Saint John of Nepomuk was an omnipresent figure in Baroque Catholic public monuments, frescoes, altarpieces and prints. Particularly shrines, effigies adorning bridges and small chapels to him largely characterised the Central European sacred landscape, and indeed continue to do so to this day. By the time John of Nepomuk was canonised in Rome on 19 March 1729 – just a few years after his beatification in 1721, he was already one of the best-known and most popular saints of the Baroque era. Veneration of the Bohemian martyr arose upon his death in the fourteenth century, and spread throughout Central Europe into the early eighteenth century. Due to his martyrdom, he became renowned mainly as the “patron saint of bridges”.

The “Habsburg Representation” research group of the IHB examines how in the eighteenth century, the Bohemian martyr became a patron saint of the Habsburg dynasty and the “patron saint of Vienna” and what role the various visual and textual media played in this process.

His canonisation at the behest of the Bohemian elites, Emperor Charles VI and the Jesuits legitimised pre-existing traditions of veneration and promoted new forms of the cult. The research project pays particular attention to the latent tension between the regional and transregional appropriations of this saint and his dual function as patron saint of the Habsburgs and patron saint of Bohemia. In particular, the study asks which specific actions were taken by the ruling house – beyond the initiatives already known to have accompanied his canonisation process – to establish him as the patron saint of the Habsburg lands and promote his veneration.

As a preacher who protected the secrecy of confession, Saint John of Nepomuk embodied the ideal of the Catholic priest, a notion reinforced by the mostly uniform manner in which he was represented. At the same time, his halo of stars and his tongue are characteristic saintly attributes that contributed to his unique profile. Hence the project examines various developments of the image and its typology in public monuments and church ornamentations. Moreover, the study also focuses on Nepomuk sermons in order to provide qualitative and quantitative assessments of his appropriation by various orders and the role played by preachers and the sites of their sermons. We further examine the relationship between the content of these sermons and visual media.