Schloss Johannisburg Castle – Aschaffenburg
The palace in Aschaffenburg, built from 1605 to 1614 in red sandstone by a master mason from Strasbourg, Georg Ridinger, is one of Germany’s grandest Renaissance palace complexes. Until 1803 it served as a second official residence for the Archbishops and Electors of Mainz. It was named Johannisburg after John the Baptist, the patron saint of Archbishop Johann Schweikart of Kronberg, for whom it was built. With this gift, the Archbishop bequeathed Aschaffenburg one of the most important Renaissance castles in the Western world. Empress Maria-Theresia,
Napoleon Bonaparte and many other members of the nobility have enjoyed the hospitality of the castle. Today the palace in Aschaffenburg houses three museums, a library, a chapel, a restaurant, and a very large glockenspiel (carillon).
The stairs from the Johannisburg Palace down the embankment to the Main River
The massive stone embankment on the banks of the Main River supports four wings, each three stories high, and four corner towers 160 feet high. The only asymmetrical features in this arrangement is the old castle keep (castle tower). This is the only existing remnant of the earlier building on the site, the medieval castle which burned down in 1552. Like the façades with the splendid gables, the single aisle palace church thoroughly reflects the formal idiom of the early 17th century. They altar made by Hans Junker of Franconia in 1614 contains some 150 alabaster figures, either in relief or fully sculpted. It is one of the finest specimens of German sculpture from that period.
Apart from the church and the spiral stairways, almost all the rooms in the palace were modernized in the 18th century. The Elector Friedrich Karl of Erthal initiated this comprehensive program in 1774. The architect Emanuel Joseph von Herigoyen furnished the completed rooms in the contemporary style of Louis XVI. These impressive neoclassical apartments suffered widespread damage in World War II. The palace itself was gutted and did not reopen until 1964, following major reconstruction. The wing with the living quarters of the Archbishop was faithfully copied and fitted with what remained of the original furnishings, including valuable items by Johannes Kroll, a pupil of Roentgen. The items which have survived include magnificent ecclesiastical robes from Mainz Cathedral on display in the investment chamber (Paramentenkammer).
The eastern tower of the palace houses a glockenspiel made of forty-eight bells (four octaves). It was installed in 1969 and is automatically played three times a day.
The embankment beneath between Johannisburg Palace
and the Main river shelters a herb garden
Steps lead down from the palace to the Main river terraces with broad views over the Main valley. Then there is an arcade, crossing the palace garden and continuing to the neoclassical breakfast pavilion before reaching the Pompejanum a few minutes later.
The Palace Museum – The Schlossmuseum
The Schlossmuseum is administered by the city of Aschaffenburg, and presents not only exhibits concerning the palace, but local history as well. These include items used by the medieval guilds of Aschaffenburg, furniture made in Aschaffenburg, city views and models etc. But there is an especially large focus of ceramics, majolica, porcelain and pottery, with pride of place given over to the local early nineteenth century manufacturer Damm.
Schloss Johannisburg has another unusual attraction to offer: the world’s largest collection of historical cork models. The permanent exhibition “Carrying Rome across the Alps” shows twenty-nine of these amazingly detailed models of colored cork, which illustrate the best-known models of ancient Rome. These replicas, made between 1792 and 1854 by the court pastry cook Carl May and his son Georg, vary in size from the Cestius pyramid, just three inches wide, to the biggest cork model anywhere, the Colosseum with a diameter of over nine feet.
Cork models, as the name implies, are primarily made of cork but they also used wood, plaster and terra-cotta to make an architectural model. The technique was used in the 18th century following the Italian custom of making manger scenes out of cork. The buildings represented are almost always from the classical world of antiquity, because cork is especially suitable for representing the characteristic weathered appearance of the old walls. As a rule they were made fairly large and with great precision. They were sold to aristocrats and other wealthy men visiting Italy on the Grand Tour, who took them back to nothern Europe to show their contemporaries. They were very popular in the royal courts of Europe in the 1700’s, and even though only a few hundred were made, there was hardly a court that did not have at least one example. In the late 1700s and early 1800’s cork models were often given to the newly founded schools of architecture as part of their model collection and so they played a very important role in transmitting knowledge of classical architecture to the European countries north of the Alps. Despite the fragile nature of cork, these models have actually survived better to the present day than the wooden models made at the same time, because cork is not attacked by insects in the same way that wood is.
In addition the museum highlights not only the history of the palace, but also the history of the city Aschaffenburg. Its collections include art and furniture accumulated by the prince electors as well as arts and crafts from the 17th century through the 19th century. And the museum is usually playing host to a temporary exhibit as well.
The Art Museum – The Staatsgalerie
There is a branch of the Bavarian State Art Collections in the palace (in German: Staatsgalerie der Bayerischen Staatsgemäldesammlungen), which had already made its home in the palace in 1932 before World War II.. The gallery brings together around 400 European paintings from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. For the most part the holdings are based on the original collections held by the Arch Bishop Electors of Mainz. So the paintings are a reflection of the taste and collecting proclivities of the prince elector: genre painting, as well as Flemish and German landscape painting. The museum holds a Passion series by Rembrandt’s last student, Aert de Gelder. Several works by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his students are on display. Other artists on display here range include Hans Baldung Grien, Corregio, Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens.