This Bavarian Town Is a Living Storybook Full of 1700s Paintings of Heavenly Angels and Saints

This Bavarian Town Is a Living Storybook Full of 1700s Paintings of Heavenly Angels and Saints
(kacege/Shutterstock); (Inset: Courtesy of Alpenwelt Karwendel)
Michael Wing
11/20/2023
Updated:
11/20/2023
0:00

A small stream runs down a central cobblestone street in the little Alpine town of Mittenwald in Bavaria, Germany, joining what is almost a fairytale scene, even piercing through to the divine.

Saints, deities, and the Lord Himself appear in brilliant colors everywhere.

If you happen to travel to Bavaria, you must stop by here and see how art, culture, and nature converge at the feet of the Alps.

Godly mountains hover above the colorful, ornately gabled façades in Mittenwald. Fountains gush all along that proud promenade that begins sublimely at the monolithic parish Church of Saints Peter and Paul. That walkway ends in a square with a larger-than-life-sized carved violin.

The Alps surrounding Mittenwald, Germany, in autumn. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.alpenwelt-karwendel.de/en/mittenwald-bavaria">Alpenwelt Karwendel</a>)
The Alps surrounding Mittenwald, Germany, in autumn. (Courtesy of Alpenwelt Karwendel)
A small stream runs between fresco-decorated street fronts in Mittenwald, Germany. (FooTToo/Shutterstock)
A small stream runs between fresco-decorated street fronts in Mittenwald, Germany. (FooTToo/Shutterstock)
Transcendental scenes are painted on historic buildings throughout Mittenwald, Germany. (kacege/Shutterstock)
Transcendental scenes are painted on historic buildings throughout Mittenwald, Germany. (kacege/Shutterstock)
Left: A statue of violin maker Mathias Klotz before a fresco painting on the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Mittenwald, Germany; (Dmitry Chulov/Shutterstock); Right: Examples of Trompe-l’œil fresco painting in Mittenwald, Germany. (Tupungato/Shutterstock)
Left: A statue of violin maker Mathias Klotz before a fresco painting on the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Mittenwald, Germany; (Dmitry Chulov/Shutterstock); Right: Examples of Trompe-l’œil fresco painting in Mittenwald, Germany. (Tupungato/Shutterstock)
A larger-than-life carved violin in a square in Mittenwald, Germany. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
A larger-than-life carved violin in a square in Mittenwald, Germany. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)

Musical instrument making is one tradition this mountain town has become known for (the local famed violin maker Aegidius Klotz crafted the instrument Mozart once used). But another tradition is its long history of fresco painting. Centuries-old arts timelessly carry on in Mittenwald.

If you follow that flow of water traveling through old channels of cut stone through the main part of town, the Obermarkt, there are countless fronts of shops and restaurants with painted plaster. The bright scenes portray the heavens, the Twelve Apostles, angels, cherubs, and other charming things.

Fresco paintings adorn the façade of a building in Mittenwald, Germany. (DragonWen/Shutterstock)
Fresco paintings adorn the façade of a building in Mittenwald, Germany. (DragonWen/Shutterstock)
Detail of a fresco scene painted on a façade in Mittenwald, Germany. (Piith Hant/Shutterstock)
Detail of a fresco scene painted on a façade in Mittenwald, Germany. (Piith Hant/Shutterstock)
Detail view of a fresco painting on a house in Mittenwald, Germany. (Eder/Shutterstock)
Detail view of a fresco painting on a house in Mittenwald, Germany. (Eder/Shutterstock)
Inside the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.alpenwelt-karwendel.de/en/mittenwald-bavaria">Alpenwelt Karwendel</a>)
Inside the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Alpenwelt Karwendel)
A ceiling fresco inside the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Mittenwald, Germany. (Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock)
A ceiling fresco inside the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Mittenwald, Germany. (Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock)

These are lüftlmalereien—or baroque-inspired frescos that make Mittenwald into a living storybook. Little scenes dot the town all throughout, bringing to life motifs mostly biblical. By combining perspective techniques and faux-painted architecture, inspired characters and cotton clouds are merged illusionistically with window sills, doorframes, beams, balconies, and buildings.

It’s amazing to think how traditions live on unchanged in Mittenwald. This originally French style of painting, for instance, is called Trompe-l’œil—which means to deceive the eye—and was all the rage in the baroque era in the 1700s. Some of the frescos are actually that old, too. Although the techniques and content have changed somewhat, locals continue painting such scenes.

