiling fresco from a second side. In the fields between the lower door openings and the windows above them Pozzo added frescoes with putti together with the family coat of arms above the central axis on the gallery side in 1709. For the shorter sides Pozzo supplied six transverse rectangular oil paintings, the dimensions and subjects of which are documented in preserved accounts of the time: a St Augustine, a St Gregory, a St Jerome and a St Sebastian together with The Testing and The Mocking of Noah were still among the paintings on display at the palace in 1873.

While both the portals and the fireplace surrounds of Untersberg marble seem to originate from the time when the palace was first built, the coats of arms and putti above the fireplaces date from the early 20th century. An impression of their original appearance may be gained from a modello in bronzed plaster by Giovanni Giuliani (1663–1744) held in the collections at Heiligenkreuz Abbey which was long thought to be a sopraporta. Representing Hercules on his funeral pyre, it displays affinities with Pozzo’s depiction in the ceiling fresco.

The décor of the hall culminates in the fresco that graces its ceiling. Pozzo depicts the story of Hercules from his infancy, when he strangled the snakes that Juno placed in his cradle, via his victory over the Nemean lion and the other monsters, the overcoming of Antaeus and the Amazons, his humiliation by Omphale, the slaying of Nessus, his suicide on the funeral pyre with Hebe hovering above, to his allegorical triumph, his admittance to Olympus. Inserted between these episodes, as grisailles or imitations of bronze reliefs, are scenes depicting Hercules and Deianeira, Mercury delivering a sword to Hercules, and Hercules bidding farewell to Molorchus of Cleonai before setting out to kill the Nemean lion. The grandiose pantheon at the centre of the vault leads the eye upwards in an illusion of unending celestial space, intimating the end of all earthly travails.

Pozzo laboured on this fresco, the most important work he executed north of the Alps, for four years, certifying the final account on 22 October 1708. The generous scale of his design was far in advance of his time, fluently uniting the masterly quadratura, the lively frieze with the figures from the Hercules cycle of myths and the view of the Olympic pantheon. Pozzo’s ceiling fresco is the late work of a virtuoso artist who knew exactly how to achieve his artistic aims with the greatest economy of means. The figures were traced in charcoal directly over the quadratura onto the fresh plaster. The coloration ranges from the brightest of hues in the earthly zones to subdued, earthy palettes in the distant celestial spheres. The further the figures recede into the unending spheres, the more Pozzo reduces the means at his disposal; the figures in the firmament seem like apparitions or dummies draped in cloth, thus emphasising the depth of the perspective. The figures are painted with broad strokes of the brush, the modelling achieved with light and dark chalks applied a secco as hatching over the ground of the painting. It is only seldom that a fresco is preserved in such excellent condition with all its original qualities right down to the subtlest nuances.

Pozzo died on 31 August 1709, just a year after completing this fresco.

The Liechtenstein Museum is commemorating this anniversary with a small exhibition in the Hercules Hall, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences will conclude their four-day symposium focusing on the work of this great master beneath his main work in Vienna.

The exhibition will showcase documents from the Liechtenstein family archive relating to the commissioning of the fresco from Pozzo which also illuminate the everyday aspects of the coexistence of two such important artists as Pozzo and Rottmayr, who, as different as they were, may well have been jealous of one another. The prince’s master of the horse had to cope with the problem of ensuring prompt transport for both artists with only one carriage and team of horses at his disposal, with Rottmayr, together with his “own one” (i.e., his wife) claiming the princely carriage for perhaps rather too frequent excursions “ganz spath in die comedia” (to the theatre late in the evening).

The exhibition will include editions of Pozzo’s treatise Perspektiva pictorum et architectorum as well as the 19th-century watercolours of the putti and princely coat of arms on the walls of the Hercules Hall that were later removed.

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