Schödlberger, Johann Nepomuk

(1779 Vienna - 1853)

An Arcadian landscape with a Gothic Fortress; an Arcadian landscape with a Gothic Church: a pair

each: 101 x 132 cm. (39 ¾ x 52 in.)
oil on canvas
both signed and dated ‘Joh. Nep. Schödlberger / fec Viennæ /1818’ (lower center)

Provenance:

Commissioned from the artist in the early nineteenth century.
Thence by direct decent in a European princely collection; anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 24 September 2013, lot 191, when acquired by the present owner.

Bibliography:

C. Brooks, The Gothic Revival. London: Phaidon Press, 1999.

Catalogue Entry

An Arcadian Landscape with a Gothic Church

Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger was born in Vienna, where he studied at the Academy. After becoming a member in 1815, the following year, he started working there as a professor and began exhibiting his work. A trip to Rome dating to about 1817/1818 was fundamental for the development of Schödlberger’s mature style. In the Eternal City, the Austrian artist encountered the classical landscapes of Claude (1604/5-1682) and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), which were a pivotal source of inspiration for his arcadian landscapes. After his return to Vienna, the artist established himself as a leading genre and landscape painter. His success was largely due to important patrons, namely Emperor Francis II, King Ludwig I of Bavaria and the Grand Duke of Weimar. Works by Schödlberger can be found in numerous Austrian and German museums, along with the Liechtenstein Princely Collections.1

These two exquisite works perfectly define Schödlberger’s achievements in the genre of landscape painting and reveal his skill in depicting natural beauty on a large scale. The work on the left depicts a luminous, verdant landscape. In the background, on the left, a small building resembling a Gothic church can be glimpsed among the trees, while, on the right, a river winds towards distant mountains. A group of figures appears in the foreground. A man in armour sits on a bench, two dogs on his right side. He has taken off his helmet and shield, yet still holds a sword in his right hand. Nearby, another soldier holding a sword alike confronts him, while a female figure seems to be dragging him away from his rival as to protect him. This painting is framed on the right by an imaginary castle located on top of a rocky hill. Similarly, the upper-left hand corner of the second painting is dominated by a fantastic neo-Gothic church, which also overlooks a verdant landscape. On the right, a solitary monk wearing a hooded tunic sits on a stone bench as he looks up at the church with his hands folded on his lap. Nearby, a wooden cross can be glimpsed after the fence of the monk’s humble dwelling. Schödlberger signed both paintings with the inscription ‘‘Joh. Nep. Schödlberger / fec Viennæ /1818’, thereby proclaiming that he made them in Vienna in 1818.

Fig. 1. Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger, Arcadian landscape with Castle, Ruins and Bridges, 1816, oil on canvas, 71 x 87 cm., The Princely Collections, Liechtenstein.

Fig. 2. Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger, Arcadian landscape with gathering thunderstorm, 1816, oil on canvas, 71 x 87 cm., The Princely Collections, Liechtenstein.

In both works, the relatively low horizon, the emphasis on the wideness of the sky with its skilfully nuanced pink clouds, and a diffused golden light create an effect of great luminosity and breadth. Subtle differences in lighting suggest that the two scenes are set at different times of the day. The crisp atmosphere of the first painting suggests it is early morning, when the sun is about to rise. In the second landscape, sharper contrasts of light and shadow set the scene at sunset. Together, the two works form a harmonious whole, their light perfectly balanced. The use of two tall trees as framing elements also fosters compositional unity. Schödlberger often produced his paintings in pair, contrasting different times of the day, as in this case, or weather conditions, as in An Arcadian landscape with Castle, Ruins and Bridges (Fig. 1) and An Arcadian landscape with storm (Fig. 2), painted as a pair in 1816 and today at The Princely Collections in Liechtenstein. Schödlberger’s production of landscapes in pair probably derived from seventeenth-century painter Claude, whose oeuvre the Austrian artist attentively studied during his stay in Rome. From a formal and stylistic point of view, the present landscapes may attest the artist’s knowledge of German painter Jackob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807), who spent most of his life in Italy and also looked at Claude’s work extensively. Although the two artists never met, Schödlberger may have encountered Hackert’s classical landscapes while in Rome. Indeed, the foliage of Schödlberger’s trees and the nervous rendering of their branches are highly reminiscent of those painted by the German painter (Fig. 3 and 4).

