Overbeck, Friedrich

Overbeck, Friedrich, a distinguished German painter, to whom is justly awarded a large share of the merit for the movement in the early part of this century from which arose the modern German school of art, was born at Lubeck July 3, 1789. He began his studies as an artist at Vienna in 1806 but having adopted and continued to persist in carrying out certain notions of art, and the mode of studying it, essentially different from those inculcated in the academy, he was expelled along with certain other students who entertained the same views, and in 1809 set out for Rome. There he was soon afterwards joined by the now world-wide renowned painters Cornelius and Schadow; and these three, animated with similar ideas, and mutually encouraging one another, laid the foundation of a school that in no small degree influences the taste for art in Europe at the present time. The old German school of painting, partly under the influence of the dominant French taste, and partly guided by the maxims and practice of Mengs (q.v.), had been seeking inspiration almost exclusively from classic sources, and drawing its technical principles from the study of the later painters of Italy. But coincident with the casting off of the trammels of modern French criticism and ancient forms in literature, there had been growing up a desire for a return to a less academic or eclectic system in art; and Friedrich Schlegel, a leading critical advocate of the Romantic school in literature, was the herald and prophet of the new school of national German art. Overbeck was well prepared to become one of the advocates and propagators of these new ideas and, together with his two celebrated friends and a host of followers, the new school rapidly developed. He paid entire devotion to the style of the Italian artists prior to the period of the Renaissance, particularly Fra Angelico (b. 1387; d. 1455), and manifested a strong aversion to a dependence on the form of drawing in the style of Greek or classic art in works embodying religious subjects; although many of his compatriots — Cornelius, for instance — modified or perhaps enlarged these ideas, and studied the works of Michael Angelo and those of Raphael's later style executed under the influence of classic art. Overbeck first became noted by a picture of the Madonna, which he painted at Rome in 1811. He was next employed, along with Cornelius and others, by the Prussian consul, general Bartholdi. to execute certain frescos illustrating the history of Joseph; the Selling of Joseph; and the Seven lean Years being the subjects assigned to him. After completing these, he painted in fresco, in the villa of the marchese Massimi, five large compositions from

Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. In 1814 he and several of his artistic brethren abjured Lutheranism, and embraced the Roman Catholic religion. In 1815 he completed Christ at the house of Martha and Mary, which went far to secure his great reputation; but his grand picture, Christ entering Jerusalem — (about eight feet by five and a half), finished in the' following year for the Marienkirche at Lubeck, was that which may be said to have established his fame: there can be little hesitation in saying that, despite its crudenesses, it was in many respects one of the grandest scriptural pictures which had been painted since the decay of art initaly. Though a slow worker — his design being first elaborately thought out, and then laboriously corrected — the productions of a man who had been for nearly half a century constantly working are far too numerous to be mentioned here, even if we had the materials for completing the list. Overbeck's chief work is a fresco at Assisi, The Miracle of Roses of St. Francis. His oil-pictures are inferior to his frescos, being dry and weak in color. His great picture, The Influence of Religion on Art, preserved in the Stadel Institute at Frankfort, and well known from the engraving, is an admirable composition, and is indeed the most favorable specimen of his powers as a painter in oil-colors. In this vast production he has sought to symbolize in a single design the development of art — including music, architecture, sculpture, and painting — under the influence of Christianity. Christ in the act of blessing, and the Virgin recording the Magnificat, occupy the middle of the upper compartment of the picture, while the saints and prophets of the Old and the apostles of the New Testament are assembled around, and the representatives of the several arts fill the different stages or compartments into which the picture is divided. It is a work full of learning, thought, and fine feeling, but one which to understand, much less to do full justice to, it is necessary to study from the artist's own point of view, and with a clear conception of his central idea-to an ordinary spectator by no means an easy matter; He executed a great many drawings remarkable for high feeling, most of which have been engraved. One of his last undertakings, a series of designs from the Evangelists, delicately engraved in the line manner, is a work of high excellence. He died at Rome Nov. 12, 1869, and was buried in one of the churches of the Eternal City in tribute to his eminent services to sacred art. "The works of Overbeck are marked by unflagging invention, great refinement and delicacy of expression, considerable power of drawing, and a style of composition which presents his design with the greatest conceivable perspicuity. Where there is obscurity, as there sometimes is, it rests in the idea and not in the manner of its presentation. But his treatment of his themes is essentially subjective: in other words, he seems to have always sought to carry out Schlegel's principle that in all Christian themes the treatment must be spiritual and symbolic rather than human and dramatic. Hence his works display a calm devotional beauty and simplicity rather than energy or brilliancy of style. This spirituality and symbolism of style and thought rise in the works of Overbeck not infrequently into grandeur, and are always impressive; but often, even in his hands, they run into coldness, obscurity, and mannerism. But the nobleness and purity of aim, the great artistic knowledge and power, the fine poetic genius which pervades almost every production of his pencil, and his singleness of purpose, must always secure for the name of Friedrich Overbeck a high place in the history of art, and one of the very highest among the painters of the 19th century" (Enyl. Cyclop.). See Nagler, Kinstler-Lexikon, s.v.; Raczynski, Histoire de l'Art Allemand modern, Brockhaus, Conversations- Lexikon, s.v.

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