PRANDTAUER, Jakob
(b. 1660, Stanz, d. 1726, Sankt Pölten)

Interior view

1702-38
Photo
Benedictine foundation, Melk

One of the grandest and most magnificent abbeys in Austria is the Benedictine Abbey at Melk on the Danube. The monastery was founded in 985 by Margrave Leopold I of Babenberg. The present group of Baroque structures set on a rocky salient high above the Danube is the result of collaboration between Abbot Berthold Dietmayr and the architect Jakob Prandtauer. The foundation stone was laid in 1702, the shell of the building was completed sixteen years later. Work on the interior proceeded briskly; however, Prandtauer died in 1726 and did not live to see his worked finished. The entire site was taken over by Joseph Munggenast, who implemented everything as his great predecessor intended.

The huge church at Melk, whose towers dominate the landscape over the Danube Valley, is embedded into the structure of the whole monastery by two wings projecting forward on either side and bound together with a curved terrace; the whole ensemble juts up out of the rock over the river. Here he created one of the most thrilling examples of Baroque architecture. The stately interior, a harmony of dark-red marble and gilded ornament with golden-toned frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr, is reminiscent of Roman Baroque examples, although Prandtauer could only have known them through engravings.

The powerful exterior effects are also carried through into the interior of the abbey church. A striking feature here is the expansion of the architectural parts such as piers or fluted pilasters like filigree work into the richly adorned transverse arches and the vault and dome areas. Light falls into the crossing through the large windows of the drum and diffused into the adjoining areas, where it illuminates the sculptural quality of the plaster work.

The men acquired for the artistic decoration of the church were prominent masters in their fields: Antonio Beduzzi (1675-1735) (interior design, sketches for the frescoes), Johann Michael Rottmayr (frescoes, altar paintings), Paul Troger (altar paintings), Giuseppe Galli-Bibiena (1696-1756) (designs for the pulpit and high altar), Lorenzo Mattielli (c. 1690-1748) (design for the sculptures), and Peter Widerin (sculptures).

The picture shows the nave looking towards the high altar.