by J. Beavington Atkinson
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"The whole world without Art would be one great wilderness."







In offering to the public the first complete biography yet attempted of the painter Overbeck, I wish to give a few words in explanation. The task has been far from easy: the materials, though the reverse of scanty, are scattered: reminiscences of the artist and criticisms on his works lie as fragments dispersed over the current literature of Germany. My endeavour has been to fill in vacuities, to thread together a consistent and connected narrative, and thus, so far as I have been able, to present a true and lucid history.

My duty has been all the more anxious from the unusual complexity of the pictorial products falling under review. The scenes are laid amid the battle of the schools: the periods bring into prominence conflicts between classic, romantic, and naturalistic styles. The art of Overbeck was rooted in the olden times, yet in some degree it became quickened by contact with present life, and took also a personal aspect from the painter's inner self. The great pictures and the numberless drawings thus evolved over a space of more than half a century, and here described from my own knowledge, raise interesting and intricate questions on which the world remains divided. My care has been to give a just estimate of these exceptional art manifestations.

Also enter into the art, through the life, conflicts of religious creeds, strifes between Protestantism and Catholicism, between Platonism, Mysticism, and Rationalism. In dealing with such delicate and serious topics I have avoided all controversy, and have ventured only on the simplest and briefest exposition. My effort has been to state the case fairly all round, to maintain an even balance, and, above all, to place the reader, whatever may chance to be his creed or art school, in a position to form a true judgment.

Likewise fairly to appreciate the artist, it is needful rightly to comprehend the man. And here, again, perplexities arise from unwonted combinations. The character is one of the noblest and purest, and yet it is beset with peculiar infirmities. The portrait offered in these pages is, I trust, true and individual, toned down into unity, and yet not left cold or colourless. Such negation would, indeed, do injustice to my own feelings. For among the cherished recollections of past days are my visits to Overbeck's studio, stretching over a period of twenty years: I learned to revere the master and to love his works, and I trust no word in this little volume may lessen the respect due to an honoured name.

J. B. A.

KENSINGTON, May, 1882.




Birth and Parentage—Early Days in Lubeck—The Artist's learned and religious Ancestry—His Father Doctor of Laws and Burgomaster—Chart of the Family—Creed for a Purist Painter—Young Overbeck leaves Lubeck for Vienna: his Studies in the Academy—Decadence of Art in the Austrian Capital—Rise of the German Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood—Conflict between the Old Party and the New—Overbeck and his Friends expelled from the Academy—He resolves to make Christian Art the Vocation of his Life—Leaves Vienna for Rome Page 1



Overbeck and his brother Artists reach Rome—The German Colony settle in the Convent of Sant' Isidore—Inspiring surroundings of Art and Nature—Modes of Study and of Life—Overbeck "a Treasury of Art and Poetry, a saintly Man"—"The New-Old School," "the Nazarites," provoke opposition and ridicule—State of Art in Rome: Classic, Romantic, Christian—First Commission: early Drawings and Pictures—Exhibition in Palazzo Caffarelli—Overbeck and his Friends join the Roman Catholic Church—Reasons assigned—Literary circle: Niebuhr, Bunsen, and Friedrich Schlegel—Frescoes by Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schadow in the Casa Bartholdi and the Villa Massimo 19



Overbeck marries, two children born—His position in "Monumental Painting"—Fresco, "The Vision of St. Francis" at Assisi—Inclinations towards Monastic Life—Journey to Germany—Triumphal Entry into Munich—The Guest of Cornelius—Pictures in the New Pinakathek—Correspondence and friendship with Fraulein Emilie Linder—Visits to Heidelberg, Frankfort, Cologne, and Dusseldorf—Return to Rome—Present at the opening of Raphael's Tomb in the Pantheon—Views of Art become more dogmatic and sacerdotal—Three important easel pictures: "Christ's Agony in the Garden," at Hamburg; "The Marriage of the Virgin," in Count Raczynski's Gallery, Berlin; "The Triumph of Religion in the Arts," Frankfort—The Painter's explanatory disquisition on the last—His habits of work, personal aspect and character 48



Death of Son—Pictures: "The Pieta," in Lubeck; "The Incredulity of St. Thomas," in the possession of Mr. Beresford Hope—Death of Wife—"The Assumption of the Madonna," Cologne Cathedral—Second visit to Germany—Fete in Cologne—Return to Rome—Studio in Garden House on the Esquiline Hill—Cartoons and Water-colour Drawings, "The Via Crucis"—Cartoons and Tempera Drawings, "The Seven Sacraments"—Commissions from Pius IX., his Portrait, Picture for Quirinal Palace: the Pope's Visit to the Studio—Portraits of the Artist by various hands—Overbeck's mental habits: his extraordinary memory—Modes of Study and of Work—Form—Composition—Colour—The relation of his Art to nature, tradition, and personal character—Pecuniary rewards—Influence over the contemporary Schools of Europe—Closing scenes—Death and Burial 76

















Chart of the Overbeck Family.

CASPAR OVERBECK, Merchant, Religious Refugee. CHRISTOPH OVERBECK, Pastor. CASPAR NIKOLAS OVERBECK, D. 1752, Pastor. Total number of Children 8 sons and 6 daughters: 2 sons and 4 daughters died in childhood. ________ _______ Johann Levin GEORGE CHRISTIAN OVERBECK, Johann Gottfried August Two Adolph, Conrad, B. 1713, D. 1786, Daniel, Ferdinand, Friedrich, Daughters B. 1706, B. 1712, Doctor of Laws. B. 1715, B. 1717, B. 1719, who grew to Pastor. Pastor. D. 1802, Apothecary. School womanhood. Doctor of Teacher. Theology, &c. ____ _________ Conrad, CHRISTIAN ADOLPH OVERBECK, Johann George, Died at Riga, B. 1755, M. 1781, D. 1821. D. 1819, Merchant. Doctor of Laws, Syndic, Burgermeister of Lubeck, &c. Pastor. 4 sons and 2 daughters: one son died in childhood. ______ _______ Christian Gerhard, Johannes, JOHANN FRIEDRICH OVERBECK, Frau Charlotte Frau Elizabeth B. 1784, D. 1846, D. 1830, B. in Lubeck 1789, M. 1819, Leithoff, Meyer, Judge, Lubeck. Merchant. D. in Rome 1869 deceased. deceased. The Painter Christian Theodore, Frau Harms, B. 1818, D. 1880, Lubeck, Doctor, Senator; ___ living. left no children. ____ ____ _ ____ Johannes, Gustav, Arnold, Frau Rath ALFONS MARIA, Daughter of the Professor, Dusseldorf, Dusseldorf, Reuleaux, Son of the Painter, Painter: died Doctor, living. living. Berlin, B. 1822, D. 1840. in childhood. Archaeologist, living. Leipzig, living.




Johann Friedrich Overbeck was born, as a tablet on his father's house records, in Lubeck on the 4th of July, 1789. Among his ancestors were Doctors of Law and Evangelical Pastors. His parents were good Protestants; his father was Burgomaster in the ancient city. Seldom has a life been so nicely preordained as that of the young religious painter. The light of his coming did not shine, as commonly supposed, out of surrounding darkness. A visit to his birth-place, expressly made for this memoir, soon showed me that Overbeck, from his youth upwards, had been tenderly cared for; that he received a classic education; that his mind was brought under moral and religious discipline; in short, that the rich harvest of later years had found its seed-time here within the family home in Lubeck.

The old house in which Overbeck was born has unfortunately, within the last few years, been modernised, but the original medallion relief of the painter's head, life-size, is built into the new facade, and the former structure can be accurately ascertained as well from the designs of the adjoining tenements as from the living testimony of the neighbours.[1] The Overbeck mansion stood in the Konig Strasse, a principal thoroughfare in the heart of an old city which may not inaptly be designated the Nuremberg of Northern Germany. It is not difficult here on the spot to picture the life of the painter while yet in his teens. The historic town of Lubeck had enjoyed a signal political, commercial and artistic epoch. As the head of the Hanseatic League, it rose to unexampled prosperity. Deputies from eighty confederate municipalities assembled in the audience-chamber of the Rathhaus; fortifications, walls and gateways were reared for defence, and merchant princes made their opulence and love of ostentation conspicuous in dwellings of imposing and picturesque design; thus pointed gables, high-pitched overhanging roofs, stamp with mediaeval character the present streets. Then, too, were founded rich ecclesiastical establishments; then was built the cathedral, containing among other treasures matchless brasses, a unique rood-loft, and a double triptych, the masterpiece of Memling. This sacred work made a deep impression on young Overbeck, and is known to have given a direction to his art. About the same period was also reared the Marien Kirche, enriched with bronze sacrament-house, old German triptychs and fine painted glass. This is the church in which the painter's father, as Burgomaster, had a distinguished stall, elaborately carved; and now, on visiting the spot, I find appropriately among the treasures two chefs-d'oeuvre which the son affectionately wrought for the city of his birth. These churches are Protestant, but fortunately the worst sign of the Reformation is whitewash, and so the relics of the past are reverently conserved, and here in Lubeck, as in Nuremberg, the Madonna still holds her honoured niche, and the saints yet shine from out the painted window, even as in after-years the selfsame characters appeared on the canvases of Overbeck. Amid associations thus sacred, encircled by a family addicted to learning and piety, to poetry and art, was the tranquil spirit of the young painter led into meditative paths; and as I took my evening walk at the setting of the sun by the side of the wooded river, under shadow of the old gateways and churches, it was not very hard to realize how the love of nature and of art grew up in the mind of the young student, and how this city of the past proved a fitting prelude to a noble life-work which set as its goal the revival of what was best and most beautiful in the olden times.

