[I have based this web version of the original Art-Journal article upon the Hathi Digital Trust Library’s generally accurate text. — George P. Landow]
It is one of the highest pleasures in life to meet with talent early developed, energetic, and directed to a noble object. If a healthy moral feeling accompanies such talent, if a noble character is the basis of these aspirations, and if the ordinary life is thus ennobled, then, indeed, we cannot be astonished when such a man becomes the example of younger aspirants, and of all who love the Good and the Beautiful in Life and Art.
Such a man is Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, an Historical Painter, and at present Professor at the Academy of Arts, and Director of the Picture Gallery at Dresden. He is the third son of the painter and engraver Schnorr, Director of the Academy of Arts in Leipsic, who died in 1840. The native place of his ancestors is Schneeberg, in the Saxon Erzgebirge, where his grandfather, who was ennobled for having founded and supported the community of Carolsfeld, is still held in reverence.
Julius Schnorr was born in Leipsic, 1794; and though at first destined for a scientific career, he early evinced his talent for the arts. Scarcely seven or eight years old, he already engraved upon slate, representations, particularly of the battles which at that time filled the world.
Being soon in possession of the rudiments of Art, and desiring ampler opportunities of cultivating his talent, he went in the year 1810 to Vienna, where the Academy was flourishing, and where two of his elder brothers were already students. Yet this Academy was not the place where Schnorr's talent could find its proper development. Art exercised according to some old-fashioned rules, and a superficial manner of composing and executing, could not satisfy his ardent feelings, his original powers of conception and composition. But he found some indemnification for this disappointment in the society of various artists independent of the Academy, or quite at variance with it—his predecessors or contemporaries in the career he had chosen.
His compositions of that time bear the stamp of purity, innocence, and beauty, the effect of which is the more striking as the forms are severe; but the execution manifests superior talent, capable of mastering the most important tasks of an artist. Some of Schnorr's Vienna friends were already in Rome, when in 1815, he also obeyed the desire of his heart to visit that centre of all that is perfect in Art, after having resisted another equally powerful impulse, that of taking part in the war against France. This project he renounced at the persuasion of his brothers, who, it seemed, were unwilling to expose his most promising talents to the chances of war, and who gave him the promise of fighting for him with double zeal and enthusiasm.
Schnorr found already established in Rome that society of artists, who, excited by the important events of the time and guided by their own powerful genius, opened a new era for German Art, which from that time has developed and established itself in a manner that excelled even the boldest expectations and hopes of those aspiring youths. Schnorr attached himself in particular to F. Overbeck and Peter Cornelius, as well as to Niebuhr, the great statesman and scholar, whose friendship was of important value to him and to a wide circle of friends.
The artists of Rome made the first acquaintance with the talent of Schnorr by his painting "The Wedding in Cana;" the severe antique style of which was compensated by surprising beauty of form, and by the sunny cheerfulness of the representation. But the artists of that modem school, and Peter Cornelius in particular, had pronounced the opinion, that it is only in connection with public life that Art can reach its proper end, and be worth the enthusiasm and the efforts which it excites. Painting alfresco appeared to them the best means of thus exercising Art, and Schnorr seized with pleasure the first opportunity that offered of making trial of his powers in that manner. A Roman grandee, the cardinal Massimo, wished to have the villa he possessed in Rome, in the neighbourhood of the Lateran, adorned with al fresco paintings, representing scenes taken from the works of the three greatest Italian epic poets, and he appropriated to Schnorr the room devoted to Ariosto. In a series of representations of different scenes and stories of the Orlando Furioso, Schnorr developed not only his infinitely rich pliability of talent, but such on exuberance of beauty and grace that the astonishment was unanimous. The female figures in particular, which are painted in separate compartments between the historical scenes, are of exquisite beauty.
No wonder that Schnorr attracted admiration and praise, as well from the masters as from the friends of his Art. Among those of the latter whom an intimate friendship has united with him until this day, we must name, in particular, Dr. Bunscn, at present Prussian Ambassador in London, and Mr. de Quandt in Dresden. King Louis of Bavaria also, at that time Prince Royal, made his acquaintance in the Villa Massima, and began to feel that interest for him which had the most important influence upon his subsequent life.
