Johann Michael Wittmer II.

A festival in Constantinopel


Friedrich von Boetticher, Malerwerke des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, Bd. II,2, S. 1034, Kat.-Nr. 14;
Brigitte Salmen, Johann Michael Wittmer: ein Maler in Murnau und Rom, Murnau 2006, S. 225, Kat.-Nr. 50.

Atelier des Künstlers;
Friedrich von Schlosser (1780-1851), Heidelberg, Stift Neuburg;
Privatbesitz, Berlin.


In 1844, Johann Michael Wittmer, the son-in-law of Joseph Anton Koch, who died in 1839, returned to Germany for the first time after a 16-year absence. After studying at the Munich Academy with Peter von Cornelius, Wittmer came to Rome in 1828, which remained the center of his career until the end of his life. From the beginning, Wittmer oriented himself towards the works of Koch, with whom he later became related when he married his daughter Elena in 1833. Wittmer had never given up his connection to his homeland, but it was only in the summer of 1844 that the opportunity to travel home arose. His journey took him via Switzerland and Strasbourg first to Friedrich von Schlosser, the Frankfurt-born collector who was a relative of Goethe. Since 1825 Schlosser had mainly lived in Neuburg Abbey near Heidelberg and was one of Wittmer’s supporters there. Wittmer’s journey continued to Munich, but he returned to Italy at the end of October and returned to Rome in November. The result of this trip was a number of commissions for drawings and paintings, including for the aforementioned Friedrich von Schlosser, for whom he initially made two large drawings. In 1845, Wittmer sent a “Festival in Constantinople” to Germany together with other oriental scenes and offered them to Schlosser in the spring of 1846: “One of these pictures, which is slightly larger, presents a Turkish festival at a fountain in Constantinople with remnants of Turkish costumes, the other a working day, the arrival of a caravan at Smyrna. You may now choose whichever one you prefer,” Wittmer wrote to Schlosser – he chose the feast day in Constantinople, while his counterpart went to Wilhelm von Neufville, another of Wittmer’s supporters. Schlosser’s scene shows a boy dancing in the middle of a festive Oriental group, which Wittmer depicts in great detail and enriches with anecdotal asides such as the boy on a swing on the right. Despite its unique theme, the influence of Koch, who strived for a similar connection between figure and landscape in his biblical histories, is visible in the composition and colours. The motif goes back to Wittmer’s trip to Greece and Constantinople, on which he accompanied the Bavarian Crown Prince Maximilian, brother of King Otto of Greece, as a travel illustrator in 1833. The journey took them from Naples, from where they set off at the end of April, via Sicily and Corfu, first to Nauplia, where Maximilian’s brother Otto resided; it continued via Corinth to Athens, the future capital, and from there to Smyrna, today’s Izmir in Asia Minor, to Constantinople. The travel sketches that Wittmer made during the trip are unknown or lost today, but after his return to Rome at the end of September he selected special motifs from the mass of works he created to form a representative travel album for the Crown Prince in the hope of receiving more commissions from him in the future. This hope was not fulfilled, but in the same year Wittmer worked on other pen and ink drawings with scenes of oriental life: the caravan at the bridge of Smyrna was given the dancing boy at a party as a counterpart (Städel Museum, Frankfurt, inv. no. 12993 Z). Twelve years later, Wittmer translated the drawing verbatim, without any deviations or additions, into our painting, which is probably identical to the one that was in Friedrich von Schlosser’s possession. Dr. Peter Prange

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