The family of Overbeck had been for generations preeminent for learning and piety, and biographers have scarcely sufficiently taken into account either the Classic or the Christian inheritance of the painter. Religious teaching and living came by long lineal descent (see Family Chart on page xvi.): the great, great, great grandfather, Caspar Overbeck, was a religious refugee; the next in succession, Christoph, was a Protestant pastor; and to the same sacred calling belonged his son, Caspar Nikolas, who lived into the middle of the last century. After comes the grandfather, George Christian, Doctor of Laws; and among collaterals signally shines the great-uncle, Johann Daniel Overbeck (died 1802, aged 88);[2] this memorable man was Doctor of Theology, Rector of the Lubeck Gymnasium, and a voluminous writer; he published thirty or more treatises; among the number are 'The Spirit of Religion,' 'Grounds of Agreement in Religion through the Reason and the Understanding;' also discourses on St. Peter, St. Paul, and Luther. Facility of pen runs through the family. Two other great-uncles, Johann Adolph and Levin Conrad Overbeck, brothers of the Doctor of Theology, were Pastors: furthermore must not be forgotten the uncle, Johann George (brother of the Burgomaster), who lived till 1819, and is described as a faithful untiring pastor to an evangelical congregation, who offered his life a willing sacrifice. "Duty" might be the watch-word of all who bear the name of Overbeck. Lastly, and not least, appears the pious, learned, and aesthetic father, Christian Adolph. Though not in holy orders, he concerned himself variously with religion in the wide and vital sense of the word, holding it a divine presence, the rule of life, and the inspirer of all noble work. I should judge he was not dogmatic in creed, nor rigid in ceremonial. He was philosophic, but had too much heart to be a rationalist; too much imagination for an anti-supernaturalist. He was a mystic pietist; religion blending with poetry coloured his whole mind; revelation, nature, and art, were for him one and indivisible. And this I believe to have been the mental state of the son while yet under the parental roof. The sequel will show a change; the incertitude of speculation could not be sustained, and so anchorage was sought within an "Infallible Church." Yet for the right reading of a character curiously subtle and complex, it is needful to realise the fact that the seeds sown in the homestead were never uprooted, that it was, indeed, the old stock which sustained the new grafting, and that, to the last, a poetic mysticism dwelt in the chambers of the artist's mind. And as was the tree so were the fruits; sprung from a family of preachers, the painter became an evangelist in his art.

The father, Dr. Christian Adolph Overbeck, as the formative type of the son, merits a further word.[3] If not quite a genius, he was the model of a scholar and a gentleman; besides being Burgomaster in the city of his birth, he was Doctor of Laws, Syndic of the Cathedral Chapter, and served in important political missions to Paris and St. Petersburg. He is described "Musis Amicus";[4] and not only the friend of poesy, he was a poet himself, and by virtue of the duality habitual to his mind dedicated his pen with singular impartiality to Christ and Apollo; one volume of verses being entitled 'Anacreon and Sappho,' another, containing a poem, on 'The Love of God.' These products rise somewhat above the level of respectable mediocrity, yet they have not escaped the stigma of platitudes. Goethe, however, did not disdain to make respectful mention of the poet. The painter inherited in some small degree the paternal gift; he accompanied with verses the engraved and published drawings, Jesus as a Child in the House at Nazareth. By the father I have also before me a "new edition," published 1831, of a collection entitled 'Frizchens Lieder,'[5] so called because penned for the benefit of the youthful Frederick. The preface makes mention of "my little Frizchen" thus:—"It were better had he been an angel, but he is just a human child:" then, facetiously, it is added, "he is less ideal than saucy and conceited." Those who like myself knew only the solemnity of the painter in advanced years have a difficulty in supposing in the child such traits compatible. These songs of the domestic affections were set to music; the father, as a dilettante complete, cultivated all the harmonies whether of thought, form, or sound; the home was musical.

The family life composes into a placid, homelike picture. The parents, though well to do, were far from affluent. The stipends of the busy Burgomaster and Syndic were small, and he remained comparatively poor. At the age of twenty-six he married a young widow with money and one daughter, and domestic cares necessarily thickened with the birth of six additional children, two daughters and four sons, of whom Frederick was the youngest. The mother, we are told, was beloved and honoured, and in addition to ordinary domestic duties, diligently assisted her children in the preparation of their school lessons; moreover it is expressly stated that her fortune contributed largely to the household expenses. The would-be artist could not be considered unfortunate in his worldly condition; he entered on life removed equally from the extremes of riches or poverty; his parents were sufficiently well off to make it possible for him to gratify his tastes in the choice of a profession, while he was always under such pressure as to render it imperative that he should put out his full powers. His education within the limits of a provincial town was liberal; the father kept himself and his household quiet, student-like, and sequestered from the dissipation of society, and so all the better could be cultivated the budding faculties of his offspring. When the children were sufficiently advanced he joined with other parents in engaging a qualified tutor, and so formed a special class or superior school. With affection was watched the inclination towards art of the youngest son, and anxiety lessened as the faculty strongly declared itself, for above all was dreaded "mediocrity as the deadly sin of artists." The father held that for success in art as a profession three conditions were essential; classic training, nobility of mind, and technical skill. And so in each day the foremost place was assigned to classic studies. As to the formation of character, religion stood as the corner-stone, and the maxim for the daily life was "love in a pure mind." This axiom sounds to me as the key-note to the painter's lifelong art—an art loving in spirit and kept unspotted from the world. But the father and son differed in this—that the one was eclectic, the other exclusive. The father, with the wide toleration of a poet-philosopher, believed in the possibility of harmoniously combining styles, Classic, Romantic, and Christian. His views may be judged from the following:

The Father's Monition to study the Classics.

With joy I see you constant in the study of the ancients. To the Greeks and old Romans was it given to stand as the everlasting lawgivers of the beautiful. Well for you that you read the classics: above all, acquaint yourself with the glorious forerunner, Homer, of whom almost every line is a picture. Homer in the right chamber of the heart, and the Bible in the left—or vice-versa—in this way, it seems to me, you cannot go far astray.

Creed for a Purist Painter.

The artist's and poet's mind should be as a spotless mirror: his heart must be pure and pious, at one with God and all mankind. The path to the holy Temple of Art lies apart from the world, and the painter will go on his way all the more unassailed if he stand aloof from the temptations of the senses. And if the artist's mind be a temple, then should find place therein only the figures of saints and the semblances of holy things; and even in profane representations a heavenly spirit should reign. The mind is raised by the contemplation of the master-works of genius, thus art reaches the highest summit.

It is not to be supposed that the youth while in Lubeck reached the father's ideal; but within a stone's throw of the house lay a Gymnasium, including a Drawing School of which the great uncle, Dr. Johann Daniel Overbeck, had been head master. Here, on the spot, I am told the nephew received from a certain Professor Federau instruction in art, and I have before me a drawing, the earliest that has come to my knowledge, which proves that the pupil was at least painstaking. The subject, in accordance with the father's precept, is Homeric, the well-known meeting of Ulysses and Telemachus.[6] After the prevailing manner of the period, the style is classic, according to the French school of David, and a Greek portico appropriately finds a place in the background. Young Overbeck discovered in the sequel how much he had to learn, and to unlearn; he closed Homer to open his Bible.

The time came for a change in the scene of action, the art resources of a small provincial town were exhausted, and the necessity arose for thorough academic training elsewhere. The choice in those days was not extended, and after due consideration the election fell in favour of Vienna. Accordingly, in March, 1806, at the age of seventeen, young Overbeck left Lubeck. The home-parting was tender, and might have been heart-rending could the future have been read. Never were son and parents to meet again. Frederick in sundry years, when full of honours, visited Germany, but he seemed to shrink from a return to the scenes of his youth; change in religion may have made contact painful. Yet we are told that closest communication was kept up by constant correspondence; that the father affectionately watched his son's illustrious career and read with lively satisfaction all announcements in the public journals. The mother died in 1820, the father a year after: for forty years they had been lovingly united. I have visited the retired "God's-acre," beyond the gates, removed from the noisy traffic of the town, and not without difficulty discovered the grave of father and mother. So dense was the overgrowth of years, that not a letter on the massive stone could be seen; but the old man of the place, tearing away the thick mantle of ivy, revealed the words, "Here rest in God Elizabeth Overbeck, and Christian Adolph Overbeck, Burgomaster."

On reaching Vienna, the super-sensuous painter did not find a bed of roses: his tastes were fastidious, his habits exclusive, his aspirations impracticable. Of course his art remained as yet unremunerative; thus his means were scanty, and the friends he might have hoped to make turned out enemies. And it cannot be denied that the state of things in Vienna was enough to discourage and disgust an earnest, truth-seeking student. The Academy into which the Christian artist entered was under the direction of Friedrich Fuger, a painter of the French type, not without renown, but given over to the service of Jupiter, Prometheus, and Venus, and when he chanced to turn to sacred subjects, such as The Death of Abel and The Reading Magdalen, affectation and empty pretence were his resource. I have seldom seen works more contemptible. Overbeck was in despair, and wrote to a friend that he had fallen among a vulgar set, that every better feeling, every noble thought, was suppressed within the Academy, and that, losing all faith in humanity and in art, he turned inwardly on himself. This transcendental strain, I cannot but think, came in some measure from the conceit incident to youth; self-complaisancy was certainly a habit of mind which the painter persistently cultivated as a virtue.

