Rococo make me loco.

What treasures hide in the most unassuming places! 

Through, around, and under the rolling verdant landscape of Germany, speckled with small gumdrop houses that dribble bright flowers out of the windowpanes, lies the small town of Ulm. To most of the world, and frankly to most Germans, Ulm is more or less an insignificant place, but to the people of Ulm, it is a perfectly charming town with one of the most historically impactful (and beautiful) monasteries in the world. 

My arrival in Ulm was accompanied by the naive expectation that there would be large neon arrows pointing the way to this historical and religious monument. Wrong. After several confused and sweaty moments of asking around and searching on a good old paper map (for those of you who don't understand this concept, imagine google maps but then subtract the navigation, zoom in, direction routing, and basically every other helpful function), I plopped myself on the right bus and ultimately landed in a deserted courtyard of what was supposed to be an "exquisite space." 

Meekly, I wandered around, hoping that my libradar would kick in and somehow magnetically draw me in. it sure did.

A glimpse came through the cracked wooden door. I crossed the threshold and the largest grin cracked on my tired face. The library was empty; just me, the books, and the beautiful, historical architecture. Realizing just how perfect the moment was, I threw my head back and spun around the room, overjoyed and proud. 

The Wiblingen Kloister, a stunning example of the baroque craftsmanship of the early sixteenth century, is one of 200 baroque libraries around the globe to have survived the ages. Like other libraries created in the early Middle Ages, the sole purpose of this space was to centrally store and copy texts that were liturgic in nature. As a direct result of the invention of the printing press in 1440, more books were available. And though the inherent value of each book dramatically decreased, this innovation also led to a flourish in decorative binding and the placement of books on shelves. 

Overall, the library is constructed in the airy and whimsical Rococo style of the era. The architect's, Christian Wiedermann, vision for the library was a space to preserve "treasures of wisdom and science" which can easily be seen in the towering sculptors and sweeping ceiling fresco. 

The ceiling fresco was painted by a young, emerging baroque painter, Franz Martin Kuen in the remarkable span of less than a year. The strength of the pastel hues was achieved by a popular method of applying pigment to fresh plaster so it would be absorbed and endure many years. The artwork was commissioned by the patron Meinrad Hamberger who selected nine themes he envisioned come to life on the ceiling, eight of which would be antithetical pairs, depicting Christian vs. non-Christian stories, and the ninth would symbolize divine wisdom and contain the vanishing point of the fresco: a triangle symbolizing the holy trinity. The Christian paintings tell of Adam and Eve, salvation, mount Zion, and pope Gregory while the non-Christian paintings convey stories of King Ferdinand, Diogenes, abode of the muses, and August and Ovid. 

 

                                                             Wiblingen Kloister Library | Ulm, Austria


Of these themes, the most memorable was the painting of Diogenes, a Greek philosopher, who rejected material goods and claimed "the truly fortunate were those who had nothing because then nothing could be taken away from them." Featured near Diogenes (who is portrayed as an old man sprawled near a dog) is Alexander the Great, and it's rumored that when Alexander met Diogenes he offered him one wish to grant. In response, Diogenes cleverly states "I want you to move out of the sunlight." This causes Alexander to declare "were I not Alexander I would be Diogenes."

The intentional arrangement of the sculptures and ceiling fresco harmoniously highlights the placement of the books themselves. Across the top shelves, each cluster of books has a letter which spells out the category of text that it holds. The two main categories,historia and theologia, reside underneath the scenes of the fresco that most closely match them. Of the 7,000 books in the library, only 71 remain from the original collection.

I left the cloister with a goofy grin, marveled at the magical world I had stepped into.