But here we must mention a circumstance which reflects great lustre on Schnorr's character. It is known that a tendency towards Roman Catholicism prevailed among the German artists at Rome; many of his most intimate friends had already adopted that faith, and these, as well as many other persons, made all possible efforts to induce him to become a partaker of their newly-purchased happiness, imagining that nothing but eternal condemnation was the portion of those not included within the pale of that Church. Schnorr needed all his firmness and presence of mind to maintain unaltered his position among those zealous proselytes. Though he knew that many require religious consolation in the form in which it is offered by the Roman Catholic Church, yet he was certain that the conversion of the greater part was a mere aberration of imagination. The adoption Catholicism was an impossibility for one who revered the Reformation as the restoration of Christianity to the spirit of its Divine founder; for one whose religious wonts were amply satisfied by the doctrine of the Protestant Church, and who, as often as possible, made use of its means of grace. Faithfully and firmly did he preserve his Protestantism among these trials in Rome; — defended it with equal energy and conviction in those more difficult ones which he was to undergo somewhat later.
The reign of king Louis of Bavaria begins a new era for Art in Germany. Schnorr had almost completed his fresco-paintings in the Villa Massima, when he was summoned by the king to Munich. He was there destined to promote this newly commenced period of Art in a twofold manner; by his instruction at the Academy, and by his own numerous and admirable paintings. The works he executed at Munich, and the great love and reverence of all the young men who were pronounced to be his scholars, prove how amply he fulfilled the expectations formed of him.
His pictures from the Orlando Furioso had excited and developed the best powers of his genius, —the representation of the romantic. It was, therefore, a happy idea of King Louis to choose the Nibelungenlied as the subject for Schnorr's pencil. Five saloons, of different dimensions, on the ground-floor of the new royal palace, were set apart for these representations, and the whole arrangement entrusted to Schnorr; who manifested in this magnificent work, not only his great talent, but also profound general learning. He assiduously studied these highly important German epics, and represented the prominent events of his subject in a manner which itself may be called a poem.
In the paintings of the first saloon, he gave a sort of preface, introducing the principal heroes of the poem, and pointing out its essential parts in some paintings of the ceiling. Ho also gavo separate characteristic representations of the origin and tenor of the poem. The three different passions which pervade it, furnished him with materials for the representations of three succeeding Halls :—the first was to be the Hall of the “Wedding;” the second, the Hall of “Treason;” the third, the Hall of “Vengeance;” and the fourth, the Hall of “Lamentation.” As in this distribution of the generalities, so in the details also, Schnorr illustrated to perfection the physiognomy of the sublime poem. The paintings of the ceiling were the connecting links of the great events, and even the legends which occasionally mingle'with the realities of the poem, are gracefully represented; the architectural ornaments are full of poetry and fancy. In the midst of these occupations, the king imposed upon Schnorr another task, no less requiring an artist whose genius and talent lay in the delineation of the romantic. In that part of the royal palace called the Saalbau, the king had chosen three Halls in which should be represented, in a scries of large paintings, the three principal epochs of German history.
The Nibelungen representions were suspended, and those of the German history begun. Schnorr, in the course of ten years, succeeded in making the designs of those magnificent paintings; superintending their execution in colours, and taking, himself, an essential part in that execution. The first saloon was devoted to the first emperor, “Charlemagne,” his life and deeds, in peace and war; his patronage of Art and Science, delineated in six large and a number of small paintings. In the same manner Schnorr represented the history of “Frederic Barbarossa,” the Hohenstaufen emperor, and that of “Rudolf of Hapsburg.” He never lost sight of the truth of history, yet, at the same time, adhered to the laws of poetical conception and scientific execution; so that his work has become a rare and wonderful illustration of German history. The remembrance of a happy and auspicious event is connected with its completion; for the first use made of those Halls was the solemnisation of the marriage of the Prince Royal of Bavaria with a Prussian princess. These paintings are in the encaustic manner, while the “Nibelungenlied” is painted al fresco.