Four years' work within an organised academy could not be otherwise than a gain to a tyro who had everything to learn. Director Fuger was at least thoroughly trained; talent and industry had early won him the distinction of pensioner to Rome, and he subsequently executed important frescoes in Naples, which obtain honourable mention in the history of the times. His school might be bad, but still it was a school; and the fact cannot be controverted that Overbeck issued from it an artist. He learnt what his father had laid down as essential to success, drawing, composition, technique, and his advance was such, that while in Vienna he commenced, and in part painted, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, a prized possession to this day in the Marien Kirche, Lubeck. Moreover, I am inclined to think that under Fuger he was grounded in the art of wall-painting, not only as a manipulative method, but as a system of composition and decoration; otherwise it is hard to understand how, shortly after arriving in Rome, he knew more about fresco than the Italians themselves. Overbeck and his master, however, became all the more irreconcilable because the discords lay less in the letter than in the spirit.

In order to realise Overbeck's artistic and mental difficulties here in Vienna, and afterwards in Rome, it may be well in fewest words to indicate the perplexed state of things in Germany generally—a wide theme on which volumes have been written. We have to consider that Europe had suffered under the throes of the great French Revolution, and that then followed the galling despotism of Napoleon. Art and literature lay frozen and paralysed, and Overbeck in Lubeck and Vienna, like Cornelius in Dusseldorf, found in tyrannous sway the pseudo-classic school of the French David, cold as marble, rigid as petrifaction, spasmodic as a galvanised muscle. But the Germans, especially the more intellectual sort, smarting under the yoke, were all the while gathering strength to reclaim nationality as their birthright. The reaction came through the romantic movement, otherwise the revival of the poetry and the art of the Middle Ages. Overbeck fell under the influence: in his Lubeck home he read Tieck's 'Phantasies on Art,' and thirsted for the regeneration drawing near. In Rome the spell heightened; thinkers such as Frederick Schlegel brought over proselytes, and the painter's early frescoes from Tasso's 'Jerusalem Delivered,' came as the specific products of the new era. But the School of Romance wore two aspects; the one, Poetic and Chivalrous; the other expressly Christian; and Overbeck was not content to exchange Homer and Virgil for Dante and Tasso, he turned from the age of Pericles and Augustus to the nativity of Christ. And it seemed to him that the pure spring of Christian Art had, not only in Vienna but throughout Europe, been for long diverted and corrupted, and so he sought out afresh the living source, and casting on one side his contemporaries, took for his guides the pre-Raphaelite masters. Such is the relation in which he stands to the Romantic movement.

But the election made in favour of an art born of Christianity proved for Overbeck the severer conflict, because Germany, in the generation scarcely passed away, had experienced a studious classic revival under the critic Winckelmann and the painters Mengs and Carstens. Goethe, too, a tyrant in power, had thrown his weight into the classic scale, and, much to the chagrin of the young painter, declared that the highest Christian Art was but the perfecting of humanity. Moreover, classicism had been brought within the painter's home by a five years' sojourn in Lubeck of Carstens, the Flaxman of Germany. The father befriended the poor artist, and being well-read in Greek and Roman authors, supplied him, among other needs, with ideas for his classic compositions. I deem these facts should be duly considered; it is wholly false to ignore the presence of a classic element in the Christian Art of Overbeck; and just as the purest religious painters of Italy borrowed from the Pagans, so the great Christian Artist of our times culled from the antique all he could assimilate. It is clear to me, judging from the internal evidence of his works, that as a student Overbeck went through the usual course of drawing from the plaster cast. Many are the passages in his compositions which might be quoted in point, particularly Biblical incidents, such as the Expulsion from Paradise, wherein appear undraped figures. Here are seen to advantage the generic form, the typical beauty, the harmony of line, the symmetry, which distinguish the Classic from the Gothic. Furthermore, Overbeck from first to last eschewed the dress actually worn in the Holy Land, and deliberately draped Christ and the Apostles as Greek sages and Roman senators. I believe in so doing he was on the whole wise, his motive being to remove his characters from the sphere of common life; even for him, the most single-minded of men, art was a compromise: but while borrowing thus largely both in figure and costume from the Classic, it were vain to contend that his creations had an exclusively Christian origin. I may add that I do not think the controversy lies so much between religions as between historic Schools of Art. Overbeck was so much the artist that, like Raphael, he made beauty wherever extant his own, only caring that whatever was taken from the Pagan should be baptized with the Christian spirit. Thus much indeed is confessed in his explanatory text to his master-work the Triumph of Religion in the Arts. Therefore in quoting his own words the subject may fairly be allowed to drop: he writes: "Although heathenism, as such, should be looked upon by the Christian painter with decided disdain, yet the arts as well as the literature of the ancients may be turned to advantage, as the children of Israel employed the gold and silver vessels which they brought with them out of Egypt in the service of the true God in His Temple, after melting them down and consecrating them anew."

The much abused Director Fuger was the champion, as we have seen, of hybrid classicism, hence the hostility between master and pupil. The precise attitude assumed by the contending parties it is not very easy to define; but that there were faults on both sides may easily be conceded; that each was in extreme is also evident, and that Overbeck was the last man to yield an inch or to meet half way is equally certain. The fatal conflict broke out in differences as to the modes of study: of the Academy we should now say that it was conventional, wedded to false methods, in short, that it had wholly lost the right road in the devious paths of decadence. The young innovators, not choosing to conform, assumed a defiant position analogous to, though not identical with, that taken half a century later by our English pre-Raphaelite brethren. The study of the early masters in the royal collection they preferred to the routine of the Academy; thus Durer and Perugino were held up in challenge to Correggio and Rubens, the idols of the day. Then the discord was equally violent as to the right mode of studying nature. The charge made against the German pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was that they dealt with the life-model crudely and inartistically; on the contrary, Overbeck and his adherents declared that they sought for nothing else than truth, only they held that nature should not be studied superficially, but with the end of deciphering her hidden meanings. The human body they looked on as a temple, the face they read as the mirror of the mind. All this, and much more besides, though then a novelty, is now an old story; the doctrine that the bodily form is moulded on the spiritual being, the speculations concerning the relations between the "objective" and the "subjective," the outward and the inward, the correspondence between the world of sense and the world of thought, have one and all taken definite place in the history of mental philosophy. We have here fully to realise that Overbeck had breathed the atmosphere of mystic spiritualism in Lubeck; hence his entrance into "spiritual art," hence his "soul pictures." His mind being thus sublimated, he looked down upon the Viennese Academicians as common and unclean; a rupture naturally ensued, and he and his companions being in the minority, were with a strong hand, and with little ceremony, expelled from the classes. The blow for the moment seemed overwhelming, yet it brought salvation. Had Overbeck remained chained to the Academy, art through him would not have seen a new birth. His course became clear: he quitted Vienna for Rome, the city of his desire.

In the fourth and last year of the painter's apprenticeship in the Austrian capital, was begun a really arduous composition, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem.[7] The picture is of the utmost import as affording the only evidence of the artist's attainments in Vienna. In the first place to be remarked is the striking fact that not a vestige remains of the French school of David, or of the showy masters of the Italian decadence; the work, indeed, might have been designed as a protest against the Viennese Academy, and as a justification of the painter's revolt. The style adopted is conjointly that of the Italian pre-Raphaelite and of the early German and Flemish masters. The background is built up into a high horizon giving support to the foreground figures; the colours are deep and lustrous, and so far contrast favourably with the weaker and cruder tones unfortunately adopted at a later period. The costume is a deliberate compromise between the classic and the naturalistic. Nowhere does the artist venture, as Horace Vernet, on the Bedouin dress. Christ is clothed in a flowing robe, while the Apostles, as in the compositions of Raphael, belong less to the Holy Land than to the Roman Forum. This treatment of draperies was adhered to through all subsequent works, the only change being further generalisation and a wider departure from naturalism. In fact it is curious to observe in this early work how much nature enters; figures and incidents come direct from life, as witness portraits of contemporaries, groups of little children, young mothers and aged women. Such passages are happily destitute of what the Viennese academicians called "style;" they have more of the old German angularity than of "the Grecian bend." Yet always with Overbeck Beauty is present, only not thrust in, as by the academicians of the period, in violation of Truth and Goodness. Also very noteworthy is the impress of thought in the heads, hands, and attitudes; the painter, as we have seen, came of a family of thinkers, and the purport of his art was to give expression to mind. Here again he took as his teachers the early masters, so that these figures, though more or less studied from nature, might seem to have walked out from an old panel picture, yet they are more than complications, they are impressed with the painter's own individuality. Altogether the work marks not only a starting-point in Overbeck's life, but a new era in the art of the nineteenth century.

The composition by lapse of time gains biographic and historic value through the introduction, in accordance with the practice of the old masters, of contemporary portraits. The painter has placed among the spectators his father, in character of Burgomaster, also close by, his mother, a remarkably shrewd old lady. His wife, memorable as a beauty, is grouped with the three Marys, and by her side sports the painter's much-loved son, a boy, palm-branch in hand, rejoicing with the multitude. Nor are the pilgrim painters in Rome forgotten: Overbeck and his brother artists, Cornelius and others, appear at respectful distance, gazing on Christ riding into Jerusalem.

Overbeck, before quitting Vienna, pretty much determined his vocation: he resolved to dedicate his life to Christian Art. On the point of departure, in writing to a friend in Lubeck, he takes a retrospective view, and also points to the future. He recalls evening walks under the shade of trees with congenial companions; he remembers earnest conversations on poetry, painting, and other manifestations of the beautiful, yet still something remained wanting. True art, he writes, he had sought in vain: "Oh, I was so full of it, my whole fancy was possessed by Madonnas and Christs; I bore these impressions about with me, I cherished them, but nowhere could I find response." In Vienna, as we have seen, the desire of his soul remained unsatisfied. His conflicts were painful, but once for all he declares, "I will abide by the Bible; I elect it as my standing-point." A few friends were like-minded, and one especially, who had come from Italy, encouraged a pilgrimage to the land of Christian Art. Accordingly, Overbeck packed up his small worldly possessions, of which the canvas of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem was the most considerable, and at length he reached Rome as a haven of rest.


