CUVILLIÉS, François de, the Elder
(b. 1695, Soignies, Hainaut, d. 1768, München)


French architect and designer of Flemish origin, active in Germany. Cuvilliés was so diminutive in stature that it was as a court dwarf he first came to the notice of the currently exiled Max Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, who detected the young dwarf's aptitude and had him tutored in mathematics, then underwrote his further education with Joseph Effner (1687-1745) and sent him to Paris, 1720-24, where he trained in the atelier of Jean-François Blondel (1681-1756). On his return to Munich he was appointed court architect, at first in conjunction with Effner.

At the Elector's death in 1726, for a time Cuvilliés worked at Schloss Brühl for the new Elector's brother, Clemens August of Bavaria. He provided designs for the chapel at Brühl, (1730-40) and the hunting lodge Falkenlust but as Charles Albert's interests shifted to Munich, he also returned to Munich. There his fame was established by the decors of the Reiche Zimmer in the Munich Residenz (damaged by a fire in 1729). The contents of the Schatzkammer fortunately had been spared, and Cuvilliés was commissioned to design the paneling of a new interior, to be executed by the court's premier carver Joachim Dietrich (1690-1753).

His masterpiece is the Amalienburg in the park at Nymphenburg, built 1734-39, with silvered or gilded naturalist Rococo decorations set off by coloured grounds.

The Residenztheater, or "Cuvilliés Theatre" (1751-55) designed and constructed for Elector Max III Joseph by Cuvilliés; though the theatre was bombed during World War II, the carved and gilded boxes had been dismantled and stored for security. Afterwards the Residenztheatre was meticulously recreated in the 1950s.

He wrote several treatises on artistic and decorative subjects, which were edited by his son, François de Cuvilliés the Younger (1731-1777), who succeeded his father at the court of Munich. From 1738 he embarked on his lifelong series of suites of engravings of wall-paneling, cornices, furniture and wrought-iron work, which were then published in Munich and distributed in Paris and doubtless elsewhere; they served to disseminate the Rococo throughout Europe.