In these two works Schnorr had not only bestowed upon the capital of Bavaria a valuable addition to its Art-ornaments, but he also opened a wholly new career to the aspirations and enterprises of Art; for neither in ancient times, nor in the happy period of Leo X., had Profane Art obtained ample scope. Schnorr has most impressibly blended Art with Poetry and History. He was, however, not wholly engrossed with historical composition, for, at the same time, he diligently occupied himself with a religious and with a mythological work. He had undertaken to make the designs for that Hall in the new Royal Palace, the ceiling of which was to be ornamented with representations from the poems of Homer; and he continued a task, begun at Rome, that of a series of subjects for the Bible, which he admirably executed with the pen. Some only have been published in the Bible editions of the literary and artistic institution at Munich.
It would require too much time to name all the drawings and oil-paintings which Schnorr, with indefatigable industry, designed or executed amidst his other occupations. We must, however, mention two of his works; a series of drawings for a splendid edition of the Nibelungen, (published by Cotta), and another, of landscapes, which, unhappily, have not yet been printed, but which are of the most exquisite beautv. They are drawn with the pen, a style in which Schnorr excels; and are reminiscences of his stay in Italy and Sicily. After the completion of the German historical paintings, he resumed with renewed zeal his representations from the Nibelungen. His first act was to destroy two already completed large fresco-pointings, the labour of a year, which did not satisfy him, and which he painted once more. Tho designs he has recently made for this work, and in particular the “Death of Chriemhilde,” belong to the finest creations of modern Art, and ore so perfect in conception and arrangement that they excite universal admiration.
Schnorr has been happily married since the year 1828. He had selected as his future bride, even when she was a child, the step-daughter of an old, now deceased friend, the painter Olivier. He never left Munich after his arrival in the year 1827, except during a short journey to his old father at Leipzig. Tho rest of tho time was devoted with unremitting activity to his vocation. Distinctions and orders have been bestowed upon him by different academies and monarchs. The artists of Munich gave him in the spring of each year, a proof of their respect and esteem, by a fete champetre, and he knows well how to appreciate this language of the heart.
Though decided in his opinion, he is able to sympathise with those who differ from him, and to respect all that is original in every individual. He is mild and indulgent to all, but inexorably severe against speciousness, superficiality, and baseness in life and Art; against that barrenness which seeks to conceal itself under superficial evanescent ornaments; against that littleness which dares to boast; but especially against that false glare which labours to conceal the poverty of idea.
No wonder that his clear eye penetrated the superficiality and poverty of so many modern productions of Art, and that he, independently of the opinion of the public, and the voice of some enthusiasts, pronounced his convictions.
Those who have imbibed an idea of the excellent works of Schnorr, and of his influence as the guide and teacher of younger artists, will understand what a loss it was to Munich when he quitted it for Dresden. But, perhaps, it was decreed that the higher principles of modern Art should be more widely diffused, and conquer a new empire by the means of Schnorr in Dresden, as they do by those of Cornelius in Berlin. May the inhabitants of the country which is to be his new home estimate his works and his labours with the spirit they so justly deserve.
There exist some prints of Schnorr's works, particularly of the “Nibelungen” paintings (Stuttgart and Tubingen, 1843), and of the historical paintings in the RoyalPalace at Munich, — as a lithography of the “Feast of Barbarossa at Mayence:” and three engravings by Thater; the “Entrance of Barbarossa into the Conquered Milan,” the “Reconciliation of Barbarossa with Alexander III.,” and the “Founding of the Peace of the Empire by Rudolf of Hapsburg.” Besides these, there are engravings of some of the "Nibelungen" compositions by Schutz.
The Museum of Carlsruhe possesses a number of his designs for the fresco paintings at the Villa Massima.
F. “The Living Artists of Europe: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.” Art-Journal. 10 (1848): 239-40. Hathi Digital Trust Library online version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 20 August 2016.
Last modified 20 August 2016