[Footnote 1: The Overbeck house, when I sought it out in 1880, was rebuilt and retenanted; the ground floor happens to be now occupied by a bookseller and fancy stationer, who sustains intact the Protestant character of the establishment. In vain I enquired for engravings from Overbeck; the nearest approach to religious art was a portrait of Luther in chromo-lithography!]

[Footnote 2: See 'Leben Herrn Johann Daniel Overbeck, weiland Doctors der Theologie und Rectors des Lubeckischen Gymnasiums, von einem nahen Verwandten, und vormaligen Schuler des Verewigten.' Lubeck, 1803.]

[Footnote 3: See 'Zur Erinnerung an Christian Adolph Overbeck, beider Rechte Doctor und Burgermeister zu Lubeck.' Lubeck, 1830.]

[Footnote 4: I have seen in the Public Library, Lubeck, the engraved portrait inscribed with the above words; the head bears a striking resemblance to the well-known features of the son: the profile shows a fine intellectual type, the forehead is ample and overhanging, the coronal region full, the eye searching and earnest, the upper lip long, the mouth large and firmly set. The last was not the most beautiful feature in the painter's remarkable face.]

[Footnote 5: 'Frizchens Lieder, herausgegeben von Christian Adolph Overbeck: neue Ausgabe.' Hamburg, Verlag von August Campe, 1831.]

[Footnote 6: This juvenile exercise, probably only a copy, was given by young Overbeck to his master, and is now in the Town Library; it is washed in with Indian ink, measures two feet by one foot nine inches, and is signed and dated "F. Overbeck, 1805-21 April." The Gymnasium, like the House, has recently been rebuilt, but the continuity of learning remains unbroken—boys flock to the school as in the painter's youth. The adjoining Town Library also contains the original cartoon, drawn in Rome, for one of the frescoes illustrative of Tasso in the Villa Massimo, length about ten feet; likewise the cartoon of the Vision of St. Francis, painted in fresco in Sta. Maria degli Angeli, near Assisi; the cartoon is about twenty feet long, the figures are life-size.]

[Footnote 7: This picture, on canvas, is nearly eight feet long by six feet high, the figures are about three feet. The 'Lubeckische Blatter' states that "Overbeck began the work in Vienna in 1809, in the fourth year of his art study, and there completed the background and the figures in the middle plane, and that it was taken by him to Rome in 1810." In the course of time the foreground figures were introduced, but not till 1824 did the picture reach completion. It bears the signature and date "J. F. Overbeck, 1824." Thus fifteen years elapsed between the first touch and the last, and some ten further years passed before the canvas came to the artist's native city. I carefully examined the painting in the Marien Kirche in October, 1880, and found it in perfect preservation, the colours unchanged, the surface untouched by time or restoration. The picture differs from the illustration to these pages.]



The biographies of artists, proverbially picturesque, present few scenes more pleasant to look on than the early years in Rome of the Brotherhood of German Painters, of whom Overbeck and his friend Cornelius were the leaders. Exiles in some sort from their native land, they entered Italy as pilgrims, and were not far from suffering as martyrs. They were devout, hard-working, and withal poor. They had been drawn from distant cities to Rome as a common focus, and there they severed themselves from ignoble present times, and abiding quietly amid ancient monuments and sacred shrines, sought to make the days of old live anew. So congenial did Rome prove to Overbeck, that he could hardly be induced to sever himself from the city or its neighbourhood over a space of more than fifty years. The task he assigned to himself was arduous: how he went to work and accomplished his mission I shall try to show.

Overbeck, in company with his brother artists, Pforr, Vogel and Hottinger, having in Vienna cast off all fetters, entered Rome as freemen in 1810. A year later Cornelius, as a young Hercules, came upon the scene; he had fought his way from Dusseldorf; like Overbeck, he had found the Academy a burden and a snare, and he betook himself to Italy for deliverance. Then began that closest friendship between the two painters which, lasting for more than half a century, was severed only by death. Cornelius, writing to his friend Mosler, describes the German Brotherhood in Rome, and adds: "Overbeck from Lubeck is the one who by the gentleness and nobility of his soul draws all around him; he inspires them to everything true and beautiful. May be he is the greatest artist now living: you would be astonished if you could see him at his work. Yet he is the most humble and retiring of men." If Overbeck were as a lamb, surely Cornelius was a lion, each indeed supplied what was lacking in the other. Cornelius in after years said to Rudolf Lehmann, "I am the man, he is the woman." And it may strike the mind as a singular coincidence, or rather as a benignant disposition of Providence, that at sundry turning-points in the world's history, two men the opposites the one of the other have been conjoined, as if for the better accomplishment of the work to be done. We may recall, in art, Raphael and Michelangelo; in religion, St. John and St. Peter, Melanchthon and Luther; and in philosophy, Plato and Aristotle. At the risk of pushing the analogy too far, it may be added that Cornelius was positive as Aristotle, impetuous as St. Peter and Luther, defiant as Michelangelo; while in contrast, Overbeck shared with Plato idealism, with St. John love, with Melanchthon gentleness, and with Raphael grace.

The German colony of pre-Raphaelite painters in Rome grew, and in after years came accessions almost unintermittingly.[1] Within the first twelve months were gathered together, as we have seen, Overbeck, Cornelius, Pforr, Vogel and Hottinger. Soon followed the brothers Wilhelm and Rudolf Schadow: to these must be added Koch, Wintergerst, Sutter, Mosler, Veit, Schnorr, Eggers, Platner, and others. Later came Joseph Fuhrich, who literally worshipped the ground on which Overbeck stood. Edward Steinle, of a younger generation, was also a bosom friend of the painter. Later still arrived young zealots from Dusseldorf, where Schadow had established the renowned school of religious art. The best known of these disciples are Ernst Deger, Franz Ittenbach, and the brothers Andreas and Carl Muller. After sitting at the feet of Overbeck in Rome, it was their privilege to paint the chapel at Remagen on the Rhine: these frescoes are accepted as among the most beauteous manifestations of the master's teachings. This brief epitome anticipates the story of years. In the course of a long life it was the good fortune of Overbeck to witness the growth into a large tree of the grain of mustard-seed he had cast into the earth.

The Brethren found congenial habitation in the old Franciscan convent of Sant' Isidoro on the Pincian Hill. The picturesque monks having been turned out by Napoleon, the German colony became tenants at a yearly rental, and held in quietude the dormitories, also larger rooms which served as studios, until the fall of the First Empire, when the monastery once more reverted to the Mendicant Friars, by whom it is still occupied. A few years since, the Superior of the Order politely showed the present writer over the ecclesiastical establishment, now, as formerly, devoted to charitable works. Time has brought little change in the cells, the refectory, or in the large hall used for religious teaching. Other rooms, great and small, are ranged round a cloister enclosing a garden still fragrant with orange-blossoms as in the days of Overbeck and Cornelius. Here, amid sacred associations and venerable monuments, did these devoted students build up the new art, and when the day's work was ended, they mounted at eventide the lofty Belvedere, commanding a panorama of which, even in Rome, are few equals. From neighbouring campanili, vesper bells sound a chorus in the bright Italian sky, and beneath the eye stretches, as a prairie of the old world, the wide Campagna, spanned by broken viaducts and bounded by the blue Alban hills. Through the panorama winds the golden Tiber, guarded by the Castle of St. Angelo and St. Peter's, and around and below lie Monte Mario, the pine-clad Pincian, the Villa Medici, and the ilex groves of the Ludovisi. The scene was inspiring, yet not without shadow of melancholy; the Capitol had fallen into the hands of the stranger, but the spirit of Dante fired the dauntless young men; they turned from the present to the past, "imagination restored the empire that had been lost," and though "calamity afflicted the country, they believed that God had not forsaken the people."

Overbeck is known to have been deeply penetrated by the beauties of the Italian sky and landscape. After sufferance of the rigours of northern winters, mind and body expanded under the sun of the genial south. In spring-time came days serene as his own spirit, giving to nature the re-birth he sought for art; the clear horizon carried thought to a world beyond; and in the deep blue above floated such clouds as had served the old pre-Raphaelites with the thrones and footstools of saints and angels. Overbeck did not, as the masters of the decadence, shroud his compositions in backgrounds of impenetrable darkness, but flooded the canvas with the light of the Italian heavens, and like the early painters, placed holy people in the midst of such beauties of nature as tranquillise and elevate the mind. And his sympathetic eye was not only open to scenes which served as distances, he watched in the gardens of the Roman villas the springing flowers, and made careful studies of mossy, jewelled foregrounds which served as carpeting for the feet of his Madonnas. Having turned his back on the Fatherland, his pictures bear no memories of black forests or frowning Harzburg mountains, and he became so thoroughly Italianised that he seated Holy Families on the borders of the Thrasymene Lake, and placed saints within sight of Mount Soracte! Like all true artists, he painted what he saw; as his predecessors, he gathered in daily walks the accessories he needed. Fra Angelico had painted at Fiesole, Francia at Bologna, Perugino at Perugia, Pinturicchio at Spello and Siena, and each in turn, like Overbeck, made the surrounding scenery serve as accompaniments to figure compositions. Nature was to all these painters a great teacher; her presences were healing powers, and they left out all the storms and discords, and like our poet Wordsworth, brought her forms and aspects into harmony with tranquil living. Yet the Brethren from their monastic abode in Sant' Isidoro looked upon the outer world with sympathies as diverse as their individual characters. When Cornelius took his walks abroad, he crossed the Tiber to visit the Last Judgment of Michelangelo. Overbeck's steps lay in an opposite direction; he passed by the church of Sta. Maria Maggiore, looked in for the sake of the old mosaics, and then wended his solitary way to Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, to pay his devotions before the frescoes commemorative of the discovery by St. Helena of the true Cross. Here, in lovely surroundings, nature blended in unison with art, he looked on the blue hills and the calm sky, and thanked God Italy was his home.

