Johann Heinrich Schilbach

Johann Heinrich Schilbach (Barchfeld 1798 - 1851 Darmstadt)

The Temple of Minerva Medica, Rome 1826

Oil on paper laid down on canvas, 29.8 x 39.4 cm
Signed lower right J. H. Schilbach 1826 (scratched into the wet surface of the paint)

Inscribed on the stretcher Vue du temple de la Minerva Medica / […] Rome

→ DEUTSCHER TEXT

 

 

I frequently venture into the Campagna which I had always imagined to be lacking in charm but have, against all expectations, been well pleased. It has a fine character of its own, and moreover [there is] the splendid, clear colouring of the mountains – itself hitherto unimaginable.[1] (Schilbach in a letter from Rome to Jacob Felsing, dated 17 December 1823)

Schilbach was born in 1798, in the same year as F. T. Horny and Carl Blechen. He was thus, like them, a member of the younger generation of German Romantic painters. He took up his studies at the age of fifteen under Georg Primavesi, a scene painter and engraver in Darmstadt. In the early years of his artistic career he enjoyed the financial support of Grossherzog Ludwig I of Hesse. Ludwig’s patronage enabled Schilbach and his friend, the Heidelberg painter Ernst Fries, to travel to Rome on a study trip in 1823. In Rome, Schilbach shared accommodation with Johann Joachim Faber and Heinrich Reinhold. He came into contact with Ludwig Richter, Carl Wilhelm Götzloff, Carl Philipp Fohr and Fohr’s patron, the Danish sculptor Berthel Thorvaldsen. Contemporary testimony of the high regard in which Schilbach was held in Rome has been provided by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. In the summer months Schilbach made regular study trips with fellow artists, visiting Olevano in 1824 and 1826, and Naples in 1825. He also made frequent excursions into the Roman Campagna. In 1828, he left Italy to take up a post as court painter in Darmstadt and to work as a scene painter. He continued to make extended study trips with friends and colleagues, particularly with August Lucas and Johann Wilhelm Schirmer.[2]

The discovery of the present painting represents something of a major art-historical event. Only four finished paintings from Schilbach’s Roman period are known to have survived. Two are views of the Roman Forum executed in 1825 and in 1826. Both paintings are now in the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen. The other two are versions of the same subject executed in 1827. Also pendants, they are now in the Kunsthalle Hamburg.[3] The present, fine Roman view is thus exceptionally rare and constitutes a significant addition to Schilbach’s known oeuvre. It is dateable to early 1826, after completion of the first two views of the Roman Forum and before completion of the second two views.

 

The subject of the painting is a decagonal structure built on the Esquiline Hill. It is often referred to, erroneously, as the Temple of Minerva Medica.[4] The building is in fact the ruin of an early fourth-century nymphaeum in opus latericium brickwork set in the Horti Liciniani. In Schilbach’s time, vineyards surrounded the main structure and its majestic dome,[5] measuring twenty-five metres in circumference, was still largely intact. The ruin was a very popular motif for eighteenth and nineteenth-century vedutisti. In 1828 – the year of Schilbach’s departure from Rome – the entire vaulted roof collapsed. Today, the ruin stands embedded in the modern city near Termini station and close to the Porta Maggiore.

 

Despite the relatively small format of the present painting, the choice of paper as a support and the decidedly naturalistic approach to the handling of light – the usual attributes of a plein-air study – it is nonetheless likely that the painting was worked up in the studio from an underlying pencil sketch very probably executed directly before the motif. This supposition is supported by the precise articulation and high level of finish of the architectural detail and vegetation. In the background, the motif is delimited by the outlines of the Aurelian Wall and the silhouette of the Alban Hills. Schilbach’s pencil drawing is clearly detectable under the layers of paint. No evidence has so far been found of the existence of preliminary studies heightened with watercolour and executed in situ – although in the rest of Schilbach’s oeuvre there are known examples of this working practice. The presence of two tiny staffage figures at the entrance to the ruin is a rarity in his work. This too would seem to suggest that the present painting was worked up in the studio after intense viewing of the subject sur le motif.

 

Schilbach was not the only painter to focus on the subject of the Temple of Minerva Medica in early 1826. Two watercolours by Ernst Fries are recorded, one is dated Im Februar 1826 and the other 9. Merz 1826. In both watercolours Fries has chosen exactly the same viewpoint as Schilbach and in both, the height of the sun is the same.[6] These are clear indications that the two friends were present at the viewpoint together.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot also worked on an oil study of the temple in March 1826. Here, the view is more frontal and the section of the structure chosen is compressed into a narrower format.[7] Fries and Corot may conceivably have first met on this occasion although the historical record dates their first meeting to May 1826 and gives Civita Castellana as their meeting place.[8]

 

 

[1] Cited in Gisela Bergsträsser, Johann Heinrich Schilbach. Ein Darmstädter Maler der Romantik, Darmstadt 1959, p. 38.

[2] See Peter Märker and K.-D. Pohl, Der Traum vom Süden – Johann Heinrich Schilbach (1798-1851), Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, Ölstudien und Gemälde, exhib. cat., Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, 24 February -30 April 2000, Heidelberg 2000, pp. 13-18 and 30-41.

[3] See Daxer & Marschall, Oil Sketches and Paintings, 1760-1910, Munich 2013, p. 36-9.

[4] The building was popularly known as the Temple of Minerva Medica because it was reputed to be the site of the discovery of a statue known as the Giustiniani Minerva.

[5] For a history of the building, see Mariarosaria Barbera, Sabina Di Pasquale and Paola Palazzo, Roma, studi e indagini sul cd. Tempio di Minerva Medica, in <www.fastionline.org/docs/

FOLDER-it-2007-91.pdf> (accessed 31.10.2014).

[6] - Ernst Fries, The Temple of Minerva Medica, watercolour over pencil on paper, 26 x 35.5, inscribed Rom. Im Februar 1826. Frankfurt am Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Department of Prints and Drawings, inv. 13012. - Ernst Fries, The Temple of Minerva Medica, watercolour over pencil on buff paper, 27.4 x 46.4, inscribed Rom. 9. Merz 1826. Heidelberg, Kurpfälzer Museum, inv. Z 2971.

[7] Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Temple of Minerva Medica, oil on canvas, 21 x 26 cm, dated mars 1826, Angers, Musée des Beaux-Arts.

[8] See Frieder Hepp (ed.), Ernst Fries: Heidelberg 1801 - 1833 Karlsruhe, exhib. cat., Heidelberg, Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg, Heidelberg 2001, p. 36; Camille Corot. Natur und Traum, exhib. cat., Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Heidelberg 2012, p. 439-40.

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