Among the earliest indications of a human presence in Krems are eight fragments of slate, which pieced together, reveal an image of a woman in a semi-dynamic pose. Found in 1988, the figure’s stance was seen as being reminiscent of a pose adopted by the Nineteenth Century ballet dancer, Fanny Elßler and the sculpture was named „Fanny“. Made by semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers some 40.000 years ago, it was found outside the town, on a slope known as „Gallows‘ Hill“.
While a copy of „Fanny “ is on display in Museum Krems, the original may be seen in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna
With the passing of the Ice Age, a meandering landscape of ox-bow lakes, islands and boggy marshes was brought into being. On the northern slopes of the Danube, signs of human habitation do not reoccur until the arrival of Slav farmers, who between the sixth and ninth centuries AD, lived in small hill-top settlements that overlooked the river. Evidence of a Slav settlement and cemetery found in Stein, suggests that in Krems, where evidence of a cemetery has also been found, there was likewise a settlement.
A Slav mill-stone and examples of pottery on display in Museum Krems
The Slavs were driven away by invading Magyars who, pushing on into Germany, were eventually defeated at the Battle of Lechfeld in 995 by the forces of the soon to be Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III. Following this decisive victory, a program of colonisation in the Danube valley was initiated, with Krems being situated at the eastern end. A major part of this program consisted in land being granted to monasteries in Southern Germany. In this way, over time, the Krems area and a significant stretch of the Wachau Valley were transformed into a patchwork of vineyards owned by different monastic institutions. Craftsmen and traders were attracted and slowly law abiding communities were established. The first mention of Krems dates from this time and describes the settlement as orientalism urbs que dictur Chremsa which means that the town had a fortified place of refuge where citizens could seek shelter in times of unrest. This will have been a form of stockade situated on the south-eastern-most point of the rocky outcrop that overlooks the Krems and Danube rivers, where today the Burggasse, or „Castle Lane“, may be found. Meanwhile, on the Hoher Markt, or „Upper Market“, markets were held. As the town grew, the simple palisade was replaced by a more substantial structure which, more worthy of being termed a „castle“, was situated further West. Consisting of defensive pallas and two towers, it eventually became absorbed into the fabric of what is now the Gozzoburg.
A glimpse of the Gozzoburg from the Untere Landstrasse
In addition to a castle and a market place, to the north-east, the settlement had a church and a watchtower, from which a watchman could survey the surrounding country and keep an eye out for marauding bands of potential intruders. Today, the lower part of the tower of the Piarist Church, features Romanesque windows that hint at the tower’s older origins and function. The original church, which was dedicated to Saint Stephen, can also be assumed to have stood on the site of the current Piarist Church. Of unknown origins but clearly dating from this period is an isolated architectural fragment in Museum Krems, that depicts a harpy.
Like the Romans before them, the newly established monasteries used the Danube as a means of transport and the wine produced by the vineyards was sent up river by boat to the parent institutions back in Germany. On the return journey, salt was carried downstream. This came from Hallstart and was shipped in small craft along the River Traun to Linz. There it was transferred to larger vessels and carried along the Danube. From the fourteenth century onwards ironware was shipped down the River Ybbs to the Danube. For hundreds of years, the Danube was shallow enough at Krems,to be forded by horses, so that the town lay on a crossroads formed by an East-West waterway and a North-South land route that, linking Prague and Vienna, continued on to Venice. As trade flourished, the community grew, with craftsmen and merchants settling below the castle on the South side of the settlement. From these first houses, stairs lead up through the roofs and into the cellars of the castle above, where refuge could be sought in times of attack. By 1014, the settlement had grown to such an extent that land was granted to the church so that a larger building might be built. Like the growing community, the new church was situated below the rocky outcrop on which the original church stood. Built as a Roman basilica, the new church was dedicated to Saint Vitus and was linked with the old by two stairways.
