Gerson Digital : Germany II


5.3 Martin Johann Schmidt and Frans Anton Maulbertsch

Much has been written about the rediscovery of Rembrandt‘s chiaroscuro in the works of the great Austrian baroque painters Martin Johann Schmidt and Franz Anton Maulbertsch.1 They were contemporaries of Januarius Zick and the Frankfurt Rembrandtists, but in their case the Rembrandt style is less easy to grasp than in the work of the conventional painters from Central Germany. Of course they both were acquainted with the etchings of Rembrandt. Which German artist of standing, by the way, was not familiar with the graphic compositions by Rembrandt? On top of this, the Austrians were very probably conversant with some of his early paintings, like The Blinding of Samson, which Johann Zick copied [1-2].2

From Martin Johann Schmidt or ´Kremserschmidt’ (1718-1801),3 for example, we have a depiction of Christ Healing the Sick in the manner of Rembrandt and Dou, that has come down to us in an etching by Ferdinand Landerer [3]. The composition of Rembrandt’s The Blinding of Samson comes back in a drawing with the depiction of Sisera, which was made in 1760 [4].4 Admittedly, the extended figures of the young Rembrandt can be found more often in his works [5-8],5 but the significance of such borrowings should not be exaggerated. The correlation with Rubens and Flemish painting is just as strong [9-10], and primarily the close connection with Venice must be pointed out, where Giambattista Pittoni was his rival.

The blinding of Samson (Judges 16:21), dated 1636
canvas, oil paint 206 x 276 cm
bottom left of the middle : Rembrandt.f.1636.
Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum, inv./ 1383

Franz Anton Maulbertsch after Rembrandt
The blinding of Samson (Judges 16:21), c. 1787-1790
panel, oil paint 41 x 55 cm
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, inv./ 6975

Ferdinand Landerer after Martin Johann Schmidt
The healing of the ten lepers by Christ (Luke 17: 11-19)
paper, etching 287 x 353 mm
lower right : gravé par F. Landerer
Dorotheum (Vienna) 2008-10-27, nr. 60

Martin Johann Schmidt
Sisera killed by Jael, c. 1760
paper, pen, washed 414 x 562 mm
Lambach (Austria), Stift Lambach

Martin Johann Schmidt
The penitent St. Jerome in the wilderness, c. 1765
canvas, oil paint 143 x 110 cm
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, inv./ 8500

Martin Johann Schmidt
St. Antony Abbot buries St. Paul the Hermit with the help of two lions that scratch a hole in the ground, c. 1765
canvas, oil paint 143 x 110 cm
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, inv./ 8501

The Return of the Prodigal Son, dated 1636
paper, etching 156 x 137 mm
lower center : Rembrandt f. 1636
Madrid (Spain), Biblioteca Nacional de España, inv./ INVENT/29159

Martin Johann Schmidt
The Return of the Prodigal Son, dated 1792
canvas, oil paint 157 x 92 cm
lower left : M. Schmidt A. 1792
Dorotheum (Vienna) 1990-11-14 - 1990-11-15, nr. 177

Peter Paul Rubens
The consequences of war: Venus tries to prevent Mars from going to War, c. 1637-1638
canvas, oil paint 206 x 342 cm
Florence, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), inv./ 1912.86

Martin Johann Schmidt
Venus trying to restrain Mars, dated 1792
canvas, oil paint 52,2 x 61,7 cm
Graz (Austria), Alte Galerie des Steiermärkischen Landesmuseum Joanneum

With Franz Anton Maulbertsch (1724-1796)6 it is no different. In the first place the stimuli came from Venice. As Benesch has pointed out, Piazetta’s example especially was of major importance, with, additionally, a few borrowings from Dutch art. Maulbertsch’s small painting Joseph Explaining his Dreams is a free copy after Rembrandt’s etching, in which all light-dark contrasts have been balanced out and in which the story has been lyricised [11, 13]. The companion piece of the Joseph, a depiction of Esther and Mordechai [13], is full of borrowings from Rembrandt’s graphics, but such cases are rather rare in Maulbertsch’s oeuvre.7