The mode of living adopted within the cells and refectory of Sant' Isidoro naturally savoured of the monastic: it combined appropriately society with solitude. The habit of the Brethren was to take meals together at a common table, and to work separately each in his private painting-room. The refectory served as a common hall for study and for drawing from the model. The rule obtained in the establishment that the provisioning and housekeeping should be taken in rotation by each, one week at a time, and it is said that Overbeck had so far a sense of creature comforts that he complained that one of the Brothers was accustomed to put too much water into the broth! On Sundays the work relaxed or ceased wholly, and the wholesome practice prevailed of bringing together the products of the week for criticism with the end to mutual improvement: many grave observations and lively pleasantries passed from one to the other, Overbeck usually in his modest way acting the part of mentor. "No one," writes Schadow, "who saw or heard him speak, could question his purity of motive, his deep insight and abounding knowledge: he is a treasury of art and poetry and a saintly man." Overbeck had stoutly defended the adopted course of study which others condemned. "What," he asked, "has been our crime? It is in great measure that we have striven after a severe outline, in opposition to the loose, cloudy, washed-out manner of the day. Is not this an endeavour after truth?" But such studies, while filling portfolios, brought no grist to the mill. And the historian Niebuhr, an anxious friend, confesses that these devoted men "were hard put to it for their daily bread," yet never has a confraternity of artists more nearly approached an ideal. No vow was actually taken, the bond was simply voluntary; thus Overbeck expressly states, "with the greatest concord among us as to the fundamental principles of art, each goes on his own way."

The attitude assumed almost of necessity provoked opposition, even ridicule. The assumption was made of superiority, the tone grew even assailant; Correggio, Guido, Guercino, and Domenichino, with all post-Raphaelites, were denounced, and not only was it declared, "We are right," but it was added, "You are wrong." The Brethren personally laid themselves open to attack; they were not free from the affectations of youth, they made themselves conspicuous by long hair and strange costume, and through their exclusiveness and sanctity won as their nickname the epithet of "Nazarites." Other designations were less characteristic; simply descriptive are such terms as "pre-Raphaelites," "the new-old School," "the German-Roman artists," "the Church-Romantic painters," "the German patriotic and religious painters." But all trivial imputations weigh lightly when set in the balance against solid work and holy living. The earnest devotees in the long run silenced evil tongues and won respect and a good name. Niebuhr, ambassador and historian, by no means a blind apologist, describing the art society of the day, writes: "The painters in Rome are divided by a broad line of demarcation into two parties—the one consisting of our friends and their adherents, the other of the united phalanx of those who are of the world, a set who intrigue and lie and backbite; they intend there shall not be light, come what will. The former are exemplary in their lives; the latter display the old licentiousness which characterised the German artists in Rome thirty years ago. Happily, at the present moment, the more talented of the newcomers are ranged on the side of our friends. It is a hopeful sign that some foreigners, and even Italians, are beginning to pay attention to their works." Overbeck and his more immediate associates were indeed, in the best sense of the term, "purists" and "pietists," and held vitally to the maxim that they who would know of a doctrine must live out the doctrine. On no other conditions was it possible to accomplish their mission—the regeneration of art. The schools around them had fallen in great measure through lack of sincerity and truth; they in contrast believed as our English Bishop Butler taught, that conscience is the ruling faculty in the human mind.

The style of art dominant in Rome during Overbeck's early residence did not materially differ from that which he had left behind him in Vienna. The Director, in fact, of the Viennese Academy had in youth won the prize of Rome, and there became the representative of the prevailing decadence. Among the Italians, Battoni, following in the footsteps of Carlo Maratti, was not without the grace and the beauty of Correggio and Guido. Descending a generation later, Overbeck found among his contemporaries Pietro Benvenuto, one of the most distinguished adherents of the school of David: whose masterpiece in Arezzo Cathedral has justly been designated "one of the finest productions of modern art." These were not men to be wholly despised. Furthermore it is to be remembered, as before indicated, that the Germans, in a generation only just passed away, had here in Rome formed a learned school based on the antique; Lessing, in his treatise, the 'Laocoon,' and Winckelmann, by his criticisms on the marbles of the Vatican, had induced a new Classic Renaissance. The painter Raphael Mengs, thus guided, appropriately executed in the Villa Albani the famous fresco of Apollo and the Nine Muses on Mount Parnassus. Again, here are men and manifestations not to be disdained. But for such art Overbeck, as we have seen, cherished inveterate antipathy: whether he was absolutely right, impartial critics, founding a judgment on a wide historic basis, will hesitate to determine. The correct verdict probably is that each school is good of its kind, that the one possesses merits distinctive of the other, and that it is well for the world that every mode of thought should in turn obtain the fullest and highest manifestation. But Overbeck's vision was too intently focussed on one point to perceive that his sphere was but a segment, a part, though by no means an unimportant part, of the greater whole. The classic movement, against which he set his face steadily, was not to be easily annihilated; it survived in Rome in such illustrious representatives as Canova, Thorwaldsen and Gibson. But Overbeck grew more and more the recluse; he shortly became a proselyte to the Romish Church, shut himself out from other associations, and thus after a time devoted his pencil exclusively to Christian Art.

The early pictures and drawings executed in Rome carry out the painter's resolve. To this first period belong: The Adoration of the Kings (1811), Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary (1812), The Preaching of St. John, The Raising of Lazarus, The Entombment, Christ Blessing Little Children, The Holy Family, Ave Maria, Blessed art thou among Women, also a portrait of Vittoria Caldoni.[2] The first commission received by the struggling painter came from Queen Caroline of Bavaria for The Adoration of the Kings, in oils. The Queen had written to Rome saying that she wished for a picture by the young artist; that as to the price, a hard bargain need not be driven, for when one gains a beautiful work, the cost cannot be regretted. Overbeck, on receiving the good news, writes, December 16, 1811, "I was so overpowered with joy that I could not bring out a syllable. The affair moves me all the more because I had not dreamt of it. What can be the cause of my good fortune? Happy day! I shall think of it as long as I live: to the Lord be the praise." Four days later he writes to Lubeck:—"What joy! I can now relieve my parents from further burden. This is the moment so long wished for. Henceforth and for ever I am a man and an independent artist in the workshop, free as a king over the boundless domain of fantasy to create a beautiful world."

The maxim that correct drawing lies at the foundation of all true art was maintained by the Brotherhood through both precept and example. Overbeck first mastered form, he trained his hand to outline; next he learnt the principles of composition, that is the power of combining separate parts into a connected whole; lastly, he added colour, but rather as an accessory than an essential. Hence his water-colours and even his oil-pictures are often little more than tinted drawings. In the first Roman period, that is up to about the year 1820, when the age of thirty had been reached, we find the artist in full possession of the faculty of expressing his ideas at the point of his pencil. Of this happy facility many examples have come before me: one especially, at Stift Neuburg, The Raising of Jairus's Daughter (1814); another, almost a replica of the last, delicately washed with colour, in the private collection of Herr Malss, of the Stadel Institute, Frankfort. I note with admiration the precision and subtlety of the form, especially in the hands and feet. The work, though small in scale (1 ft. 3 in. by 1 ft.), is large in manner, the treatment being that of the Great Masters as distinguished from the Small Masters. Overbeck, who was on intimate terms with the family of Director Malss, said that he wished they should have a work as perfect as he could make it: verily he realised his endeavour. Belonging to the same period, I find in another private collection in Frankfort a portrait in delicate pencilling of a young girl of about eighteen; the hair is in close curls all round the head, the necklace is marked with utmost detail. Perhaps I have not laid sufficient stress on the truth and rectitude of Overbeck's work, as seen, for instance, in the Head of an Old Monk among the drawings of the National Gallery, Berlin. This is so close to nature that a deformity in one ear has been conscientiously registered. The handling here is masterly, the touch firm and strong; the play of lines in the hatchings proves a free hand and a facile turn of the wrist. Also may be mentioned, for incidents taken from the life, a remarkable composition at Stift Neuburg, The Feeding of the Hungry. Close to nature are these transcripts of the poor, the needy, and aged, one advancing on crutches to receive bounty; and over all presides the spirit of beauty and charity. Also in the same collection is a triptych, wherein angels and cherubs appear: this is among the earliest examples of the intervention of the supernatural. Overbeck was not the man to rush in where angels fear to tread. Likewise among Biblical subjects, I find in the National Gallery, Berlin, The Creation of Adam and Eve, and The Expulsion from Paradise. Here the delineation of the undraped figure proves absolute knowledge, and shows, as before said, that the usual course of drawing from the nude had been gone through. The point indeed need not be discussed further, as Schadow expressly states that Overbeck's drawings from the nude as well as from the draped figure were, for subtlety and truth to nature, the admiration of every one. The Creation and Expulsion are of exceptional value, because the artist for once borrows from Michelangelo: also it will be seen that Overbeck gave himself from the outset to the illustration of the Biblical narrative, and thus fondly trod in the footsteps of Giotto and Fra Angelico.

An Exhibition of the works of the German painters in Rome was held in 1819, in a room of the Palazzo Caffarelli, which, as the official residence of Niebuhr and Bunsen, had often been a spot of kindly meeting and hospitality. The collection Frederick Schlegel pronounced unsurpassed in richness, variety, and intrinsic value. Public interest was awakened, and attention centred round the contributions of Overbeck, Schadow, Veit and Cornelius. Overbeck sent a Madonna and a Flight into Egypt; and Schlegel specially names the cartoon of Jerusalem Delivered, for the frescoes then in progress at the Villa Massimo, as proof of the artist's power of expression and faculty of invention. He adds: "The struggle of the German artists in Rome daily excites more and more observation, and their progress is watched with cordial sympathy by men of all nations."

