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0118 Martin Krummholz, Antonio Porta and Seventeenth-Century Central European Architecture

RIHA Journal 0118 | 23 March 2015

Antonio Porta and Seventeenth-Century Central European Architecture

Martin Krummholz

Originally published as:

"Antonio Porta a středoevropská architektura 17. Století," in: Martin Mádl (ed.), Barokní nástěnná malba v českých zemích. Tencalla I, Praha 2012, pp. 251-265.

Translation initiated by:

Pavla Machalíková, Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague


The text places the work of Antonio Porta (1631/32-1702) in the broader context of European architecture. It emphasises the close connections between Porta's architecture and the work of Francesco Caratti and Jean Baptiste Mathey, and the common starting-point for these artists, which was the Viennese architecture of Filiberto Lucchese and Giovanni Pietro Tencalla. The architecture of the Troja chateau of Count Sternberg can also be interpreted in this context; it draws on the analogous suburban summer residences in Vienna (Lusthäuser). There were also significant connections between mid-17th century Central European architecture and the Piedmont metropolis of Turin, which was being developed on a grand scale at that time. On the one hand there were many artists from the Lugano region active in Turin who later went on to work in Central Europe, and on the other numerous Central European aristocrats stayed for a while in Turin as part of their grand tour. It was via Turin that the influences of French architecture were reflected in the Bohemian and Central European milieus.


  1. A number of buildings decorated by paintings by Giacomo Tencalla are attributed to the architect Antonio Porta, who – like both Tencallas – came from the Lake Lugano region. The aim of this study is to examine Porta's work within the broader framework of 17th-century Central European architecture and to point out some interesting parallels and connections that are usually either overlooked or interpreted separately, without drawing the appropriate conclusions, in traditional artistic profiles of Porta. The thesis presented here may provide a starting-point for further reflections and discussions in which this theme is considered in a somewhat broader context than has been the case until now.

  2. The literature on 17th-century architecture in the Czech lands consists of monographs on individual buildings and artists, synthesising descriptions of the "development" of early Baroque architecture in the Czech lands, and studies examining Italian and French influences on the Bohemian milieu. Numerous monograph works based on painstaking study of archive materials and surveys of the construction history of buildings have helped assemble a large quantity of relevant data on the various localities and artists.1 A methodological shortcoming of existing Czech research into "development" in this field is the fact that it is traditionally interpreted without its natural historical and geographical contexts – as an autonomous "Bohemian" development. The subsequent debate on "influences" is certainly not without interest; but unless it is supported by convincing arguments which develop individual insights into more than simply formal analogies, it becomes an end in itself. In the case of stylistic analysis it is not possible to completely lose sight of the contemporary cultural and social context.

  3. Antonio Porta (1631/32-1702) is, together with Jean Baptiste Mathey (1630-1695) and Giovanni Domenico Orsi (1633/34-1679), a representative of the second generation of architects who worked in Bohemia in the second half of the 17th century.2 Their predecessors in the previous generation were Carlo Lurago (1615-1684) and Francesco Caratti (1615/20-1677). Before we consider Porta's relationship to his peers, let us look at the interrelationships between the two generations we have mentioned. Lurago, who all the evidence indicates to have originally trained as a stucco artist, arrived in Prague from northern Italy in the 1630s. He settled in Prague and until 1669 was the head of a building enterprise there that was in great demand. Its clients were predominantly religious orders, above all the Jesuits. It was under Carlo Lurago that Giovanni Domenico Orsi received his training in the 1650s. Orsi, a native of Vienna, eventually became Lurago's foreman, and after the latter moved to Passau he completed a number of the buildings in the Czech lands that Lurago had begun.3