Fig. 3. Jacob Philipp Hackert, View of Maddaloni, 1805, oil on canvas, 64.5 x 95.5 cm., Private Collection.

Fig. 4. On the left: Jacob Philipp Hackert, View of Maddaloni, 1805, oil on canvas, 64.5 x 95.5 cm., Private collection, detail; on the right: Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger, An Arcadian landscape with a Gothic Fortress, 1818, oil on canvas, 101 x 132 cm., Private collection, detail.

As previously mentioned, Claude’s classical landscapes were highly influential on those of Schödlberger. Alike Claude, in the 1810s, the Austrian painter created idealised landscape scenes characterised by an idyllically harmonious nature – which, according to the Romantic ideals, later became rather powerful and menacing – and inhabited by small figures derived from literary or mythological sources (Fig. 5). Considering their outfit, the human figures in the present works may refer to Medieval or Renaissance history or literature, although no certain identification has ever been advanced. More likely, these figures may symbolise the dichotomy between the active and the contemplative life, a theme often explored by Romantic artists and poets. In the first work, the castle may signify human power, which, together with the human passions embodied by the three figures, may refer to the Platonic concept of a worldly life led within society. The church and the monk may instead symbolise the spiritual life, in which one isolates himself in order to meditate upon God.

Fig. 5. Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger, Daphnae praying to Peneus, oil on canvas, 101 x 132 cm., Private collection.

The neo-Gothic fortress and church in the present works exemplify the renowned interest in Medieval art, which spread all over Europe since the mid-eighteenth century.2 Although these buildings probably derive from Schödlberger’s personal interpretation of Gothic architecture, the artist seems to have borrowed motives from extant buildings. The roof of the church in the landscape on the right is closely reminiscent of that of St. Stephen Cathedral – one of the most important Gothic buildings in Vienna – repeating a similar rhombuses decoration (Fig. 6). The triangular interlaced structure on the façade of Schödlberger’s church might derive from a personal revision of the architectural elements on the side of St. Stephen (Fig. 7), while, in its disposition, it could allude to the façade of the Viennese church of St. Mary in the Strand, better known as Maria am Gestade (Fig. 8). Schödlberger might have also revised its tower bell when designing those of his church, which both repeat a similar structure and decoration (Fig. 9). With its combination of ogival windows, towers and merlons, the fortress in the painting on the left could instead be compared to neo-Gothic Romantic castles, which were meant to fire the imagination and conjure up the atmosphere of distant times (Fig. 10).

 

Fig. 6. Roof of St. Stephen Cathedral, Vienna

 

Fig. 7. Side of St. Stephen Cathedral, Vienna

 

Fig. 8. Church of St. Mary in the Strand, Vienna.

 

Fig. 9. Tower bell of St. Mary in the Strand, Vienna.

 

Fig. 10. Neo-Gothic Lednice Castle, Czech Republic.

1 For a brief biography of the artist, see Digital Belvedere, Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger. Last accessed December 31, 2018: https://digital.belvedere.at/people/2040/johann-nepomuk-schodlberger

2 For a broad study, see C. Brooks, The Gothic Revival, (London: Phaidon Press, 1999).

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Condition:

The present paintings are lined. They present strong and clear images beneath a clear varnish. In the painting with the castle, there is a 1 by 1 inch repair in the trees above the group of figures as well as a thin horizontal line of repair in the lower left corner. In addition, there are also a few spots in the centre of the upper sky, a spot of repair in the rock near the lower centre and some spots in the tree along the left edge. There is also an area in the lower left corner that fluoresces unevenly under UV light. Inspection under UV light also reveals some thin lines of retouching scattered here and there in the landscape and in the figures of both paintings, as well as thin lines to address some of the more pronounced areas of craquelure in both. In the painting with the church on the left, UV light reveals a small repair in the hillside at the centre and a small spot of retouching in the lower right. There are some more concentrated small lines of retouching in the path at the centre and in the seated figure on the right. Both works are offered in decoratively carved giltwood frames.

 

 

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