A very serious topic must now be considered. Overbeck in 1813 relinquished the Protestant faith of his forefathers and joined the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously in these pages polemics are out of place, and the step which the conscientious painter thought fit to take has to be here noted so far only as it serves as an index to character and as an interpretation of art. Rightly to judge the case, it were well correctly to estimate Overbeck as a man: his strength lay within his art, outside which he had infirmities; his bodily health was feeble, his mind to the extreme refined and to the last degree sensitive; he shrank from the conflict of life; common people he could not associate with; for the ordinary world he was wholly unfit, and sought refuge in some ideal not yet reached. Niebuhr truly reads the character when he writes: "Overbeck is an enthusiast and quite illiberal; he is a very amiable man and endowed with a magnificent imagination, but incapable by nature of standing alone, and by no means so clear-headed as he is poetical. He bends easily and naturally under the yoke of the Catholic faith."

Overbeck doubtless felt all the more need of safe anchorage from the sea of troubles on which many minds were cast through the controversy and scepticism which agitated Protestant Europe. In Lubeck, as we have seen, the phases of faith were philosophic and aesthetic, and the divinities of Olympus and Parnassus shared equal favour with the saints of the Church. The young painter was cast in a severer mould, and needed that the infinite and eternal should be circumscribed by definite form. It is reported of a certain German philosopher that, when addressing his class, he ended with the words:—"In the next lecture we shall proceed to construct God!" Overbeck preferred to such speculation the authority of the Church. The painter Joseph Fuhrich puts the case strongly:[3] he declares that his friend had to take the choice between Pantheism and Catholicism. Overbeck felt that art was a religious question, and he determined that all his work should be a protest against the indifferentism and latitudinarianism which account all religions equal. He conceded that secular writings and mundane arts were not without their value and charm; in the arts may be permitted divers manifestations, such as landscape, animal, and flower painting. The Church is tolerant of all that is good, but on the highest pinnacle stands the Christian painter. Over these matters he had pondered long, and was accustomed to say to himself, "Let not my Christ be ever robbed of my love; the true home of art is within the soul before the altar of the Church; the tabernacle of art has its foundations in the worship of God."

Early Christian Art naturally drew Overbeck towards the Roman Catholic Church. Frederick Schlegel, Rio, Pugin severally fell under the same spell. The old mosaics, frescoes, and easel pictures which came down through unbroken ecclesiastical descent, were for the Christian artist of the nineteenth century means of grace, and served as revelations of the Divine. Fra Angelico was taken as a pattern; through living and loving, watching and praying, believing and working, the High Priesthood of Art was to be established. And the actual experiences of modern Rome brought no disillusion; the frivolity and the hollowness which so often disgust newcomers were either not seen or were turned aside from. The painter was too pure and childlike to realise the evil, he turned only to the good: for him the world shone as a land of light; from art he would exorcise the passions; the true art-life blended heaven with earth, the ideal could be attained only through the Church: her teachings were the education of humanity.

The decisive step ultimately taken is recorded as follows: "Overbeck at Whitsuntide in the year 1813 joined the Catholic Faith, and with joy entered into the family of the world's Church. His spiritual guide and confessor was Professor, afterwards Cardinal, Ostini; and the poet Zacharias Werner, of Konigsberg, as a fellow-countryman from the shores of the northern sea, acted as godfather at the ceremony. The poet, in writing at the time to the Prince Primate of Dalberg, said that he recognised in the young painter 'a true seraphic character of the Fatherland.'"[4]

A veritable mental epidemic seized on the German artists, and when one after another of Overbeck's friends followed his example, Niebuhr took alarm, and bethought himself of what measures could be taken. It appears that a pamphlet had been published intended expressly for the conversion of the young Germans, and Niebuhr, feeling the emergency of the situation, requested a friend to bring or send Luther's works with other writings against Popery. He adds: "It cannot be expressed how disgusting these proceedings become the more you see of them. At this moment the proselytes have Schadow, one of the ablest of the young artists, on their bait." At a later date he writes: "I like Overbeck and the two Schadows much, and they are estimable both as artists and as men; but the Catholicism of Overbeck and one of the Schadows excludes entirely many topics of conversation." Overbeck is elsewhere described as of "very prepossessing physiognomy, taciturn and melancholy," with a "proselyting spirit." Bunsen, who no less than Niebuhr deplored these conversions, writes in 1817 that Overbeck had been for a fortnight in August a welcome guest at Frascati, that he had finished a water-colour drawing—a very lovely Madonna with the infant Jesus—"of which he permitted a copy to be taken, still extant, and valued as a record of the time and of the short-lived intimacy with the gentle and heavenly-minded artist, who soon after this period withdrew from all companions of a different religious persuasion from that which he had adopted." Among the chief converts are numbered the brothers Schadow, Veit, Platner, and the critic Frederick Schlegel. Cornelius is not included, because he was born into Catholicism. He is described as of "an open and powerful intellect, free from all limitations," "with habits and convictions rooted as the facts of his existence." He thus looked on coolly while the new converts were at fever-heat. Yet it is pleasant to know that these controversies were, in the main, preserved from personal bitterness, and that whatever might be the difference in creeds, the broad union of religion and humanity was never torn asunder. Thus in 1817 Niebuhr, a Protestant and possibly something more, was able to write: "I associate chiefly, indeed almost exclusively, with the artists who belong to the religious party, because those who are decidedly pious, or who strive after piety, are by far the noblest and best men, and also the most intellectual, and this gives me an opportunity of hearing a good deal on faith and its true nature." And the faith of these men we know to have brought forth good works; as were their belief and their practice, such were their pictures, and it is scarcely here the place to discuss whether larger views might have given to their art wider extension.

By a curious coincidence, about the time when these conversions to Roman Catholicism were going on in Rome the third jubilee of the Reformation was celebrated at Lubeck. The pietist father of the painter made himself champion of the cause, and delivered a speech at a meeting of the Bible Society, wherein he proclaimed Luther the great witness of truth. "Luther," he declared, "spoke, wrote, thundered, and the power of darkness was overturned; thus conscience became free, doctrines were purified, and the precious Bible, as a heavenly treasure, was given back to the people."[5] It has been assigned as a reason why Overbeck never returned home, that he could not bear to see the city of Lubeck with her old walls thrown down; but a less fanciful cause was that other walls than those of brick and mortar had been set up, dividing kindred and friends.

Let us now turn from polemics to the pleasing descriptions given by Niebuhr and Bunsen of the daily lives of the German Brotherhood. It is not always that archaeologists and literary men are the soundest counsellors of artists; they place overmuch stress on the inward conception and motive; they lay down, like Coleridge, the axiom that "a picture is an intermediate something between a thought and a thing," and in exalting the "thought" they subordinate the "thing." This was the last teaching that Overbeck needed. He and his fellows were already only too prone to ignore technique, to neglect colour, chiaroscuro, texture. They deemed it all-sufficient to perfect form as the language of thought; consequently while their works instruct and elevate, they fail to please or to gain wide popularity.

Nevertheless, taken for all in all, Overbeck and Cornelius must be accounted most fortunate in their intellectual companionship. The habit was, when gathered socially together at the Embassy in the Palazzo Caffarelli, to read books, talk of pictures, and to consort together generally for the furtherance of the great art revival in which Niebuhr and Bunsen believed fervently. The attachment became mutual, the intercourse was prized on both sides. Niebuhr writes of Cornelius and his wife: "They are, strictly speaking, intimate family friends;" and again he says: "The society of Cornelius and Overbeck gives an inspiring variety to the day's occupations, and one or other of these intellectual companions seldom fails to join our evening walks." In another letter we read: "Cornelius of Dusseldorf, Platner from Leipzig, Koch from the Tyrol, Overbeck from Lubeck, Mosler from Coblentz, and William Schadow from Berlin, were assembled at Bunsen's in the apartments of the painter Brandis: in different ways and degrees we are attached to them all, and we think them men of talent. Their society is the only pleasure we derive from human beings in Rome." The young artists are found to be wholly without worldly wisdom, a charge to which at least Overbeck might readily plead guilty. Niebuhr further declares: "I confidently believe we are on the eve of a new era of Art in Germany, similar to the sudden bloom of our literature in the eighteenth century." He discerned in the movement an unaccustomed spiritual phenomenon—one of those manifestations of the national mind from time to time found in the history of humanity. He felt once more an outburst of the intellectual life of Germany, a rising again of the force of genius which had impelled Lessing, Kant, and Goethe, which had given birth to profound philosophy and science, and had animated a whole people with patriotism and a spirit of self-sacrifice to do battle amid national songs and hymns, even to the death, in the cause of the King and the Fatherland. Bunsen testifies how Niebuhr showed his affection and care for the Prussian and German disciples of art; he considered it an agreeable part of his duty and vocation to render them assistance, to encourage them in their studies, to give them the time of which he was so sparing to men of mere show and fashion, also to render them pecuniary assistance when necessary. To Niebuhr belongs the honour of having been the first to recognise the new school at the moment when it was "despised, derided, and vituperated." He befriended the men who had to fight their way against shallowness and wickedness, against the low and false taste of connoisseurs and patrons, till the day came when the martyrs of an exalted aspiration gained the attention and admiration of the world.

