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BANNER_View-from-the-inner-courtyard-of-the-Zwinger-in-Dresden-1840_Europeana Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative ArtsView of the Zwinger Courtyard lithograph, 1840.


In this two part series we explore a selection of cultural highlights and monuments of German art history. In this first article, we travel back to the height of the Hanseatic League and investigate the lasting influence on architecture they left in the region. In the early modern period we take in the Baroque highlights of Southern Germany and discover the circumstances that brought the movement here. We also investigate the artistic collections of Dresden and its role as a centre for the decorative arts.


Germany’s artistic legacy spans from the early Romanesque and Gothic art movements in the medieval period, such as the unique Brick Gothic architecture of the Hanseatic League, to the epicentre of the reformation and the emergence of movements such as Baroque and Neoclassicism.


As Romanticism dominated European culture, Germany produced some of its most famous literary and music figures. Painter Caspar David Friedrich captivated audiences with his depictions of emotional and uneasy landscapes. In the 20th century Germany created arguably some of the most influential and famous early modern artists and designers at the Bauhaus School. To this day Germany continues to generate premium art and design as it supports interesting contemporary work and develops its ever growing arts spaces and industries, allowing new creatives the spaces and resources to develop their practices.


Brick Gothic and a Commercial Federation of Northern Germany


The Hanseatic League was a commercial confederation of merchant guilds and trading coastal settlements in central and northern Europe. The League grew from a collection of north German towns in the late 12th century into a collection of nearly 200 settlements by the 15th century, ranging from modern day Estonia to the Netherlands. The northern city of Lübeck became a key city within the League’s operation and was a key centre of trade for the Baltic Sea. In Hanseatic cities like Lübeck the League left a striking architectural heritage: Brick Gothic monuments such as churches and city halls as well as commercial buildings and town centres were constructed.


Brick Gothic is a specific style of Gothic architecture almost uniquely found in and around the Baltic region. Unlike other styles, Brick Gothic lacks figurative sculpture; the style utilises subdivision and structuring walls to break up spaces and façades. The buildings are almost completely built from brick due to a lack of resources of standing rock. To add decorative elements and texture, different combinations of red bricks, black glazed bricks and white lime plaster are used.


BLOG_Hans_Holbein_Hanseatic-Trader Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative ArtsThe Hanseatic Merchant Georg Gisze by Han Holbein, 1532.

Tour Director Tom Abbott will lead a tour to northern Germany in July of 2024. On The Hanseatic League ACE travellers will discover the history of the League from three major centres Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck. On this tour there will be a visit in Lübeck, the headquarters of the Hanseatic League, to the medieval Church of St Mary, an inspiring example of Brick Gothic in northern Germany. The Lübeck Marienkirche was built between 1265 and 1352 at the highest point of the Hanseatic merchants’ quarter. The Lübeck town council, who originally set out to build the church, desired to create a symbol of the desire for freedom on the part of the Hanseatic traders and to highlight the city’s importance over other cities of the Hanseatic League.


The design of the Basilica was based on other Gothic cathedrals in France and Flanders which were made of natural stone. St Mary’s became a monument of Brick Gothic architecture when completed with its two towers standing at over 124 metres each. It is home to the tallest brick vault in the world, with the height of the central nave at 38.5 metres. The interior of the Basilica is an embodiment of Brick Gothic design featuring large structural forms decorated with red bricks, glazed bricks and white lime plaster. In 1942 an Royal Air Force air raid caused the church to be almost completely destroyed by fire alongside a fifth of the historic city centre.


Reconstruction of the church took place between 1947 and 1959. A reconstructed roof and new bells were added and the original broken bells left on display where they fell in the fire.


BLOG_StMarys Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative Arts

Interior of St Mary’s of Lübeck showing the tall brick nave and structural brick arches.


The Hanseatic League tour in July 2024 will feature a visit to St Mary’s of Lübeck and other Brick Gothic highlights as we explore the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck. For more information and the tour details click the button below:


View 2024 tour details


Baroque and Rococo in Southern Germany


Baroque art had been slow to arrive in the German states before around 1650 but grew rapidly following the Thirty Years’ War when a reconstruction effort was made in the region.


The Thirty Years’ War began in 1618 as an internal conflict within the Holy Roman Empire as states clashed over the expansion of Protestantism and how this interfered with the earlier establishment of Lutheran and Catholic states within the Empire. The war exploded across Central Europe as other European powers became involved. By the end of the conflict in 1648, disease, battle and famine had claimed between 4.5 and 8 million lives. The toll of war was felt heavily across the German states, principally in the Electorate of Bavaria which had gained increased autonomy within the Empire but at the cost of great economic and structural damage and a large loss of life.


The architects attempting to rebuild Bavaria after the Thirty Years’ War drew influences from Baroque centres across Italy such as Rome. Baroque art suited the tastes of the region as many of the German princes employed foreign painters who had helped popularise the art movement. In the 18th century, Baroque and Rococo – otherwise known as Late Baroque – architecture exploded in popularity as a Bauwurm or building bug spread throughout the German architects. Many of the most impressive Baroque architecture was constructed during this enthusiastic period.