A guided tour in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Angelika Warmuth via <a href="https://www.alpenwelt-karwendel.de/en/mittenwald-bavaria">Alpenwelt Karwendel</a>)
A guided tour in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Angelika Warmuth via Alpenwelt Karwendel)
Frescos decorate the exterior of Gasthof Post in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Wolfgang Ehn/www.wolfgang-ehn.de via <a href="https://www.alpenwelt-karwendel.de/en/mittenwald-bavaria">Alpenwelt Karwendel</a>)
Frescos decorate the exterior of Gasthof Post in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Wolfgang Ehn/www.wolfgang-ehn.de via Alpenwelt Karwendel)
Religious imagery is displayed on Hotel Post in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Wolfgang Ehn/www.wolfgang-ehn.de via <a href="https://www.alpenwelt-karwendel.de/en/mittenwald-bavaria">Alpenwelt Karwendel</a>)
Religious imagery is displayed on Hotel Post in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Wolfgang Ehn/www.wolfgang-ehn.de via Alpenwelt Karwendel)

“Thanks to the original painting technique, the colors can last for centuries,” Stephan Pfeffer, a painter and sculptor, told The Epoch Times in an email.

The painting technique, handed down from the likes of Tiepolo and Michelangelo, required a dexterous and quick hand. The artist applied a thin layer of wet mortar and painted right into the damp surface in one go. Thus the mineral pigments bonded with the plaster substrate to form a waterproof layer.

This was called painting “al fresco,” but artists today go the way of “al secco,” less daringly painting on dried plaster and waterproofing it with modern solutions. But that hardly diminishes the artistry involved.

“You still need a very practiced hand and a great sense of proportion and perspective for lüftl painting today,” Mr. Pfeffer said.

Famous historic buildings in Mittenwald, Germany. (FooTToo/Shutterstock)
Famous historic buildings in Mittenwald, Germany. (FooTToo/Shutterstock)
Hotel Alpenrose is decorated with Trompe-l’œil fresco paintings in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Burkhard Luther via <a href="https://www.alpenwelt-karwendel.de/en/mittenwald-bavaria">Alpenwelt Karwendel</a>)
Hotel Alpenrose is decorated with Trompe-l’œil fresco paintings in Mittenwald, Germany. (Courtesy of Burkhard Luther via Alpenwelt Karwendel)
Tourists enjoy refreshments outside a café in the central Obermarkt during summer in Mittenwald, Germany. (DragonWen/Shutterstock)
Tourists enjoy refreshments outside a café in the central Obermarkt during summer in Mittenwald, Germany. (DragonWen/Shutterstock)

He and his father, Sebastian, have immortalized themselves in their hometown, throwing fresco murals up at many of the markets and chapels that punctuate the town’s winding cobblestone streets.

As with trade and fashion, façade painting was brought north from Italy by merchants traveling across the Alps to German towns; Mittenwald once was a major trade center, until other routes began opening up. The style of art here became more folk-oriented, inspired by the over-the-top opulence of the Pope’s painters.

Painting was the megaphone to the masses back in the day—the Hollywood propaganda machine of the Church. The Counter-Reformation, then in full swing in the 18th century, harnessed mass appeal through art. Trompe-l’œil in the baroque age was the equivalent of today’s big-budget special effects.
Buildings with impressively ornate gables line the streets of Mittenwald, Germany. (Oleksandr Sokurenko/Shutterstock)
Buildings with impressively ornate gables line the streets of Mittenwald, Germany. (Oleksandr Sokurenko/Shutterstock)
Famous historic buildings decorated in colorful frescos in Mittenwald, Germany. (FooTToo/Shutterstock)
Famous historic buildings decorated in colorful frescos in Mittenwald, Germany. (FooTToo/Shutterstock)
Marketgoers enjoy a beautiful day at the Obermarkt in Mittenwald, Germany. (Sina Ettmer Photography/Shutterstock)
Marketgoers enjoy a beautiful day at the Obermarkt in Mittenwald, Germany. (Sina Ettmer Photography/Shutterstock)

Supremely gifted talent, such as Tiepolo and Bernini, almost seemed to pull down the very clouds from heaven inside cathedrals, letting ordinary folks feel the transcendental emotions of the eternal. Art was employed to win people’s hearts over to the Catholic cause.

Borrowing a page from the celebrated baroque movement, Mittenwald painters started a tradition that carries on today. Modern sensibilities led to more secular scenes being depicted, such as hunting and rural life, however.

After a morning at the Obermarkt, feasting one’s eyes on sublime murals, feast on another time-honored tradition. There will be bratwurst and pretzels served with sweet mustard and fellows in traditional Bavarian garb downing locally brewed beer. You can dine under an umbrella, next to a small stream running through town.

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