  4. Francesco Caratti came from Bissone in Ticino, where in 1642 he married the daughter of Pietro Maderna, a stonemason at the Viennese court, in whose circle he evidently not only received his training, but also carried out his first commissions.4 The fact that in Caratti's case, too, his original profession was not exclusively architecture is shown by a contract for two fountains for the Liechtenstein Garden in Lednice, which he undertook to supply with his father-in-law in 1645.5 Although for a whole decade (1642-1652) we have no further information about Caratti's activities, it would seem that his artistic profile was shaped at this time in the Viennese milieu, where his father-in-law was employed at the court. At the end of 1652 Caratti was approached by an important client, the recently appointed President of the Court War Council, Prince Wenzel Eusebius of Lobkowicz, for whom he drew up the plans for the Prince's residence in Roudnice nad Labem, where Caratti worked in 1652-1654.6 It thus follows that he could not have been an unknown figure in Viennese circles in the early 1650s; the fact that he had such a prominent client testifies to his successfully cultivated social contacts and connections. However, it is highly likely that his princely patron first approached the imperial architect and it was through the latter's mediation that he acquired the services of Caratti, as an able pupil of the Lucchese or Tencalla school.

  5. A key figure on the architectural scene in the metropolis on the Danube in the mid-17th century was the imperial court engineer Filiberto Lucchese (1606-1666), whose style was later developed further by his close associate and successor in his court function Giovanni Pietro Tencalla (1629-1702).7 Through the influence of Lucchese and Tencalla a new type of monumental chateau layout and an artistically imposing concept for palace façades became established in Central Europe. A planimetric façade is covered in several thin layers by a grid of lisene frames, pilasters, continuous mouldings, parapets, and recessed sections. Alternating frontons and in some cases figural decoration is often used as an accentuating element, especially in the area of the bracket cornice. The extent to which the work of Lucchese and Tencalla contributed to the transformation of Vienna and its surroundings is shown by an album by Wolfgang Wilhelm Praemer (ca. 1637-1716) which depicts the most important contemporary Viennese buildings.8 The value of Praemer's illustrations is augmented by the fact that hardly any of these magnificent buildings have survived down to the present day. Everything that survived the tragic year 1683 was covered over in the subsequent years and centuries by later building development.

  6. Czech art history has traditionally not attached sufficient importance to this significant stage in the development of Viennese architecture, and has essentially disregarded it.9 However, architecture in the Czech lands at this time did not develop autonomously and without any connection with the Viennese milieu.10 Any such notion can be dismissed, among other reasons, because of the existence of a separate circle of prominent aristocratic patrons who lived and built their residences in every part of the Habsburg monarchy. And the natural centre of the cultural scene, a place with a high concentration of first-class (and at the same time by no means the cheapest) artists, was the imperial metropolis. From the mid-16th century the sources provide us with a wealth of evidence that the leading architects (such as Wolmut, Pieroni, Alliprandi, the Martinellis, Hildebrandt, and the Fischers von Erlach) worked in parallel in both the Bohemian and Austrian territories. In the 17th and 18th centuries it would be extremely difficult to find even a single decade in which there is no evidence for this intensive contact. And the example of Antonio Porta provides a graphic illustration of the connection between architectural events in the different territories of the Habsburg imperium.

  7. We know very little of Porta's early life. He came from Manno near Lugano, where in 1659(?) he married the niece of the prominent Viennese notary Antonio Anonini.11 It appears to have been this marriage that introduced Porta into the circle of the most successful North Italian artists settled in Vienna and working in the imperial services (such as Giovanni Battista Carlone, Filiberto Lucchese, Carlo Quaglio, Simone Retacco, Giovanni Pietro Tencalla, Andrea Allio, Silvestro Carlone, and Carpoforo Tencalla). These men were linked by family ties and often worked together on the many commissions they received. In 1662-1666 Porta was the court master-builder of Count Ferdinand von Verdenberg, for whom (for 300 gulden a year) he worked on the Grafenegg and Straß im Straßertale estates, and also in southern Moravia (in Náměšť nad Oslavou and Rosice).12 After Verdenberg's death the architect was employed for a short time by the former's sister Anna Camilla von Enckevoirt, for whom he worked on the Loreto Chapel in Straß.


Roudnice nad Labem

  1. In February 1668 Porta signed a contract in Vienna, on the basis of which he moved the same year to Roudnice nad Labem as master-builder for the Lobkowic family.13 Here he directed the construction of the chateau residence [Fig. 1], which had been designed in 1652/53 by Francesco Caratti. Caratti had also supervised the work until 1656, and after a break his work had been continued in 1665 by Carlo Orsolini († 1667).