Either side of the Gozzoburg, two roads led down to the new district that was growing along what is now the Untere Landstrasse. To the south-west, the Althangasse and the Marktgasse lead to the Täglicher Markt that lies at the western end of the Untere Landstrasse. At the end of the Althangasse, where the old town bordered the new, the windows of old shops testify to what was once a meeting place and shopping area. On the other side of the Gozzoburg, the Wegscheid leads down to the eastern end of the Untere Landstrasse.
Between 1120 and 1193/94, coins were minted in one of the castle towers. These were known as „Kremser Pfennige“ and the reverse often featured a depiction of a walled city with gates. The existence of a city-wall and gateways is attested to in documents that date from 1188 and 1193 so that the city depicted on the town’s coins can be assumed to be Krems itself. Meanwhile the obverse often showed a figure holding two lions by their tails or a figure engaged in combat with a lion. As a result of Kremser Pfennige speading abroad, „Garmisia“ was the only European settlement outside Italy that the Arab geographer, Idrisi gave a name to on his map of the world of 1153.
During the later part of the twelfth century, there was a pause in the town’s growth. In 1196, in recognition of the size and importance that it had attained, Krems was made a judicial seat, with the judge having a sword as a symbol of office. As of those sentenced to death, only clergymen and nobles were eligible to die by the sword, common criminals were hung, this taking place on the north-eastern outskirts of the town, on the rise known as Gallows’ Hill, where Fanny was found.
With the end of the twelfth century, the thirteenth brought a second phase of expansion and from the South, the new town grew out towards the West, with the Untere Landstrasse being extended to form the Obere Landstrasse. Towards the end of this phase of expansion, in around 1250, a third fortification was built. Built on the corner of the Havnerslurche, now known as Hafnerplatz, this guarded the south-western corner of the town and the chapel and pallas of the structure may still be seen today. On the northern side, the fragment of a Romanesquese window may be made out.
To counter the rising threat of heretic sects, Dominican monks were summoned from Hungary and a church and monastery were built. Begun in 1240, the complex appears to have been complete by 1260. Unlike other religious orders, the Dominicans built their monasteries close to the settlements where they intended to preach even if, as was the case in Krems, this meant building outside the city walls. In times of attack, the monastery would be abandoned and monks would enter the town through the “Preachers‘ Gate”. Today the church and monastery complex are where Museum Krems is located, with the historic buildings and cellars being noteworthy in themselves.
The Dominican Monastery complex
During the thirteenth century, the castle that overlooked the town was bought by the judge and tax administrator, Gozzo, who radically rebuilt the structure, changing it from a defensive bastion, into the Medieval palace that is named after him.
During the second phase of expansion, Krems was a part of Bohemia. In 1283, aware that the loyalty of his Austrian administrators was not necessarily something that could be counted on, Ottokar II of Bohemia had Gozzo taken captive and held as hostage for a year. Following his release, as an expression of his thanks to the Virgin Mary, Gozzo had a fresco painted in the Dominican Church. This showed Maria as the Queen of Heaven with scenes of the Crucifixion and the Last Supper painted below. Next to the figure of Gozzo, the letters „G“, „O“, „Z“ may still be made out.
During the fourteenth century, the area towards what is now the Steiner Tor was partially occupied and as the century drew to a close, a new western gateway was built.
Where the two round towers are original, the central square structure was built a century later by Emperor Friedrich III. Above the entrance to the southern passageway, the letters „A“, „E“, „I“, „O“, „U“ may be read, carved in stone. These stand for Friedrich’s not unambitious motto „Everything (earthly) Is Under Austrian Omnipotence“. To the North, the city walls were extended so as to include the Dominican Monastery while to the South, the area between the new gateway and Hafnerplatz was encompassed. Close to the Steiner Tor, in the Schwedengasse, a fragment of original wall has survived.
If one follows the Schwedengasse South, turns left at the Ringstrasse and left again at Gartenaugasse, one finds the Mühlgasse on the immediate right. Here a square tower and a half-round bastion indicate the line of the extended southern wall.
During this third phase of expansion, the town was also enlarged out towards the East and the North, with the city walls being shifted out accordingly.
