The Cupola Fresco in the State Hall: Groups of Figures

The State Hall of the Austrian National Library is one of the most beautiful library rooms in the world. This jewel of secular Baroque architecture was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI (1685–1740) for his Court Library. Commissioned by the Emperor and executed between 1726 and 1730, the frescoes in the State Hall of the former Court Library are the most famous work by the Austrian Baroque painter Daniel Gran (1694–1757). The Gigapixel showcases a cupola fresco, which is many square meters in size. It at the height of 30 meters and the viewer can explore it from different angles. This three-dimensional spatial impression can only be reproduced digitally to a limited extent, which is why some figures are upside down in this exhibition.

Cupola fresco in the State Hall (1726/1730) by Daniel GranOriginal Source: The famous ceiling fresco in detail

The cupola fresco shows the apotheosis (glorification, literally “deification”) of Charles VI, and comprises allegorical symbols of the virtues of his rule, the construction of the Court Library and the use of the sciences and arts by the state.

In the innermost circle of the copula, we see, in the centre, a medallion with the image of Emperor Charles VI, held by Hercules and Apollo, two of Jupiter’s (Zeus’) sons. The divinities embody courage, strength and the love of art, virtues attributed to Charles VI and that show him in the State Hall as “Hercules of the Muses”.

Directly above the medallion bearing the image of the Emperor hovers the figure of everlasting Fame. She holds a pyramid-shaped obelisk in her right hand and a palm branch and crown of laurels in her left. The obelisk, an allusion to the durability of fame, is a reference to the sovereign’s fame and is also intended to represent a sunbeam.

The figure of Fama plays two trumpets to announce the Emperor’s fame to the east (the Ottoman Empire) and the west (France). She is therefore shown next to the figure of the Goddess of Fame.

On a cloud above the Habsburgs’ tutelary goddesses hover the personifications of the Arts of Government and War, surrounded by books and trophies. Wise Government is holding a sceptre and a mirror in her hands, the experienced Art of War is holding a drawn dagger.

The Emperor’s Love of Magnificence is carrying precious headdress, a chain of pearls and a golden heart. Her sceptre points downwards as she orders Executio, somewhat below her, to construct the library. She obeys the Emperor’s command to build the library. Next to her, three genii hold a model of the library. Behind her stands an old man with drawing board and compass, while at her feet there is a genius with a yardstick and plumb line to show the execution of the building.

The Generosity, a necessary virtue for such a major building, holds a large bag of money in her hand. Behind her rises Austrian Munificence, disbursing from her cornucopia golden chains, coins, crowns and medals that are gathered up by genii and passed on to men who have earned merit in the arts, the sciences and the library.

Ingenious Invention kneels next to Executio. She holds a likeness of Isis and is leafing through an open book lying on an Egyptian sphinx. This is meant to show that ingenious inventions are in part the result of natural inspiration and in part from the reading of good books that can be used to solve the most difficult puzzles.

The following group is a symbolic depiction of Charles VI’s motto, “Constantia et Fortitudine” (constancy and strength): Germania and the City of Vienna (both on the left) are admiring the Constancy of the Emperor, a female figure bearing a column on her shoulder. Neither Mars, the God of War, who appears in full armour with a lion lying at his feet, nor Vulcan with hammer and tongs can achieve anything against her.

The Four Faculties, Theology, Jurisprudence, Medicine and Philosophy, demonstrate to the Emperor their joy at the building of the library.

The Gratitude of the Scholars and Artists is shown above the Four Faculties, revealing to posterity the efforts applied to the construction of the library.

History is holding a quill, given to her by Gratitude in order to record the Emperor’s meritorious deeds, above all the construction of the library. At History’s feet lies Time holding a stone bust of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Behind the personification of Time, his scythe of devastation projects from behind a cloud.

The Goddess of Peace joins with Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom and the protector of the arts and the sciences, who is holding out an olive branch to her. This is meant to show that the acquisition of scholarship is promoted by peace. Behind the Goddess of Peace stands the personification of Trade. She holds the cap of freedom on a pole and a naval crown over the head of the Goddess of Peace. The personification of Trade is also intended to encourage the Goddess of Wisdom to use her abilities to develop promising products.

Mercury, the God of Trade, is ordering various genii to present the books that have been newly acquired and wrapped in the carpet of Pallas Athena to the Goddess of Wisdom.

Behind Minerva, two genii are holding her shield with the head of Medusa to drive away the enemies of scholarship: Lethargy, represented by a tambourine and long ears, blindfolded Ignorance and Unjustified Criticism, shown as a satyr with rams horns. Together with monsters such as chimeras and harpies, they are falling into the abyss or running away.

Credits: Story

Curator: Hans Petschar
Project management and editing: Maria Feher, Thomas Zauner
Translation: David Wright

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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