1 Heinrich Jonas Ostertag – Johann Baltazar Probst, chateau in Roudnice nad Labem, copperplate engraving, ca. 1700, Institute of Art History, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

  1. Although the construction of the Roudnice chateau continued under Porta's direction for a full sixteen years, it deviated only to a limited extent from Caratti's original conception, of which we are relatively well informed thanks to the plans and correspondence, which have been preserved.14 Incidentally, Caratti continued to monitor the work on this prestigious building, as is testified to, among other things, by his presence in Roudnice in August 1668, when he acted as godfather to Porta's twin children.15 This fact leads us to speculate whether Porta's engagement with the Lobkowicz family might not have been mediated by Caratti himself.

  2. The chateau in Roudnice is a remarkable piece of architecture, particularly in terms of its material composition. Here, for the first time in the Czech lands (albeit for the time being inconsistently), we find an open layout being used for a chateau instead of the four-wing block that had been usual until then. The entrance wing in Roudnice is formed by a low galleried section with a traversable axial tower. [Fig. 1 and 2]

2 Francesco Carrati – Antonio Porta, chateau in Roudnice nad Labem, from 1652, photo: Martin Mádl

  1. The appearance of the tower in Roudnice chateau, relatively unusual in the Czech milieu, may have been inspired by the tower of the Franciscan (later Jesuit) church in Żagań – the dominant feature of the town. [Fig. 3]

3 Żagań, tower of the Jesuit (Franciscan) church, photo: Martin Krummholz

  1. This design is usually interpreted as being "French" and is placed in the context of Prince Lobkowicz's alleged Francophile orientation.16 A single-storey entrance wing with a central tower does indeed occur in 17th-century French architecture; but apart from this parallel there is no trace of anything "French" in the Roudnice chateau. The whole has a monumental effect, with the other three wings being materially compact. The articulation of the façades, both overall and in detail, fully correlates to Viennese architecture in the third quarter of the 17th century, as represented by the work of Filiberto Lucchese and Giovanni Pietro Tencalla.17 The thesis that in 1652 Lobkowicz wanted to demonstrate his Francophile tendencies architecturally must thus be rejected as being ahistorical. Until the end of the 17th century the main inspiration for Central European architecture was Italy.18 Also debatable is the "parallel" with Cardinal Richelieu postulated by Monika Brunner-Melters,19 for Lobkowicz did not become the Emperor's first minister until 1669, long after the concept and basic architectural layout for the Roudnice chateau had been decided on. If we exclude the unlikely hypothesis that Lobkowicz wanted the primary starting-point for the design to be imported prints, then we need to explain Caratti's inventiveness in more natural contexts.

  2. The layout in Roudnice is followed in the three-wing Lobkowicz residence in Żagań / Sagan [Fig. 4], which was built after Porta's design in 1673-1695.

4 Antonio Porta, Żagań chateau, garden façade, from 1673, photo: Martin Mádl

  1. As in his final major building for the Lobkowicz family in Neustadt an der Waldnab (from 1684), bossed window frames were a prominent feature. The Żagań chateau displays the wide range of Porta's repertoire, admirably reflecting various features of Viennese architecture in the second half of the 17th century. In accordance with the principle of a significant dualism of the exterior and interior façades, we find here a relatively austere exterior, formed by the bossage of the massive socle, the windows, and above all the pilasters. The exterior casing of the building thus resembles the Amalienburg in Vienna, the chateau in Dürnstein, or the Montecuccoli summer palace in Vienna [Fig. 5]. By contrast, the façades in the courtyard are made lighter by double arcades (similar to Neustadt) and recessed sections in the colossal pilasters. The discreetly used decorative features of the severe Żagań exteriors include the Tencallian bell-shaped lambrequins on the Doric frieze and the mascarons, virtually obligatory for Viennese architecture in the second half of the 17th century, although here with a somewhat local interpretation. It is not possible to speak of French influences here.20

5 Wolfgang Wilhelm Praemer, Montecuccoli summer palace in Vienna, pen and ink wash, ca. 1670-1675, ÖNB, Wien



  1. The majority of the North Italian artists who worked in the transalpine lands spent the winter period in their homeland every year or every so often.21 These visits were an opportunity both for family life and also for exchanging information among themselves about current developments on the artistic scene and work opportunities. Apart from prints, the role of medium, where required, was also played by their own sketch-books and studies.22 At this time, many more or less distant relatives went to work not only in the north, but also naturally enough in the most important artistic centres of Northern Italy.