During the fifteenth century, a dispute between Emperor Friedrich III and his brother, Albrecht, lead to Krems and Stein being allowed to use the imperial double-headed eagle as a coat of arms and it is for this reason that still to the day, in both towns, manholes frequently feature a double-headed eagle.
In addition, the two towns were granted a number of favours and privileges that greatly enhanced prosperity. These included the right to insist that all goods passing through the two towns should be offered for sale for a certain amount of time ̶̶ only being allowed to proceed onwards if no local merchant was interested in buying them. These privileges initiated a period of an economic boom and during the sixteenth century, affluent citizens would send their children to universities as far afield as Padua in the South and Jena in the North. Trade contacts extended from the Mediterranean to the North and Baltic Seas. Those who could afford to, wore cloth from Flanders and seasoned their food with spices that were imported from the East via Venice.
During this time, houses in Krems and Stein, were modernised and those prospering from the new wealth, would buy up adjoining Medieval houses and convert them into single, spaciously laid out dwellings. The facades of these houses would be adorned either with sgraffito or with sculptures and frescoes. Towards the eastern end of the Untere Landstrasse, a number of houses date from this period. On the northern side, there are two houses with first floors that jut out over the street. Of these, the eastern house, Untere Landstraße 69, is decorated in sgraffito. Built in 1561, it is known as the Small Sgraffto House and shows fables and scenes from daily life and the Old Testament.
At Untere Landstraße 56, above the chemist’s shop, there is a fresco of a wine-grower with a vine. Further on, at number 57 on the other side of the street, there is a house with Late Gothic window frames that also date from this period. Retracing one’s steps to Untere Landstrasse 52, there is the Gattermann House with an ornately decorated bay-window built on a corner and which extends over two stories. Both round and rectangular bay-windows were built so that proud house owners could look out over the street and show themselves to the world.
The Gattermann House
Here wealthy citizens known as „burghers“ would meet and over a glass of wine in a convivial and sophisticated environment, would discuss politics, topics of the day and themes that interested them. By the sixteenth century, Krems was home to some 2,000 people and the burghers were the wealthy and privileged citizens who ran the town. In addition to the town’s administration there was also a poor-house which was run by the burghers and the parish combined. The burghers also contributed funds to a variety of causes, such as the building of hospitals and the adornment of churches. In 1559, 29 burghers met in the Gattermann House, each drawing, as a record of having been there, their coat of arms on the upper part of the wall. By no means confined to Krems, the burghers owned a house in Vienna, where they could stay for prolonged periods of time and play a part in national politics and policy-making.
Another important feature of Renaissance architecture was the opening up of courtyards, with arcades and loggia’s on first floor. Thus the back of the Gattermann House (Drinkweldergasse 2) features arcades that run in parallel along the first and second floors.
Like bay-windows, these again enabled residents to see and be seen, yet they also allowed rooms to be accessed individually, so that with the new architecture, there came an increase in privacy. In this way, reading and private study were engendered and fostered. From an extensive examination of the testimonies recorded in the town’s book of wills, the historian Harry Kühnel has found that during the sixteenth century, thirty-three citizens owned collections of books that numbered between three and 290 works. The books owned show that whilst texts relating to the Reformation predominated, the works of Greek and Roman authors were also well represented. Of the humanist writers, Erasmus, Petrarch and Ficino were particularly popular.
Apart from the burghers‘ Stube or clubroom, there were other clubs where educated gentlemen could also meet and discuss themes of interest, including the things they read in books and the new religious ideas coming from Germany. One such club was the so-called „Siman Club“ which is first recorded in 1529 and appears to have ironically styled itself as a club for hen-pecked husbands. Thus where the Wegscheid meets the Untere Landstrasse, a stone sculpture made by Karl Bauer in 2008, shows a man kneeling in front of his wife as he begs for the key to their house. This is Siman and his wife is resolutely laying down the conditions of his being allowed out at night.
