Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Black Brunswicker

The Black Brunswicker (1859-60) by John Everett Millais (1829–1896).

Millais shows here a member of that famous German mercenary corps that fought in British service against Napoleon. The young soldier parts from his lover before the battle of Waterloo. He is characterized by his black uniform and the prominent skull and crossbones on his hat. But I think these signs are serving also to indicate his almost certain fate, because the Brunswickers suffered terrible losses at Waterloo.

Neither the Brunswickers nor Millais could suspect that the well designed black uniform with the skull and the bones should become very popular in the German right-wing Freikorps movement after the First Worls War and become on this way the pattern for the uniform of the SS.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Turkish History Paintings

Mehmed II enters Constantinople with his army by the Italian painter Fausto Zonaro (1854–1929).

Zonaro is an interesting character. After he studied art in Italy he moved to Turkey and lived for many years in Istanbul, where he became a kind of Turk by choice. Moreover he had great success with his history paintings glorifying the highlights of Turkish history. That’s the cause why today there can be seen history paintings in the best European academic tradition in some public buildings in Istanbul.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Problematic Allegories

An allegory is a figurative of representation of something abstract. Allegories became very popular in Renaissance and Baroque painting. Normally virtues, feelings or moods like Justice, Fidelity or Melancholy were represented by young women. Later with the discovery of the world these women were also used to symbolize the new continents. Europa was just known, now she was accompanied by the new invented Asia, America and Africa.

Europe Supported By Africa and America (1796). A typical 19th century illustration by William Blake (1757–1827).

Allegories as national symbols became popular not before the rising nationalism as a reaction on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Germania and Italia (1811-28). This peaceful allegory is by the German Romantic painter Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) one of the founders of the Nazarene movement. Both people, the Germans and the Italians, were suppressed and far away from forming nations. Without nations, nationalists from many kingdoms were supporting each other.

But this harmony passed by in some decades. Here Germania (1849) by the German painter Christian Köhler (1809-1861) is called to arms by Justice. And she’s not only reaching for the sword, but also for the imperial crown.

Hardly surprising that with the beginning of the First World War the once so peaceful Germania has changed to an aggressive Valkyrie with armor, shield and sword and the crown on her head.

Germania (1914) by Friedrich August von Kaulbach (1850-1920).

There are a lot more examples from all European nations. Interesting and a little sad is how these once so peaceful figures were transformed into something so aggressive and hateful, they were mobilized.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another different War Painting

Boer War (1901) by the English painter John Byam Shaw (1872-1919).

This painting reminds me a lot of "The Proscribed Royalist" by Millais. It’s that untypical absence of heroism, that concentration on the civil aspects of war, which made them comparable.

The "Boer War" is far, far away, as indicated by the green typical English countryside, which is so different from the dusty South African bush. The war is only represented by the lone woman, who is mourning because she lost somebody over there.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Animal Painting

The Hunting of Chevy Chase (1825-1826) by the English painter Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873).

Landseer was one of the best animal painters in the Victorian age. Here he chose a historical subject based on a popular ballad about the medieval border wars between English and Scots. The result is, that the animals are nearly perfect, but the medieval costumes are a little ridiculous. Who would go hunting with chain mail and crown??

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poor Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc interrogated in prison by the cardinal of Winchester (1824) by the French painter Hippolyte Delaroche, commonly known as Paul Delaroche (1797–1856).

This painting was a great success in its time, because of the illumination and the strong anticlerical and patriotic aspects.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Charles Martel

Another great defender of Christian Western civilization was the grandfather of Charlemagne the famous Charles Martel who defeated the Moslems in 732 in the Battle of Tours also called the Battle of Poitiers, which at least really happened.

This painting depicting the battle is by the French artist Charles Auguste de Steuben (1788-1856). It’s full of symbols. There is the cross, which has to be defended, there is the valiant Charles Martel with his impressive battle axe, and there is the old Abdul Rahman, who probably stayed in Spain. Abdul Rahman is fighting with a so called "falcate" a typical Pre-Roman Spanish sword. Probably the artist saw it in a Spanish museum and took it for typically Arab.

Friday, June 5, 2009


This is a fresco painting from the town hall in Aachen. It shows Charlemagne in the battle of Cordova in 778. It’s by the German Romantic history painter Alfred Rethel (1816-1859) and dated from 1849/50.

It should be said that Charlemagne not even came near to Cordova or gained any battle in Spain. But these facts didn’t matter. The artist and his employers wanted to show the great defender of Christian Western civilization.

The whole image is a pure construction from the dramatic triangular composition to the imperial crown with which Charlemagne went to battle.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Celtic Patriots

The old Celts became very popular in France at the end of the century. This painting by the French artist George Moreau (1848-1901) is called "Le Sacrifice à la Patrie" (1879).

The painting pretends to show Celtic warriors going to fight for their country. But the poses are borrowed from the volunteers of the war in 1870. The super patriotic woman is owed to the Liberty of Delacroix. Except the costumes the painting is pure 19th century.