Nor in numbering friends must be forgotten Frederick Schlegel, the avowed champion of the new school. The critic was not without connecting links and antecedents; he had made himself son-in-law of the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and stepfather of the painter Philip Veit; and he further qualified himself for his critical duties by joining the Roman Catholic Church. Overbeck and this rhapsodist on Christian Art were naturally close allies; each was of use to the other, and gave and received in turns. The artist strove, it is said, to embody in pictorial form his friend's teachings; the two, in fact, moved in parallel lines. Schlegel urged that the new style must be emulative and aspiring, ever possessed of lofty ideas. Believe not, he writes, that the glory of art has passed away. The hope is not vain that there comes a rekindling of former fires; art uprising from the dark night breaks as the morning's dawn; "a new life can spring only from the depths of a new love." Let us hold that Art like Nature renews her youth. The soul alone can comprehend the truly beautiful; the eye gazes but on the material veil—the union of the inner soul with the outward form constitutes the noblest art. Nowhere are to be found more eloquent utterances on "the Bond between Art and the Church," but in all is overlooked the simple fact that "the Celestial light" cannot be made appreciable to mortal eye otherwise than through the medium of matter, and according to the laws of vision. And to such oversight is greatly to be ascribed the infirmities of Overbeck and his school. It is forgotten that the most holy of motives cannot save a picture which is not good as a picture. Schlegel discusses the question, What is needed by the Christian painter? The following phrenzy, though wordy, is worth reading:—

"The answer is that the beautiful truths of the Christian faith should not be received into the mind as merely lifeless forms, in passive acquiescence to the teaching of others: they must be embraced with an earnest conviction of their truth and reality, and bound up with each individual feeling of the painter's soul. Still even the influence of devotion is not alone sufficient; for however entirely religion may be felt to compensate for all that is wanting to our earthly happiness, much more is required to form a painter. I know not how better to designate that other element, without which mere technical skill, and even correct ideas, will be unavailing, than by calling it the inborn light of inspiration. It is something quite distinct from fertility of invention, or magic of colouring, rare and valuable as is the latter quality in painting. It is no less distinct from skill in the technicalities of design and from the natural feeling for beauty inherent in some susceptible minds. The poet and the musician should also be inspired, but their inspiration is more the offspring of human emotion; the painter's inspiration must be an emanation of celestial light: his very soul must, so to speak, become itself illumined, a glowing centre of holy radiance, in whose bright beams every material object should be reflected; and even his inmost conceptions and daily thoughts must be interpenetrated by its brightness and remodelled by its power. This indwelling light of the soul should be recognised in every creation of his pencil, expressive as a spoken word; and in this lies the peculiar vitality of Christian beauty, and the cause of the remarkable difference between Classic and Christian art." "Physical beauty is employed by the Christian painter but as a material veil, from beneath which the hidden divinity of the soul shines forth, illuminating all mortal life with the higher spirituality of love."

A kindly and timely commission came to the masters of the German Brotherhood—Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schadow—from the Prussian Consul, Bartholdi. Personal relations, with the desire of giving the untried painters an opportunity of proving what good was in them, prompted the charge to decorate with frescoes a room in the Casa Bartholdi, situated on the brow of the Pincian Hill.[6] The Prussian Consul was in a roundabout way connected with Philip Veit and Frederick Schlegel, whose mutual relationship has been already recounted; his wife was sister of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and aunt of the illustrious musician, and sundry intermarriages had made, as it were, a compact in literature and art between the families of Bartholdi, Mendelssohn, Veit, and Schlegel.[7] The chosen sphere of operations was comparatively narrow; the small room in an upper story, now of historic interest, is not more than twenty-four feet square. The situation is inviting; the beauties of nature are usually found proximate with the beauties of art, and here the windows command a panorama sweeping from the Pincian to the Tiber, and embracing St. Peter's, the Vatican, St. Angelo, and the Capitol. The topic chosen for these wall pictures was the Story of Joseph and his Brethren—a theme conveniently accommodating to any existing diversities in creeds or styles. The technical process adopted was fresco, a monumental art, the revival of which formed part of the mission of the German fraternity. The arduous undertaking was commenced and carried out in strict accordance with historic precedents. Preliminary studies were made, and well-matured cartoons on the scale of the ultimate pictures were perfected. To the lot of Overbeck fell Joseph sold by his Brethren,[8] and The Seven Years of Famine.

It has been my pleasure to visit and revisit these wall-paintings over a period of a quarter of a century, and growing experience does but enhance my admiration. They fulfil the first requirements of wall decoration: the story is told lucidly and concisely; the style is simple, noble; accidents are held subordinate to essentials; the compositions are distributed symmetrically; the colour, though a little crude, is brought into somewhat agreeable unity; the light and shade are not focussed at one point, but carried evenly over the whole surface; and the treatment inclines sufficiently to the flat to keep the compositions down on the wall. The finished pictures of the four masters vary in dimensions. The lengths range from eight to seventeen feet, the height is mostly about eight feet; the figures do not exceed five feet. The lines bounding the figures and draperies are firm and incisive. Accordant with the practice of the old fresco-painters, each day's work is marked and discernible by the joinings in the plaster, and the junctions between the dry plaster of one day and the wet plaster of the next are appropriately fixed at the points where the subject breaks off readily and can be resumed most easily. The technique is thoroughly mastered, and, barring some surface cracks, the paintings are in as perfect condition as when they came from the artists' hands. The chief defect is a somewhat crude opacity of pigments, a characteristic belonging to the debased period of wall-painting rather than to the "fresco buono et puro" of Giotto, Luini, and Pinturicchio.

Another point to be remarked is that the frescoes in the Casa Bartholdi show that the four painters—Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schadow—worked here at the outset of their career in remarkable unison. In the course of years they diverged widely, but as yet the school collectively dominates over the artist individually. The Brethren had formed themselves equally on the same originals, and had scarcely found time to take their several departures from nature. Indeed, the actual presence of nature comes almost as a surprise in these compositions. Overbeck's figures are manifestly more or less studied from the life, only, according to his habitual practice, he has taken pains to eliminate from his models any individual accidents which marred the generic form, softening down angularity and ruggedness into pervading grace and beauty. Here and there are traces of affectation, together with a feebleness incident to the painter's weak physique which stands in utmost contrast with the force of Cornelius. Overbeck mostly shunned action and dramatic intensity, and here the figures in their movements depart but slightly from the equilibrium of repose. As a religious artist, the New Testament was more within his sphere than the Old. Thus the outrage committed against Joseph by his brethren is toned down into a calm, orderly transaction; placidity reigns throughout; all is brought into keeping with the painter's spirit of gentleness.

The Casa Bartholdi frescoes,[9] when finished, produced a most favourable impression in Rome; the cause of the Germans was greatly strengthened, and the opposite party felt the defeat. The Italians, too, were taken by surprise to find themselves beaten by foreigners on their own ground. A natural consequence of the success was further commissions, and the fortune no less than the fame of the revivalists was made. Singularly enough the modern Romans came forward as the next patrons. Niebuhr, writing from Rome in 1817, says: "It is a significant fact that some foreigners, even Italians, are beginning to pay attention to the works of our friends." It is well known that the Romans had been addicted for centuries to mural painting in palaces, villas and garden-houses: Raphael was employed to decorate the Farnesina; Guido and Annibale Carracci painted the ceilings of the Farnese and of the Rospigliosi Palaces. Emulating these illustrious examples, Prince Massimo commissioned Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schnorr to cover the walls and ceilings of his Garden Pavilion near St. John Lateran with frescoes illustrative of Tasso, Dante, and Ariosto. Not only the themes, but the local surroundings were inspiring. The Villa Massimo is a site only possible in Rome. When the artists in the morning came to work, before their view opened a panorama embracing the Claudian Aqueduct, St. John Lateran, the Church of Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, the old Walls of Rome, with cypresses and stone pines around, and the Alban Hills beyond. The Pavilion assigned to the painters stands in the Villa garden, with the accustomed growth and fragrance of orange-trees, magnolias, azaleas, roses, and violets. Overbeck entered on the work with poetic ardour.

The Massimo Pavilion is little more than three rooms standing on the ground; the first, indeed, is an Entrance Hall, and therein Schnorr painted copiously from Ariosto. On the left a door leads to the room assigned to Cornelius for the illustration of Dante: the ceiling fell to the lot of Veit. On the right another door opens to a corresponding room of like dimensions, set apart to Overbeck and Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered.[10] This small interior is not more than fifteen feet square, and the wall-spaces are much broken up by doors and windows, so that only one of the four sides remained disencumbered. The compositions are eleven in number, and are unequal alike in size and merit. The largest and most noteworthy is fifteen feet long by ten feet high, representing the Meeting of Godfrey de Bouillon and Peter the Hermit. The narrative is lucidly told, the picture well put together, and the successive planes of distance are duly marked. Altogether the fundamental principles of wall-decoration are clearly understood in this the most complex composition yet attempted by the painter. Another thoroughly studied design is Sophronio and Olindo on the Funeral Pyre delivered by Clorinda.[11] The action has more than usual force and movement, and the undraped figures are drawn with severe exactitude. Presiding over the whole series, in the middle of the ceiling, is an allegorical figure of Jerusalem Delivered.[12] An angel on either side unlooses the fetters of an innocent placid maiden crowned with thorns. These frescoes, notwithstanding their situation in a cold, damp garden-house, remained, when I saw them last, in January, 1878, in sound condition: thus once more we find Overbeck, equally with Cornelius, to have been solidly grounded in the method of wall-painting.

I must confess that I have always been disappointed with this Tasso Room.[13] One reason is that the carrying out of the original designs was delegated to an inferior brush. Overbeck was not in strong health; he worked slowly, and when other commissions came in, some more to his liking, such as that for the church picture at Assisi, he felt overburdened, and wished to be released from a task that had grown wearisome. The work, began about 1817, had dragged on for ten years, till at last Overbeck made a deliberate call on good and friendly Joseph Fuhrich, and requested that he would complete the unfinished frescoes. The proposal, naturally felt as an honour, was gratefully acceded to. After this distance of time it becomes difficult to determine how far this worthy substitute must be held responsible for much that is to be regretted on these walls. For some of the compositions the master had made nothing more than sketches or indications, and at least three must be laid to the charge of the scholar. Fuhrich was for Overbeck what Giulio Romano had been for Raphael, and the Tasso Room suffered the same degradation as the latest stanza in the Vatican.