The house at Untere Landstrasse 43 is also of interest as on the Wegscheid side, a derrick can be seen extending out from the attic. By this means, commodities could be hauled up into the attic and stored. This once common feature, serves as a reminder that the wealth of Krems and Stein was built on trade and on the local merchants‘ right of purchase on all goods that passed through the two towns.
At Untere Landstrasse 9, steps lead up towards Althangasse and the Hoher Markt. If the winding steps are followed one arrives at the Large Sgriffto House with sgraffito decorations spread over two stories. As at the Small Sgraffito House, here there are fables, scenes from daily life and scenes from The Bible. There are also scenes of a merchant’s journey to Russia.
Returning to the Untere Landstrasse, at the Täglicher Markt, the Obere and Untere Landstrasse meet and from the North, the Marktgasse leads onto the Täglicher Markt. As its name implies, at the Täglicher Markt, a daily market was held and the crossing was an important intersection and each of the four houses was adorned with a personification of one of the seasons. Thus above the apothecary, there is a personification of Summer, whilst the house diagonally opposite shows Winter warming his hands over a brazier. As the effigies were painted, Summer, having a dark tan, was referred to as a moor and the apothecary on the ground floor is known as the Moor Apothecary. Today the original statue, complete with its paint can be seen in Museum Krems.
In 1532, the house was evidently destroyed by fire as on the Obere Landstrasse side, below the statue, an inscription reads:
In this year of 1532 when Emperor Charles waged war against the Turks, this house was burnt down but within two years, Wolfgang Kappler, medicus, built the same.
Around the corner, on the Marktgasse side, above the personification of summer, there is a relief that depicts a wild man, who in one hand holds a pruning knife, whilst in the other he supports a coat of arms.
Born in Strasbourg, Doctor Wolfgang Kappler evidently came from a wealthy family as he had been able to study medicine in Venice. Thereafter he practised as a physician in Brno, before moving to Znaim, where he practised as an apothecary. In 1527, he received an invitation to be made a burgher of Krems, should he chose to move there. Accepting, Kappler bought the house on the Täglicher Markt and moved with his family to Krems.
A portrait in Museum Krems shows him wearing a red beret, which, like the book on which he rests his hands, shows that the person depicted is someone of education. To the left, a coat of arms shows the arms of Kappler and his wife, with Kappler’s black cockerel set against a red background, while in the lower half, there are the blue and white striped diagonals of his wife, Magdalena Gmundner. Kappler’s coat of arms were bestowed upon him by Emperor Charles V and are among the 29 arms that adorn the burghers‘ club room in the Gattermann House. Of Magdalena Gmundner, little is known except that she was the daughter of a baker and the mother of the couple’s thirteen children. A portrait of her that is likewise on display in Museum Krems and which is possibly by Wolf Huber, shows her in her best clothes, bemused at what was evidently an unaccustomed moment of peace.
In the coat of arms that the wild man supports, Kappler’s cockerel, enclosed by a pair of wings, serves as a crest, while the shield below shows a loaf of bread and so refers to Magdalena. The motif of the wild man occurs repeatedly in Medieval and Early Modern Age art and is a feature of both Slavic and Germanic folklore. The wild man would appear to derive the Roman god, Silvanus. Thought of as a friendly god of woods, who would plant trees in desolate places and tend to neglected saplings, Silvanus was also a god of herded animals. Wild men like Silvanus were imagined as bearded, rustic types who, apart from a wreath worn around their heads made of woven pine branches, wore nothing but their birthday suits and walked about naked. Silvanus is mentioned in Virgil’s Georgics and as Kühnel has established, during the Renaissance, Virgil was known and read in Krems. The wild man who supports the Kappler arms wears what is generally seen as a turban but might equally be a woven crown of foliage that spirals up into a point. Sixteenth century depictions show wild men wearing a second wreath which was woven around their hips to ensure decorum and hide that which should be kept hidden. A sixteenth century, life-size figure of a wild man cast in bronze in Salzburg, shows the wild man as being covered in fur and this is also the case with the figure above the Kappler apothecary. This raises the possibility that a body of writing known as the Corpus Hermeticum might have been a third source of inspiration for the choice of a wild man as a supporter for Doctor Kappler’s coat of arms. During the Renaissance the Corpus Hermeticum was thought to