Bavarian Rococo: A Retroactive Manifesto

In the early- and mid-18th century, architects, decorators, and artists in southern Germany produced a huge number of rococo church interiors. The output of these practitioners was remarkable not only for its quantity and geographic density, but for the hypertrophy of a style that, although it had originated elsewhere, reached in Bavaria its most profound extremes of excess and departure from period architectural norms. Characteristic of this work is the privilege of agglomeration over space: that is to say, instead of proceeding from a totalizing and abstract geometric conception of order that might regulate the entire space of a church interior, the Bavarian rococo is in the business of agglomerating ornament and detail in sufficient densities to crowd and press against the space of occupation – with all of the soppy plasticity and mixture of media that the tone of the word “agglomerate” might imply.

Despite the clarity of its sensibility (a Bavarian Rococo interior is fairly easy to identify by sight), the work of this period has yet to find a convincing theory that explains its appearance. In retrospect this a strange mismatch between practice and cognition that invites further consideration. How is it possible to produce a coherent body of work without a theory that attends its production? And if architects were to attempt to reproduce a contemporary version of the rococo, what logics would regulate the distribution of objects and the production of space? The Bavarian Rococo requires retroactive theorization to answer these questions – a manifesto that was never written by its practitioners.

In order to produce this retroactive manifesto, students will study a series of seminal Bavarian Rococo church interiors from the early- and mid-18th century, reading the architecture against 20th century philosophy and criticism that can be used to develop theories about why the work looks and functions the way it does. Simultaneously, students will design and 3D print models of their own architectural agglomerations, using the rapid prototyping technology as an analog to the ubiquitous stucco-work of the 18th century.

Key Texts:
Karsten Harries, Bavarian Rococo: Between Faith and Aestheticism
Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Rococo Architecture in Southern Germany
Umberto Eco, The Open Work
Umberto Eco, Infinity of Lists
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things