A small stream runs down a central cobblestone street in the little Alpine town of Mittenwald in Bavaria, Germany, joining what is almost a fairytale scene, even piercing through to the divine.
Saints, deities, and the Lord Himself appear in brilliant colors everywhere.
If you happen to travel to Bavaria, you must stop by here and see how art, culture, and nature converge at the feet of the Alps.
Godly mountains hover above the colorful, ornately gabled façades in Mittenwald. Fountains gush all along that proud promenade that begins sublimely at the monolithic parish Church of Saints Peter and Paul. That walkway ends in a square with a larger-than-life-sized carved violin.
Musical instrument making is one tradition this mountain town has become known for (the local famed violin maker Aegidius Klotz crafted the instrument Mozart once used). But another tradition is its long history of fresco painting. Centuries-old arts timelessly carry on in Mittenwald.
If you follow that flow of water traveling through old channels of cut stone through the main part of town, the Obermarkt, there are countless fronts of shops and restaurants with painted plaster. The bright scenes portray the heavens, the Twelve Apostles, angels, cherubs, and other charming things.
These are lüftlmalereien—or baroque-inspired frescos that make Mittenwald into a living storybook. Little scenes dot the town all throughout, bringing to life motifs mostly biblical. By combining perspective techniques and faux-painted architecture, inspired characters and cotton clouds are merged illusionistically with window sills, doorframes, beams, balconies, and buildings.
It’s amazing to think how traditions live on unchanged in Mittenwald. This originally French style of painting, for instance, is called Trompe-l’œil—which means to deceive the eye—and was all the rage in the baroque era in the 1700s. Some of the frescos are actually that old, too. Although the techniques and content have changed somewhat, locals continue painting such scenes.
“Thanks to the original painting technique, the colors can last for centuries,” Stephan Pfeffer, a painter and sculptor, told The Epoch Times in an email.
The painting technique, handed down from the likes of Tiepolo and Michelangelo, required a dexterous and quick hand. The artist applied a thin layer of wet mortar and painted right into the damp surface in one go. Thus the mineral pigments bonded with the plaster substrate to form a waterproof layer.
This was called painting “al fresco,” but artists today go the way of “al secco,” less daringly painting on dried plaster and waterproofing it with modern solutions. But that hardly diminishes the artistry involved.
“You still need a very practiced hand and a great sense of proportion and perspective for lüftl painting today,” Mr. Pfeffer said.
He and his father, Sebastian, have immortalized themselves in their hometown, throwing fresco murals up at many of the markets and chapels that punctuate the town’s winding cobblestone streets.
As with trade and fashion, façade painting was brought north from Italy by merchants traveling across the Alps to German towns; Mittenwald once was a major trade center, until other routes began opening up. The style of art here became more folk-oriented, inspired by the over-the-top opulence of the Pope’s painters.
Supremely gifted talent, such as Tiepolo and Bernini, almost seemed to pull down the very clouds from heaven inside cathedrals, letting ordinary folks feel the transcendental emotions of the eternal. Art was employed to win people's hearts over to the Catholic cause.
Borrowing a page from the celebrated baroque movement, Mittenwald painters started a tradition that carries on today. Modern sensibilities led to more secular scenes being depicted, such as hunting and rural life, however.
After a morning at the Obermarkt, feasting one's eyes on sublime murals, feast on another time-honored tradition. There will be bratwurst and pretzels served with sweet mustard and fellows in traditional Bavarian garb downing locally brewed beer. You can dine under an umbrella, next to a small stream running through town.