have been written by a „thrice-great Hermes“ and in the inscription below, there is also a reference to one whose greatness is also three-fold. This is Emperor Charles V, who was king of Spain, Austria-Hungary and the Spanish Netherlands and the inscription records that the insignia were given to Kappler by the three-fold king/emperor. A central tenet of the Corpus Hermeticum and of the Renaissance in general, was that correspondances and parallels were to be found everywhere. If there was a thrice-great king on Earth, this implied that there was someone in the heavenly realm who was also thrice-great ̶̶ the Hermes Trismegistos of the Corpus Hermeticum. Echoing this, the inscription below the wild man points out that the awarding of a coat of arms was a sign of merit and while he who bears them is corporal and mortal, he nevertheless has the capacity to address and pay homage to all that is divine. Responding to the resonances of the heavens, the microcosmic world of the soul was seen as resonating in tune with the movements of the macrocosm. At the heart of each individual there thus lay a spark of divinity which had the capacity to radiate out from the person in which it is kindled. Through ignorance and bad habits however, the divine spark was often stifled and suffocated. By the time it reached the skin of a neglected and ill-kept body, what was once divine was nothing more than an animal-like, hairy, hide of sensory impressions. Where the purest form of matter was seen as being air, the purest form of air was soul, while the purest form of soul was spirit and the purest form of spirit was God. In this way, correspondances had the capacity to lead up to God. This provides a context for the wings on the crest of Doctor Kappler’s coat of arms and is further supported by an illumination shown on the opening page of the Corpus Hermeticum as translated from Greek into Latin for Cosimo de‘ Medici by Ficino in 1468. Surmounting the composition and recalling the epitaph „trismegistos“, there is a soul with three pairs of wings.
Reminiscent of Silvanus‘ sickle, the wild man holds a pruning knife and this, combined with the motif of bread on the shield, invites the interpretation that, through a judicious treatment of physical aliments and a disciplined and appropriately thought out catering of bodily needs, the animal hide of the flesh can be purified and the divine spark within allowed to shine through. Importantly, there are echoes of Christian thinking, with the bread being reminiscent of the Last Supper and the cockerel hinting at the betrayal that is to follow. Yet the cockerel can also be seen as standing for the concept of the right time and the judicious moment. In the normal course of events, Doctor Kappler would have made a will that would have been recorded in the town’s Book of Wills and Testimonies and here the books he owned would have been listed along with the names of whoever was to inherit them. As recorded by the Book of Wills and Testimonies however, Kappler made other arrangements and made three testaments privately. Thus it cannot be proved that he owned either a copy of the Corpus Hermeticum or of Virgil’s Georgics. Nevertheless it is known that he owned books, including a valuable medical codex and it is likely that the number of books he owned was not insignificant.
At the Täglicher Markt, the top of the house on the south-western side is ornamented with coats of arms whilst below, Medieval and Renaissance images are combined and juxtaposed.
Originally emblems of the aristocracy and landed gentry, since the late Middle Ages, coats of arms were bestowed with increasing frequency on burghers, this emphasising their position and status within the community. In attune with Renaissance thinking, this social context is multi-leveled and drawing on the esoteric nuances considered above, the relief of the Kappler coat of arms supported by a wild man is sending out a number of messages. As an outsider, Kappler moved to Krems on the condition that the town’s doctors would send their patients to him instead of making the remedies themselves as before. Although this was assured and agreed to, on a number of occasions he had to protest that the arrangement was not being adhered to. In the historical record, Kappler therefore comes across as argumentative and difficult. Yet one can equally say that he was simply ensuring that that which had been promised to him was not diluted or taken away. As the wild man looks out over the Täglicher Markt, Kappler is not only announcing himself as a burgher to those of lower status, he is also and perhaps more importantly, announcing himself to his fellow burghers as someone of standing and substance, someone who can have a burnt-down house rebuilt in two years, as someone who will stand up for his rights and as someone who is knowledgeable and in touch with the latest thinking and the philosophically subtle mysteries that influence and affect all life.