Joseph recounting his dreams, dated 1638
paper, etching 110 x 830 mm
lower left : Rembrandt f. 1638
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet

Franz Anton Maulbertsch
Esther sends Hatach to Mordecai to find out what is happening (Esther 4:5), c. 1787-1790
panel, oil paint 33,5 x 24,5 cm
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, inv./ 6599

Franz Anton Maulbertsch
Joseph relating his dreams to his family (Genesis 37:5-11), c. 1787-1790
panel, oil paint 33,5 x 24,5 cm
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, inv./ Lg 896

At the same time, in the theatrical, biblical paintings of his early days, he often introduced the dramatic lighting of Rembrandt’s Night Watch and the silhouette effect of figures from the early etchings. In the veneration of the young Rembrandt, of Leonaert Bramer and the Dutch grotto painters, he often touched on Januarius Zick, for instance in The Marriage of the Virgin (Vienna) [14] and The Anointing of David (Nuremberg) [15].8 But the relationship with Venetian art remains predominant and the admiration for Rubens’ glowing creations is very striking now and again [16-17].9

While listing all these influences, however, we have to emphasize that the works of Maulbertsch and Schmidt present a unique and flourishing Austrian baroque art.

Franz Anton Maulbertsch
The Marriage of the Virgin, dated 1755
panel, oil paint 59 x 35 cm
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

attributed to Felix Ivo Leicher and attributed to Josef Hauzinger
Saul anointed by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1), 1754
canvas, oil paint 94,7 x 73,3 cm
Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, inv./ Gm1183

Peter Paul Rubens
Ahasuerus holds out his golden sceptre to Esther (Esther 5:2), c. 1620-1625
panel, oil paint 46 x 52 cm
Neuwied, private collection Gustav Hobraeck

Franz Anton Maulbertsch
Coriolanus is met by his wife Volumnia with their two small sons, and his mother Veturia/Volumnia); they ntreat him not to fight any more against Rome, c. 1790-1793
panel, oil paint 35 x 45,5 cm
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, inv./ 1632


1 [Gerson 1942/1983] Benesch 1924; Benesch 1924A; Feulner 1929, p. 231.

2 [Van Leeuwen 2018] See § 3.6. The copy by Maulbertsch (fig. 2) surfaced in the early 1980s and was bought by the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

3 [Van Leeuwen 2018] On Schmidt: Feuchtmüller 1989.

4 [Gerson 1942/1983]-Thurnlackh 1925, no. 28, ill. [Van Leeuwen 2018] Gerson wrongly referred to Garzarolli-Thurnlackh 1928.

5 [Gerson 1942/1983] Hieronymus, Auction Vienna, 24 April 1934, no. 353, ill.; Mayer 1879, p. 95, no. 25 and 27. Concerning borrowings from others: Grossmann 1935, Goering 1936, p. 194. [Van Leeuwen 2018] The paintings in the auction of 1934 were bought by the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. Mayer 1879 referred to the engravings by Paul Haubenstricker (1750-1793). One of them: RKDimages 291284.

6 [Van Leeuwen 2018] On Maulbertsch: Haberditzl et al. 2006; DaCosta Kaufmann 2005.

7 [Gerson 1942/1983] Both paintings illustrated in Benesch 1924, nos. 124-125.

8 [Van Leeuwen 2018] The painting in Nuremberg is convincingly attributed to Felix Ivo Leicher (1727-1812) by Habertditzl 1977, p. 160-161. Leicher was a pupil and collaborator of Maulbertsch. With this painting and the preparatory oilsketch (also in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg) Leicher won the second prize at the academy competition in 1754. On Leichner: Slavíček 2007.

9 [Gerson 1942/1983] For Rubens, compare Maulpertsch’s Alexander and the family of Darius (Art market, illustrated in Benesch 1924, plate 42) with Rubens’ Esther before Ahasveros, collection G. Hobraeck, Neuwied (Exhibition Frankfurt am Main 1925, no. 201). Feulner 1922, p. 90 and Benesch 1924 emphasize the Rembrandt character of the chiaroscuro painting in Venice, which seems to me to be incorrect.

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