  2. Turin, in particular, was transformed during the course of the 17th century into a modern residential metropolis, where artists and craftsmen of various professions were in demand.23 The Francophile court of the Savoy dynasty here was regarded as a miniature Versailles, and as such was used by many Central European noblemen as a substitute for France on their Grand Tour, since France itself was temporarily inaccessible due to the wars taking place there. In this role it was also equipped with an academy for the nobility, founded in 1678, which was famous in its day.24

  3. In view of the fact that both a substantial number of Habsburg aristocratic patrons and also artists who were at the same time working in Central Europe were familiar with the rapidly changing Turin milieu from their own experience, possible parallels between Piedmont and Central European architecture are highly relevant, even before the era of Guarini and Juvarra. References to formal analogies between Piedmont and Viennese buildings in the 17th century are thus fully justified.25 In addition, archive findings have recently been published explicitly demonstrating that some artists from Tencalla's circle – active in Bohemia or Moravia – were also working in Turin in the 1660s and 1670s.26

  4. Apart from the Ducal (or Royal) palace [Fig. 6], the most important early residence of the Savoy dynasty was the Castello del Valentino [Fig. 7], built close to the metropolis by the court architects Carlo and Amedeo di Castellamonte in several stages, starting in 1630.27 As with the Palazzo Reale, in the Valentino we find an open triple-wing layout, with which we are familiar from Caratti's Roudnice and later in Żagań.

  5. Furthermore, the Valentino is reminiscent of Roudnice because of its massive western front [Fig. 8], with an external staircase (situated in an analogous position to Roudnice) which served as the principal entrance from the river, which at the time was used as the main form of access.

6 Giovanni Tomasso Borgognio – Romein de Hooghe, Turin, Piazza Castello, engraving from the album Theatrum statuum regiae celsitudinis Sabaudiae ducis, Amsterdam 1682, Institute of Art History, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

7 Turin, Castello Valentino, engraving from the album Theatrum statuum regiae celsitudinis Sabaudiae ducis, Amsterdam 1682, Institute of Art History, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

8 Castello Valentino, built from 1630 onwards, view from the river, photo: Martin Mádl

  1. In the case of the Savoy residences there genuinely were direct French influences. Apart from its traditionally Francophile cultural orientation, until the early 18th century Piedmont was also dependent on France politically. While the cultural, social, and political situation in the Czech lands in the second half of the 17th century excluded direct French influence, the role of the Savoy metropolis as a major artistic and social centre at that time is indisputable. The rare echoes of French architecture in the Bohemian milieu might therefore be explained by the natural links between Central Europe and the Piedmont milieu. Further weight is added to this assumption by the fact that a considerable number of North Italian artists who worked in Turin during the 17th century were also active in the Czech lands. It would be desirable for future research to properly elucidate these connections, which are at present more a matter of conjecture.

  2. In the context of Viennese architecture we find an important building that is very close to the Roudnice chateau in terms of both the date it was built and its layout. During the years 1654-1663, Count Trautson built on the northern outskirts of Vienna (later known as the Augarten) a garden palace which, after it was sold to the Emperor in 1677, became known as the Old Favorita (after its model in Mantua).28 This magnificent piece of architecture [Fig. 9], destroyed in 1683, is documented by Praemer's album (fol. 190-191). A square courtyard with a taller main building (with an axial tower) and single-storey side wings is closed by a ground-level wall decorated by sculptures ("gallery"). The close interconnection between the building and the garden in the Favorita complex, and the element of the cour d'honneur, were a major source of inspiration in the Viennese milieu and beyond.29

9 Wolfgang Wilhelm Praemer, the "Old Favorita" in Vienna, pen and ink wash, ca. 1670-1675, ÖNB, Wien (Detail of the centre. Martin Mádl)