Next to the once colourful house on the Täglicher Markt, there is the Gögl House which is graced by a Late Gothic bay-window which formed the eastern end of a chapel.
Continuing on along the Obere Landstrasse, if one turns left into the Dachsberggasse, two more arcades may be seen. On the left, there is an impressive courtyard with strikingly impressive arcades that extend over two stories. Supported by carved columns the coats of arms of the people who lived there are rendered in sgraffito.
On the other side of the street, looking onto a courtyard with modernised facades, there is a much more restrained arcade with simple rounded arches. This was a part of the Citizens‘ Hospital which, together with the parish, was maintained by the burghers, for the benefit of those who had fallen on hard times. First mentioned in 1212, associated with the poor-house cum hospital, were houses and vineyards that provided an income with the whole being run as a charity. Following the Hussite Wars, the number of old, wounded and crippled people meant that a larger premisis was needed. Completed in 1470, this was then described as a hospital. Fifty years later, a masterpiece of northern Renaissance sculpture was made for the Bürgerspital. Carved from wood by an anonymus artist, this on display in Museum Krems and shows Saint Vitus, who died as a martyr after being placed in a vat of boiling oil. Feverently praying that he might withstand the torment to come, the Saint was supposedly saved from his fate by a swarm of angels who lifted him up to heaven.
During the Second World War, this sculpture was recognised by the Nazi’s as being of such outstanding quality that along with the portraits of Wolfgang Kappler and his wife, it was removed from the museum and stored in the safety of a mine for the duration of the war.
Returning to the Obere Landstrasse and continuing towards the West, on the left-hand side one comes to a Late Gothic doorway. This is the entrance to the Church of the Citizens‘ Hospital. Dedicated to Saints Phillip and Jacob, together with the hospital complex that lay behind, this was built in 1470 by the parish and the burghers. Prior to their being expelled a hundred years earlier, this had previously been the Jewish Quarter and during the building of the hospital, a pot of gold coins was found. Invoking Treasure Trove, Emperor Friedrich III saw the find as his, yet the burghers argued that in this particular case, the find was a sign from God indicating that a church should be built ̶̶ using the gold that divine intervention had provided. Although it is not known whether the Emperor came round to this point of view, the AEIOU abbreviation of his motto above the doorway suggests that he did.
On the other side of the Obere Landstrasse, there is the back of the Rathaus or Town Hall, with only a double-headed eagle at the entrance to number 4 hinting that this is a municipal building of significance. At the other end of the building, however, opposite the Bürgerspitalkirche, there is a clearly civil and sumptuously ornate bay-window. Featuring coats of arms and reliefs of two soldiers, the structure is supported by a sculpture of Hercules fighting a lion. This stands for the strivings of the city and its burghers in tackling the problems that confront it.
Originally situated in the old town, the Rathaus was moved down into the heart of the new town during the Renaissance. This was following the donation, by a burgher couple, of the entire block of houses to the town. Following the Kirchengasse up a slight slope, leads to the Pfarrplatz, on the South side of which, a short flight of steps leads up to the Rathaus and passing through the glass doors, one enters a large hallway with a vaulted ceiling. Here the columns are notable, as their capitals betray a lack of awareness of the difference between Romanesque capitals and the Greek and Roman originals that comprise the three orders of classical architecture. This ambivalence is important, as it gave northern Renaissance architects and masons the chance of inventing new forms, resulting in architectural gems such as the Toll Collector’s House in Stein.
The Pfarrplatz is dominated by two churches. High above, there is the Piarist Church, with the tower from which a watchman once looked out over the town. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church is built in a Late Gothic style. Although this appears quintessentially Medieval, in architecture, the Late Gothic is integral to the Early Modern Age in the Krems and Wachau region and is widespread in church architecture. Its elevated position underlining their status, during the Renaissance, the church was the burghers’ favoured place of worship. Towards the end of the period, it was also the official place of worship for the Protestant community.
