Balthasar Permoser
Biography of German Late Baroque Sculptor.

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Marsyas (c.1680)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

See: History of Sculpture.

Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732)

The Late Baroque German sculptor Balthasar Permoser was the foremost exponent of German Baroque art in Dresden. He studied sculpture in Salzburg during his teens prior to a 14-year stint in Italy (1675-89). While in Florence he carved the exterior of S. Gaetano (c.1684) and worked on commissions for Grand Duke Cosimo III. In 1689, he left Italy to take up the position of Court Sculptor in Dresden, where he spent the rest of his life, except for a few trips to Berlin, and two visits. Although strongly influenced by the Baroque art of Bernini (1598-1680), Permoser nevertheless - like Andreas Schluter (1664-1714) and other fellow northerners - infused his later work with elements of classicism. In addition, his lavish decoration of the Zwinger Palace in Dresden is an excellent exemplar of full-blown Rococo art. Aside from the Zwinger, Permoser's best known works of Baroque sculpture are Apollo (1715, Staatliche Kunstsammulungen, Dresden) and Apotheosis of Prince Eugene (1718-21, Belvedere Gallery, Vienna).

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Early Years in Salzburg and Florence

Balthasar Permoser was born in Traunstein, Bavaria, close to the Austrian city of Salzburg. He first learned sculpture in Salzburg, at the studio of Wolf Weissenkirchner the Younger, and afterwards in Vienna, where he absorbed the delicate art of ivory carving. After this, in 1675, he moved to Florence to work under the Italian Baroque sculptor Giovanni Battisto Foggini (1652-1725), where he remained for the next fourteen years, although he also travelled to Venice, Rome and other Italian cities, to study the works of Baroque and Renaissance masters. While in Florence he sculpted the facade of S. Gaetano (1684) and - thanks to the influence of Foggini - executed commissions for Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici, who was so impressed that he tried to persuade Permoser to accept the position of Court Sculptor. The latter demurred and in 1689 went to Dresden instead, where he took up the post of Court Sculptor to Johann Georg III, Elector of Saxony. Here, he created two colossal sculptures of Hercules.

Permoser remained in Dresden until 1704, except for a trip to Salzburg, where he carved the atlantes (type of figures) for the west doorway of the Hofstallung. During the period 1704–1710 he worked at the Schloss Charlottenburg, close to Berlin.


Zwinger Palace, Dresden

Returning to Dresden he joined forces with the architect Matthaus Daniel Poppelmann to decorate the Zwinger Palace, built for Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony. Along with teams of artisans, Permoser and Poppelmann produced a spectacular profusion of rococo style architectural sculpture, including polychrome stuccoes, ornamented facades, atlantes and other decorative flourishes. He also carved the sculptural figures for the Nymphenbad fountain.


Permoser's most famous statue is the large-scale Apotheosis of Prince Eugene (1718–21; Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna), a marble group whose principal figure is portrayed with the attributes of Hercules, while secondary figures of Fame and a fallen Turk occupy the surrounding space in a dynamic Bernini-esque composition. Commissioned by Prince Eugene of Savoy, the work failed, alas, to accord with the Prince's classical preferences. Other notable works include a statue of Apollo (1715, Staatliche Kunstsammulungen, Dresden) noted for its wonderful movement and drapery; two polychrome wood carvings of St Ambrose and St Augustine (1725, Stadtmuseum, Bautzen) created for the Dresden Hofkirche; a series of sculptures for the wall-tomb of Sophie of Saxony in the Freiberg Cathedral; and a pulpit he sculpted for the chapel of Augustus, now in the Hofkirche. A master of ivory and bone carving, he was also highly imaginative in his use of coloured marble: see, for instance, Damned Soul (1715, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig).

Note About Art Appreciation
To learn how to judge plastic artists like the German Baroque sculptor Balthasar Permoser, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Decorative Art

Permoser also produced reliquaries combining sculpture and architecture, several portrait busts, and numerous small-scale works in collaboration with the goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger, court jeweller to Augustus the Strong. The latter genre is exemplified by Permoser's Moor Presenting the Wealth of the New World (1720, Staatliche Kunstsammulungen, Dresden): a two-foot high figurine carved in lacquered pear wood, studded with gilt silver, emeralds, ruby, sapphires, topaz, garnets and cinnabar. In addition to these items, Permoser created numerous models for the royal Meissen porcelain and stoneware factory, including a set of commedia dell'arte figures (1710–12).

Permoser died in Dresden at the ripe old age of 80.

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