The Tasso Room may be taken as a measure of Overbeck's capacity. This "cyclus," or series, shows the painter's power of sustained thought and faculty of invention. Much, doubtless, is compilation, yet something remains of originality. The best passages are those not borrowed from old pictures, but taken from life, which makes the regret all the greater that here and in the sequel nature was not trusted more implicitly. On the whole, these compositions leave the impression that Overbeck had not mental force or physical stamina sufficient for the task. It is true that the presence of a lyrical spirit is felt; but scenes of Romance need more fire and passion; the deeds of Chivalry were not enacted in a cloister. Perhaps self-knowledge wisely counselled Overbeck to quit the regions of creative imagination. With greater peace of mind he trod in the future, the safer paths of Christian Art, wherein precedent and authority served as his guide and support.


[Footnote 1: See among other authorities: 'Die Deutsche Kunst in unserem Jahrhundert, von Dr. Hagen,' vol. ix. Berlin, 1857.]

[Footnote 2: The above compositions suggest the following observations. Overbeck was in the habit of making over many years replicas with variations and improvements of favourite themes, and the dates of the successive stages are not always easily determined. Of the Preaching of St. John, the Dusseldorf Academy possesses an example dated 1831. Also in the same collection is a mature and almost faultless drawing, fit companion for Raphael, of The Raising of Lazarus; the figure of Christ is 9 inches high. Overbeck made several renderings of the universally-beloved composition, Christ Blessing Little Children: the most deliberate is that given in these pages. The replica in the Meyer Collection, Hamburg, is of the last decade of the artist's life, and betrays infirmity of hand. The Entombment, classed above among works of the first Roman period, is probably that now in the choice collection at Stift Neuburg, near Heidelberg, dated 1814, and obviously suggested by Raphael's Entombment in the Borghese Palace. No drawings have better pedigree than those in this old family mansion: a predecessor of the present possessor was the artist's personal friend. The version of The Bearing to the Sepulchre given in these pages is from one of the forty well-known drawings of the Gospels, and dates 1844. At Stift Neuburg I also saw in the autumn of 1880, by the courtesy of the owner, Graf von Bernus, the drawing for the Holy Family, chosen as an illustration to this volume; it is of utmost delicacy and beauty—the motive has evidently been borrowed from Raphael; the measurement is 1 foot 3 inches by 1 foot 8 inches.]

[Footnote 3: See 'Autobiography of Joseph Fuhrich,' published in Vienna and Pesth, 1875.]

[Footnote 4: See 'Historisch-Politische Blatter fur das Katholische Deutschland,' vol. lvi., part 8. Munich, 1870.]

[Footnote 5: See 'Erinnerung an Christian Adolph Overbeck;' Lubeck, 1830.]

[Footnote 6: The Casa Bartholdi has for some years been let as lodgings to a superior class of travellers, and is much favoured by the English. The rooms are not always accessible; the servants have been known to name, as the most convenient time for seeing the frescoes, Sunday mornings, when the tenants are attending the English Church. The Painted Chamber is suitably furnished for daily uses; The History of Joseph, which covers the walls, is not too serious a theme to mingle with the common avocations of domestic life: fresco-painting, in fact, is not only a national and an ecclesiastic, but likewise a domestic art.]

[Footnote 7: The Royal Academy Exhibition, Berlin, 1880, contained a large coloured design for the decoration of the ceiling of the Villa Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Thus the joint names over a period of more than half a century stand conspicuous among art-patrons.]

[Footnote 8: Overbeck's cartoon in charcoal on paper of Joseph sold by his Brethren is carefully preserved under glass in the Stadel Institute, Frankfort, where I examined it in 1880: the width is 11 feet, the height 8 feet, the figures are about 5 feet. The outlines are firmly accentuated; the details sufficient without being elaborate; the figure, as proved specially in the arms, hands, legs, and feet, is perfectly understood; the draperies are cast simply and broadly; the heads of noble type are impressed with thought. Not a false touch appears throughout; the crayon is guided by knowledge; evidently preliminary studies and tentative drawings must have preceded this consummated product. No wonder that this cartoon made a deep impression; nothing had been seen at all like it in Rome for very many years.]

[Footnote 9: Many are the authors who have written on the Casa Bartholdi frescoes, the chief authorities are Hagen, Forster, Reber, and Riegel.]

[Footnote 10: See among authorities before named, 'Geschichte des Wiederauflebens der deutschen Kunst zu Ende des 18. und Anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts, von Hermann Riegel.' Hannover, 1876.]

[Footnote 11: The cartoon for this fresco is in the Leipzig Museum, where I examined it in 1880. It is in chalk on whity-brown paper, in squares and mounted on canvas; length 15 feet by 7 feet. As a mature study of form and composition it is just what a cartoon should be, but the touch is feeble and poor. Like most of Overbeck's designs, it has received the tribute of engraving.]

[Footnote 12: The cartoon was acquired for the National Gallery, Berlin, in 1878, at the price of 37l. 10s. 0d.; measurement 6 feet by 4 feet: it has been engraved.]

[Footnote 13: Persistent difficulties are placed in the way of even students who desire to visit these frescoes; the public are systematically excluded from the Villa Massimo, and on two occasions, when after much trouble I gained orders for admission, the attendant, in accordance with instructions, forbade the taking of notes.]



The life of Overbeck apportioned itself into successive periods of five, ten, or more years, corresponding to the important works from time to time in hand. The painter threw his whole mind into whatever he undertook, and so his pictures in their conception, and even in their execution, reflect the thought and the state of consciousness which for the while held supreme sway. The preceding chapters treat of two periods; the one describes the early times in Lubeck and Vienna, the other presents a sketch of the first decade in Rome. The foundations have been laid; the main principles for the guidance of a true life and for the building up of a soul-moving art have been firmly fixed; and now it remains to be seen how far and in what way the lofty aim was reached.

Overbeck, as soon as his prospects in life became somewhat assured, married. Little is recorded of the wife: the earliest mention I have met with is in 1818, when the artists in Rome gave a grand fete in honour of the Crown Prince of Bavaria. Overbeck and Cornelius furnished designs for pictorial decorations and transparencies: the guests wore mediaeval costumes, and made themselves otherwise attractive; and we learn on the authority of Madame Bunsen that among the brilliant assembly "the most admired of the evening was Overbeck's future wife, a lady beautiful, engaging, and influential, from Vienna."[1] The marriage, which was not long delayed, proved on the whole happy, though the wife's delicate health gave constant cause for anxiety, and her other demands on an indulgent husband are said to have provoked the displeasure of Cornelius and other friends. Two children were the fruits of the union: a girl, who died young, and a boy, who lived only long enough to give singular promise.

Overbeck, as we have seen, had, in common with his brethren, given his best powers to "monumental painting." For this noble and "architectonic art" he was not without qualifications. He moved in an exalted sphere, his mind ranged among immutable truths, his forms were high in type, his compositions had symmetry and concentration, he knew how to adapt lines and masses to structural spaces. An occasion calculated to call forth his powers came with the commission to paint in fresco The Vision of St. Francis for the church of Sta. Maria degli Angeli, near Assisi. Overbeck here, as his custom was, remained obedient to tradition, and yet struck out a new path; he was not content to retrace the footsteps of Giotto or of Cigoli, he preferred to depict the vision of his own mind. He enthrones the Madonna as Queen of Heaven, seated by the side of the risen Saviour, surrounded by the angelic hosts. On the lower earth, also attended by angels, appears St. Francis in adoration, while on the other side kneel reverently two mendicant friars. The picture belongs to the middle period, when the artist had attained the mature age of forty: the style, speaking historically, is that of the grave and severely defined Florentine school as represented by the Brancacci chapel. The fresco has been accounted by some the painter's masterpiece, and it is pronounced by Count Raczynski as one of the few works of modern days worthy of transmission to future ages.[2]

Overbeck, it is easy to believe, while painting on the very spot where St. Francis was in ecstasy, led a life much to his liking. He dwelt within the monastery, and his pure mind, open only to the good, was blind to the dissolute ways of monks who became a scandal to the district. When the fresco was half finished, the master received a visit from his bosom friends Steinle and Fuhrich, and the three strengthened one another as they communed on religion and the arts. Overbeck is known to have had leanings towards a convent life, and at one time, when seriously thinking of taking the vow, he received from the Pope friendly admonition that his true mission lay within his art, and that by renouncing the world his usefulness would be lessened. It can scarcely, however, be doubted that asceticism became so much the habit of his life as to afflict his mental condition, and to impoverish his art. Some critics indeed point to the early picture of The Seven Years of Famine as the origin of a certain starved aspect in subsequent compositions. Pharaoh's lean kine have been supposed to symbolise the painter, and the spare fare within the cells of St. Francis served to confirm the persuasion that flesh and blood, in art as in life, must be kept in subjection. Nevertheless, I for one, when on the spot, could not but revere the pictorial outcome; when first I made acquaintance with this plenary revelation of the painter, I had been taking a walking-tour, knapsack on back, through the Umbrian hills and valleys, the birth-land of St. Francis; I had become acquainted with the wall and panel paintings of Giotto, Gentile di Fabriano, Perugino, Giovanni Santi, and the youthful Raphael; and while looking on this heavenly "Vision," I could not but feel that Overbeck ranked among the holy company. Unlike most modern painters, surely he had not to worship in the outer court of the Gentiles.

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