The Reformation is generally accepted as beginning in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg where he was pastor. The invention of printing by Gutenberg in the middle of the previous century meant that ideas could be easily propagated so that as a countermeasure, in 1528 a decree was issued stipulating that within the Habsburg Empire, a printer could only set up shop in the capital town of a region. This was to make it easier for authorities to keep an eye on what was being printed. Yet against the flow of ideas brought down river by ships, the decree was powerless and during the Renaissance, pamphlets circulated and travelling priests preached, bringing Luther’s ideas of reform to the heart of Catholic Austria. In Krems and the Wachau, these ideas took hold to such an extent that by the end of the century, at least half and quite possibly the overwhelming majority of the population had become Protestant. Thus in 1574, the Church of Our Lady was declared the official place of worship for the protestant community in Krems. As the Protestants constituted a major part of the population, the Parish Church of Saint Vitus fell into a grave state of disrepair. When Maximilian II died in 1576, he was succeeded by Rudolf II (1552-1612), who like Maximilian had Protestant sympathies. Yet Rudolf’s brothers did not share this attitude and were instrumental in promoting the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia, Hungary and Lower Austria. In 1589, the citizens of Krems and Stein were urged to return to the Catholic faith but in an act of open defiance refused. For this they were punished and after a four-year trial, in 1593, the privileges that they had enjoyed for over a century, were taken away. As wealthy Protestant merchants left, the prosperity that the two towns had enjoyed, began to plummet. After Rudolf’s death in 1612, his brother and successor, Emperor Matthias (1557-1619), relented and in 1615 restored the towns‘ privileges. Three years later however, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) broke out and the downward spiral continued. In 1616, the Jesuits, who throughout Europe were vehement in implementing measures of the Counter Reformation, were allowed to take over the Church of Our Lady and the last unrepentant Protestants, left Krems in 1624. Associated with the rise of Protestantism in Krems was a rise, not only in the reading of religious texts of a protestant nature but also of other material as well. With the Counter Reformation, Protestant books were confiscated. As, apart from the Bible, there was a lack of Catholic reading material that could serve as a substitute for the confiscated books, for a while, reading in general was frowned upon. This is again reflected in the wills made by the citizens, with bequeathed books not occurring in wills until the eighteenth century. Here the sole exception is the Deacon Lambert, who in 1628 confiscated 127 Protestant books, leaving 101 of them in to the arch-Catholic Capucine Order.
The other church that dominates the square is the Parish Church of Saint Vitus, otherwise known as „The Cathedral of the Wachau“. This was where the eleventh century Romanesque basilica stood. After falling into disrepair during the Renaissance, it was knocked down in 1616 in order to make way for a Counter Reformation, Baroque structure designed by the Italian architect, Cypriano Biasino. Where the Counter Reformation was sceptical about the advantages of a reading population and of independent critical thinking, it was in no doubt about the need for a language of visual art that was as manipulative and convincing as it was overwhelming and bombastic and all of this may be found inside.
Returning to the Obere Landstrasse, on the right-hand side, at number 10, an unassuming entrance leads into the Fellnerhof. Here there is another impressive example of an arcade built over two stories. Once a dance salon, this is where courses in further education are held and on the right, a stairway leads up to the course rooms. Here an ornate moulded ceiling may be seen whose imagery is continued in a larger room above. Although at first sight, this looks like a relief version of a grotesque painting, it is not but rather is an inversion of everything that grotesque painting stood for and tried to represent. With respect to painting, the term „grotesque“ refers to a style of decorative painting that derives from the grottos discovered during the Renaissance in Rome and Pompei. Re-interpreting the murals, Renaissance artists evolved a form of ornamentation that going beyond the strictly ornamental, is alive with interconnected elements, flowers for example, being linked with masks, whilst singing birds stand next to dolphins, all held together by filigrees of twirling, interconnected lines. From around 1485/1490 onwards, this style of decoration became highly fashionable and although over the decades, it became mannerised and lost its spark, two lively examples are preserved in Museum Krems. One is a panel of fresco that features interconnecting leaves and flowers, combined with an urn and ornamental, metallic objects.
