In my last blog I looked at a painting by Johann Friedrich Overbeck entitled The Painter Franz Pforr, which was a friendship portrait he did of his good friend and fellow Nazarene, Franz Pforr. Today I am switching my attention to Franz Pforr himself and looking at one of his most famous works.
Franz Pforr was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1788, a year before the birth of Friedrich Overbeck. He came from an artistic background with his father, Johann Georg Pforr, who had started his working life as a miner but due to a serious accident in the mines turned his attention to art and originally worked as a porcelain painter before concentrating his efforts as a landscape artist and skilled painter of horses. Franz Pforr’s uncle, Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Younger, a great friend of the writer Goethe, was part of the great Tischbein artistic dynasty and an art professor at the Kassel Academy of Art.
Franz Pforr received his initial art tuition from his father an uncle before, like Overbeck, attending the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna (Vienna Academy of Fine Arts) in 1805. During the war between Austrian and France in 1805, Pforr volunteered as a guard in the Viennese militia. The conflict affected the young artist’s health and he suffered a nervous breakdown, and would suffer from bouts of depression for the rest of his life. It was probably during these mental upheavals that Pforr turned to religion using it as a crutch to see him through his mental torment. In 1806 he returned to the Academy and resumed his academic studies and for a time saw himself as war artist, recording famous battles on canvas.
The Academy director at the time was Heinrich Füger who believed the art course should concentrate on the Neo-Classicisal style of painting. Pforr, like Overbeck, was very disillusioned with the Academy’s artistic tuition and its lack of spirituality and so, in response to this, the two twenty year-old aspiring artists formed the Lucasbund, or Brotherhood of St. Luke (St Luke was the traditional patron saint of artists), deliberately recalling the guilds and the trade organizations of the late Middle Ages. When Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops entered the city in 1809 the Academy was closed down. The following year, 1810, along with Overbeck, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Hottinger, members of their Lucasbund, Franz Pforr moved to Rome and set up home at the deserted Sant’ Isidoro monastery. They began to wear their hair long, and wore anachronistic medieval monk-like habits. The members of the group took vows of poverty and chastity almost as if they saw their group not simply as an artistic association but a religious one. They still referred to themselves as the Brotherhood of Saint Luke but because of the way they look and acted most everyone else called them the “Nazarenes”. The agenda of the Nazarenes was to reject the whole legacy of Baroque and Neoclassical art that was the dominating art of the day. These young German artists sought inspiration in Italian painters of the early Renaissance, such as Raphael Sanzio as well as the German art of Albrecht Dürer who were to be their artistic benchmarks. Most of all they wanted their art to have a sense of spirituality. They wanted it to be more honest, truthful, and sincere art similar to that of the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. The subjects of their works of art were dominated by religious themes.
The Nazarenes disbanded in 1820 but for Franz Pforr his life with the group ended eight years earlier as he contracted tuberculosis and died in Albano Laziale, a suburb of Rome, in 1812.
The artwork of Franz Pforr calls to mind a sort of fairy-tale medievalism, awash with bright colours and picturesque details. This can be seen in today’s featured painting by Pforr which he completed before he travelled to Rome, entitled The Entry of Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg into Basle, 1273.
This large medieval subject is consciously painted in a historical manner. The subject of the painting is the entry into Basle of Rudolf of Habsburg and it is a pictorial tale of German pride and the country’s defiance of Napoleon Bonaparte. Rudolf, who had inherited his father’s estates in the Alsace region, had also forcefully taken possession of the cities of Strasbourg and Basle and vast tracts of land in the western part of Switzerland. It was in 1273, as he was laying siege to the Swiss city of Basle, that he heard that he had been elected to become the new German king by the prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire,. He would be crowned Rudolph I in Aachen cathedral in October of that year. If we look to the horseback rider just left of centre we can see the black double-headed Habsburg eagle emblazoned on the back of his gold-coloured jacket. The inclusion of this Habsburg eagle was thought to be Franz Pforr’s idea of defiance against Napoleon Bonaparte, who had been at war with the Germans and had occupied Pforr’s home town, Frankfurt in 1805. Pforr was also affected again by Napoleon Bonaparte in May 1809 for he was a student at the Vienna Academy when Napoleon entered and occupied the city and the art establishment was closed down.
Another interesting aspect of Pforr’s painting is the way he has included himself in the scene as part of Rudolph’s entourage. We see him on horseback riding some way behind the king. He is the young man, wearing a black beret, and has turned in the saddle and is looking his over his shoulder at something happening at the rear of the procession. In Cordula Grewe’s 2009 book entitled Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romaniticism she writes about how the Nazarene artists would often identify with their subjects and by doing so somehow identify with their own situation. She goes on to talk about the interpretation of Pforr’s inclusion of himself saying:
“…Pforr’s mixture reflects the Nazarenes’ general obsession with temporality, as it serves to fold biblical into post-biblical time and, further differentiating the play of temporalities, to forge a link between medieval past and actual present. Pforr’s self-portrait marks the intersection of these various time axes. His horse carries him forward in Rudolf’s wake… on his way towards the procession’s final destination, the town’s medieval cathedral. Yet, while Pforr’s body moves towards a moment of historical completion, his gaze disengages with this view into the glorified but lost past of perfect piety. As the only figure looking backwards, he gazes towards the right, fixing his eyes upon a point beyond the picture frame. Pforr looks into the future. In him, the picture’s two central aspects converge: his gaze unites the insight into God’s order (typology) with an understanding of the moral lessons that can be learned from history (a history past and yet available through the archetype)…”
Before us we see flattened perspectives. The figures in the painting, in some ways, look uncoordinated often with head and shoulders portrayed at impossible and unrealistic angles. There is almost a child-like innocence about the painting. It is indeed a colourful painting but the colours are of a slightly muted and weak nature as was the case in many of the Nazarene works of art. There is not the vibrancy and brightness of the colours used by the artists of the English nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite movement, which was greatly influenced by the art of the Nazarenes.