Unique Bavarian ‘air painting’

Church of St Peter and St Paul
Church of St Peter and St Paul – click on images for larger views

BAVARIA is a German colossus. Germany’s second most populous state and Munich, the Bavarian capital, the country’s third largest city. It is a province of superlatives: from its rich and varied history to the modern sporting prowess of European champions Bayern Munich. But it is also a part of the world, if you take the time and effort to drill down, speckled with little-known diamonds, almost hidden from view behind the deafening trumpet blast of the larger attractions.

One such a glittering diamond is the small village of Mittenwald. Nestled between towering snow-capped Alpine mountains at N47 26.50578 E11 15.65609 in GPS decimal minutes, Mittenwald is the living canvas of a uniquely local tradition called ‘paintings in the air’!

Lüftlmalerei, as the open-air art is called, consist of colourful frescoes that borrow from the French art technique Trompe-l'œil
Lüftlmalerei, as the open-air art is called, consist of colourful frescoes that borrow from the French art technique Trompe-l’œil

STROLLING through the streets of Mittenwald is like taking a stroll through the magical world of childhood fairy-tales. Colourful and larger-than-life murals on the walls of the village’s residential and commercial buildings draw the eye hither and yonder – a journey back to more innocent times when a well-told tale at bedtime would arm toddlers for the frighteningly dark night ahead.

Lüftlmalerei

Lüftlmalerei, as the open-air art is called, consist of colourful frescoes that borrow from the French art technique Trompe-l’œil but maintain a strongly Baroque and distinctly Bavarian character. Artists, like Franz Zwinck, sourced inspiration from frescoes inside southern German churches and applied their artworks outdoors on fresh plaster. This allowed the pigments to penetrate into the mortar and extend the painting’s longevity.

Traditionally, murals depict religious themes or moral lessons drawn from Scripture
Traditionally, murals depict religious themes or moral lessons drawn from Scripture

HIGH on a scaffold, buffeted by mountain winds, Zwinck dubbed himself the ‘air painter’ and the moniker stuck to represent this eye-catching outdoor art form. While the origin of Lüftlmalerei is jocularly attributed to a dispute between the townspeople and an architect commissioned to rebuild the Church of St Peter and St Paul in the 18th century, it is far more likely that it developed during the counter-reformation as Catholics publicly proclaimed their faith in the struggle against Protestantism.

Traditionally, murals depict religious themes or moral lessons drawn from Scripture and often include the family’s patron saint. However, trades and secular depictions of life also appeared and today frescoes primarily adorn building facades as a decorative element. In addition to representing religious and moral proclivities, art also played a critical role in saving the town from extinction.

Matthias Klotz firmly established Mittenwald as the producer of some of the world's finest string instruments
Matthias Klotz firmly established Mittenwald as the producer of some of the world’s finest string instruments

ORIGINALLY, a flourishing trading post straddling a pass in the Karwendel range between Austria and Germany, the economy collapsed as goods from Venice destined for Augsburg began moving through other passes. Local man Matthias Klotz, who learnt the art of violin making from Italian maestro Nicolo Amati in Cremona, opened a thriving business upon his return in 1684, and firmly established Mittenwald as the producer of some of the world’s finest string instruments – a position it holds to this day.

Want to know more about Central European destinations? Visit…

The Castle of Wagnerian Proportions
Cycling Along the Danube
How to Put Flesh on a Skeleton
Is This the Most Scenic Village in the World

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