Wiblingen, founded in 1093, underwent the same fate as all other medieval monasteries in Germany, when it was radically remodeled in the 18th century. The result was an architectural ensemble of impressive dimensions in the baroque style. The abbey church, completed in 1781, is a rare example in Upper Swabia of neoclassical interior design, seeking to re-create the formal idiom of the ancients. The ceilings, painted by Januarius Zick, rank among the finest frescoes in southern Germany. The library has been exceptionally well preserved and is valued by art historians for the complex theological and philosophical themes which underlie its wealth of figurative ornament and its fresco ceiling.
Today the former abbey at Wiblingen is an imposing architectural complex with a large inner forecourt. It’s eleventh century consecration initiated a turbulent history with many waves of destruction. A great fire in 1271 put an end to the first period of prosperity for the abbey. Further havoc was wreaked during the Peasant’s War in 1536 and in the Thirty Years’ War.
During the age of baroque art, a growing demand for status symbols took hold of temporal and ecclesiastical overlords alike. Abbott Modestus Huber (1692 – 1729) decided to remodel the complex to plans by Christian Wiedemann. The ambitious project was launched in 1714. The north wing containing the splendid library was completed in 1740.
The inscription over the superb rococo portal at the end of the corridor where the monastery’s guest apartments were once located prepares the visitor for the room beyond: “In quo omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae” (“In which are stored all treasures of knowledge and science.”) By this door visitors enter the place in the former Benedictine abbey of Wiblingen where contemporary knowledge was presented: the magnificent library, already considered a site worth seeing in the 18th century.
It is an impressive in elongated room with the original sumptuous decorations. The scholarly iconography filled with theological and philosophical references was implemented in 1744 by the painter Franz Martin Kuen and sculptor Dominikus Hermenegild Herberger. A gallery runs around with balustrades curving along the balcony. Open bookshelves adorn the walls on both levels, and these are linked by shielded spiral stairways. Human knowledge and divine wisdom are glorified with an abundance of detail and quotation. Divine wisdom is embodied in a female figure enthroned at the center of the ceiling with angels around her.
Opulent imagery illustrates the classical Pagan and Christian sources of western knowledge. The science of the classical and Christian worlds are also symbolized. Sculpted figures represent monastic virtues and secular learning. All the elements in this room – used as a library but also for official receptions – are linked by a web of cross references. The visual program is astonishingly sophisticated and also indicates the scholarly standards maintained by the monks.
The Basilica of St. Martin
The Basilica of St. Martin was built between 1772 and 1783 and is an early but still colorful example of the shift from rococo self-indulgence towards the solemnity of neoclassicism. On the flattened domes are masterly, highly theatrical trompe l’oeil frescoes by Januarius Zick, with the foreshortened Last Supper and a cycle illustrating the Legend of the Cross. The basilica’s towers were never built. Only twenty years after construction was finished the monastery and its properties were secularized.