BLOG_Steingaden-Abbey Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative Arts

Steingaden Abbey was almost completely destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War and was reconstructed in the early Baroque style in 1663.


In April of 2024, Tour Director Alex Koller will lead a group to explore the vast collection of Baroque art and architecture in Bavaria. ACE travellers will have the chance to visit many highlights in the region including Ettal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1330. In 1744, a large fire destroyed most of the abbey and abbey church. The spectacular rebuilding project was planned by Enrico Zuccalli, a Swiss-Italian architect who had studied with Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture which clearly influenced Zuccalli when he submitted his design of a double-shelled dome. The dome of the church is about 60 metres high, so towers over the surrounding village at the bottom of the valley.


The interior of the church is decorated in the Rococo style by Josef Schmutzer and Johann Baptist Staub. A series of frescoes cover the interior of the dome, complementing the highly ornate and elaborate sculpting around the church interior, match the Baroque style of bold realism, attempting to give the viewer the impression of witnessing a divine or significant event.


BLOG_Interior-of-Ettal-Abbey_AS Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative Arts

Interior of the Dome in Ettal Abbey


ACE travellers on the Bavarian Baroque tour in April 2024 will have the opportunity to visit Ettal Abbey and other Baroque highlights across the Bavarian region. For more information and the tour details click the button below:


View 2024 tour details


Meissen Porcelain and a Baroque Palace in the East of Germany


Porcelain created in Japan and China had been a popular export to Europe during the 17th century. By the time it arrived in Europe it was an expensive product and therefore a symbol of wealth and refined taste. This generated a desire to locally produce porcelain; a quest which until this period had met with failure. At the start of the 18th century, German scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus had been experimenting with glass manufacture whilst trying to discover the solution to creating porcelain. When Tschirnhaus suddenly passed away, his work was continued by Johann Friedrich Böttger who – with the backing of King Augustus II of Poland – established the Royal-Polish and Electoral-Saxon Porcelain Manufactory at Albrechtsburg Castle in Meissen.


Meissen porcelain was the first European hard-paste porcelain: white porcelain that could be glazed and painted with decorative elements. As the first of its kind on the continent, the manufactory occupied a unique position, enabling it to attract artisans from across Europe and to offer unrivalled production of the highly sought-after material. As production continued, Meissen and nearby Dresden were able to position themselves as the centre of the emerging decorative art form and influence other production centres as they began to emerge across Europe during the 18th century.


BLOG_Meissen_Porcelain_Manufactory_-_Teapot_-_Walters_482781_-_Side_A Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative Arts

An original Meissen porcelain teapot with artwork inspired by Chinese and Japanese porcelain, 1724.


Meissen porcelain in the early 18th century was heavily inspired by the Chinese and Japanese porcelain popular in the period, and combined these with strong influences from the late Baroque, Rococo style. Meissen became known for producing a range of porcelain figures which collectors would use to decorate table displays. These figures were first produced in plain white, but later colourful designs gained in popularity.


Ceramics and decorative art specialist Lars Tharp will lead ACE’s Art Treasures of Dresden: Porcelain & Paintings tour to Dresden and Meissen in March 2024. This tour will focus on visiting many of the large collections Dresden is known for, including the Dresden Porcelain Collection in the Zwinger Palace. The collection was founded in 1715 by King Augustus II and contains a vast array of traditional Chinese and Japanese porcelain, but also that produced locally in Meissen. There are a range of large sculptures of white porcelain depicting such characters as comedians and musicians.


The Zwinger Palace, an impressive palatial complex, is one of Germany’s most important and well known monuments to Baroque architecture. Construction began on the palace in 1709, and it was intended as a cultural centre and festival area initially, to accompany a new castle for Augustus II of Poland. The castle, however, was never constructed, and instead the Zwinger remained as a cultural centre and exhibition space, a purpose it still fulfils to this day. The complex stands as an icon of Baroque architecture with its decorated façades and grand structural forms.


BLOG_Zwinger Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Architecture & Decorative Arts

The Zwinger Palace, Dresden

Travelling to Dresden and Meissen on the Art Treasures of Dresden: Porcelain & Paintings tour will offer travellers the opportunity to visit important sites such as the Zwinger, with its famous collection of porcelain. This tour will also include an excursion to Meissen, for a visit to the modern factory and Albrechtsburg Castle. For more information and the tour details click the button below:

View 2024 tour details




In our second article we trace the legacy of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, the history of how Berlin became a cultural capital and how, inspired by Modernism, the Bauhaus created one of the most radical styles of the 20th Century.


To read the second part of this article series click the link below:


Read Part 2


To see the full selection of German art & architecture tours click the link below:


View 2024 German Art & Architecture Tours



Image credits:

Zwinger Courtyard | CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED via Europeana

Hanseatic Merchant | Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Meissen Teapot | Public domain via Walters Art Museum on Wikimedia Commons

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