On June 14, 1738, in Wies, Bavaria, part of the Holy Roman Empire, a wooden figure of Christ appeared to shed tears. Inspired by the incredulous event, pilgrims from across Europe began to visit the tiny chapel that was built in 1740 to house the figure. So many pilgrims visited the chapel that the nearby Steingaden Abbey decided to build a church to accommodate them.
Constructed between 1745 and 1754, the Wieskirche, or the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, is considered a Rococo masterpiece. The interior features astounding frescos with trompe l’oeil, a painting technique that renders objects realistically so that they appear to be three-dimensional. It also features the stuccowork of the Wessobrunner School of stucco artists.
The Wessobrunn stucco style originated from the Benedictine abbey in Wessobrunn, Bavaria, around 24 miles north of the Pilgrimage Church of Wies. In the 17th century, the abbey was the epicenter of Europe’s stuccowork commissions, with orders coming from France, Poland, Hungary, and Russia.
Two of the most important Wessobrunn stuccoworkers were the Zimmerman brothers, Dominikus and Johann Baptist. The Pilgrimage Church that Dominikus built and stuccoed and Johann Baptist frescoed is considered a masterpiece of the Wessobrunn style.
Dominikus built his home close to his masterpiece. And inside the church, he painted a pious portrait of himself kneeling in prayer before the wooden Christ. He signed the painting “D.Z. Ex voto A. 1757,” which roughly translates to “an offering, according to my vow.”