The other is a masterpiece of marquetry that adorns a cupboard imported from Germany by Doctor Kappler and which in a bequest made in 1552, he explicitly left to the town. Where the two upper panels show ruins, the lower panels show interconnected masks, faces in profile, birds, dolphins and flowers.
The point of all this ornamentation is not the creation of a dearth of irrelevant, extraneous detail but rather is designed to evoke a shifting, dynamic world of metamorphosis and interpretation. During the Renaissance, the world was seen as a book which it was mankind’s task to decode. Here however, the correspondences that pertained between the macrocosm and the microcosm were seen as being so manifold that one interpretation did not necessarily exclude another, so that a multi-layered validity of meanings was possible. In this way, the world was seen as pulsating with ever-shifting meanings and interpretations, this being expressed in grotesques. In the moulded ceilings of the Fellnerhof however, this is not the case and something else has happened that is independent of the talent (or lack thereof) of the person who executed the reliefs. As argued by the historian, Robert Streibel, the combination of human faces with markedly large noses and pelicans carries a disturbing anti-Semitic message, in which there are no shifting meanings and no subtle meanderings. Although the Jews had been expelled from Krems a hundred years before and only a few Protestants still remained, in the Fellnerhof, a fiend has been found and demonised, so that Christian truths can be made to appear unquestionable. As the ceilings of the Fellnerhof were completed in 1619, there is good reason for giving this date as the end of the Renaissance in Krems and the beginning of a culture dominated by the Counter Reformation in which simplistic formulas and truisms were all-important and the real complexity of truth was negated and ignored. This stands in marked contrast to the wild man encountered above the apothecary at Untere Landstrasse 2, who with a variety of explanations as to his origins, challenges the viewer to explain his presence and why he should be adorning a house at such an prestigious intersection. Unlike the culture of the Counter Reformation, this puts the onus of interpretation on the viewer, ascribing and inviting individuals to form their own opinions and discuss their views in a culture of open debate.
A year later, the Corpus Hermeticum was identified by Isaac Casaubon as a collection of Neoplatonic texts that had been written by a number of different authors during the second century AD. Although the spiritual significance of the texts is unrelated to when and by whom they were written, as Renaissance Humanists had made much of the text’s supposed antiquity, the dating of the texts and the defusing of the idea that they had been written by a single person, served to debunk of their credibility and slowly the way was being paved for a new, more rigourously scientific view of the world.
Continuing on towards the Steiner Tor, a final example of an courtyard arcade may be found at Obere Landstrasse 32. Here rooms can be booked and in an atmospheric Renaissance courtyard, a meal enjoyed. As its name, „Alte Post“, says, this was once a post house and around the corner in the Schmidgasse, the original entranceway, half sunken by the rising level of the street, may still be seen. Continuing on along the Schmidgasse, brings one to the Körnermarkt. Here, twice a week, grain was sold and once a year, saffron, which for a few hundred years was produced in large quantities in the Wachau. On the other side of the square is the Dominican church, behind which lies the monastery complex and Museum Krems. Here the interwoven threads of the town’s complex history may be experienced in atmospheric and history-laden rooms where for centuries monks worked, ate and slept. The themes covered in the museum include, trade and commerce, the guilds, all aspects of wine-making, the lives of the town’s burghers, the Roman presence, the Medieval ages and the Slav origins of Krems and Stein. A model of the town at the end of the eighteenth century, gives an overview of the town, with the raised plateau, churches and city walls all being easily identifiable. The heart of the museum is a cloistered courtyard, three sides of which are Baroque and one side of which has been restored back to its original Gothic appearance. In the cloister, a superb collection of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures is housed including the Baroque sculpture of the Virgin Mary that originally stood atop the column that overlooks the Körnermarkt.