Masterworks in Dialogue at the Städel Museum


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Masterworks in Dialogue at the Städel Museum
Masterworks in Dialogue at the Städel Museum


7 October 2015 to 24 January 2016


The Städel is celebrating its 200th birthday.

A happy occasion! For the festivities, we are hosting guests from many nations: masterworks from the world’s most renowned museums are coming together with key works from the collection. Fazio’s Mistress by Rossetti from the London Tate, for example, is encountering Botticelli’s Simonetta. In altogether forty such juxtapositions fascinating dialogues ensue, making the visit to the Städel Museum a very special experience.

From the point of view of content and space alike, the juxtapositions are as charming and they are challenging. They propose suspenseful and sometimes surprising art-historical and historical references and offer a new look at the collection holdings. For three months, visitors to the Städel can encounter our unique “anniversary guests” throughout the museum’s departments.

200 years Städel

March 15, 1815 was a historic day: at the age of eighty-six, Johann Friedrich Städel signed the final version of his will. With this signature, the prosperous businessman and banker of Frankfurt bequeathed his entire wealth and extensive art collection to a foundation named after him.

He dedicated the foundation to the city and its citizens. One of its stated purposes was to support the artistic training of promising talents. By founding a public art museum and art academy, Städel played a pioneering role in the German-speaking world.

left: Johann Friedrich Städel‘s house (centre) on Rossmarkt in Frankfurt, ca. 1870, Städel Museum | center: The Städel Museum on Schaumainkai, 1878, Städel Museum | right: View of the staircase completed in 1878, photographed after 1921: The portrait busts depict citizens of Frankfurt dedicated to the cultural, political and economic life of the city, Städel Museum

In keeping with the ideas of the Enlightenment, Städel regarded art as a fundamental part of a person’s upbringing and education. His house on Rossmarkt square and his private art collection were already open to artists and art enthusiasts during his lifetime.

In 1833, the collection moved to a building in Neue Mainzer Strasse. There it was newly presented and interpreted, and also further expanded. In addition to gallery rooms there were studios and classrooms. As had already been common in Städel’s day, the artworks were still hung on the walls in several rows. Yet the building also had modern features: the colour design of the walls and the installation of skylights. There were even a few seats for the visitors.

The impressive architecture of the new building that opened on the Sachsenhausen side of the Main in 1878 gave the collection a suitable museological framework in the style of the time. With the founding of the Städelscher Museums-Verein in 1899, the citizens’ involvement also increased.

Particularly after the establishment of the Städtische Galerie in 1907, older and modern art came together under a single roof. The museum began to attract visitors from all over Europe. In 1933, owing to the National Socialist accession to power, difficult times began for the Städel: on a large scale, works labelled “degenerate” were removed from the gallery and the depots. The institute resumed its work in 1946. In the post-war period, it faced the challenging task of catching up with the times. The gaps in the area of Classical Modern art also had to be filled. What is more, the collecting activities in the area of the Old Masters were to be carried on at as high a standard as ever. In 2012, the museum was extended by the construction of the Garden Halls designed specifically for the presentation of contemporary art. Historical and contemporary photographs also now came to be presented in the collection rooms alongside painting and sculpture.

The museum has already long been more than a place purely for the preservation of artworks. With his Museum Photographs series that got underway in 1989, the artist Thomas Struth turned the museum into an institution in which art is also produced.


Thomas Struth’s museum photographs

Thomas Struth, Louvre 1, Paris 1989, 1989, colour photograph, 183 x 234 cm, Atelier Thomas Struth, © Thomas Struth

A typical day at the museum: groups of visitors stroll leisurely through the exhibition rooms or settle on benches or the floor in front of the artworks. They talk to one another, listen to a tour guide or glance at the works briefly in passing.

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Two famous paintings by Jacques-Louis David can be seen in the photograph. David is considered a chief exponent of Neoclassicist painting in the France of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The painting at the centre shows the coronation of Napoleon. To its right, a scene from the story of the Rape of the Sabines is depicted.

On closer inspection, the seemingly coincidental arrangement of the museum visitors in the room looks precisely calculated, as if the people in the museum were making direct reference to the figures in the paintings with their positions and poses. One group of visitors stands reverently in front of the depiction of Napoleon’s coronation, thus mirroring the demeanour of the figures in the painting, who look on solemnly as the ceremony takes its course.

The visitors in front of the Intervention of the Sabine Women, on the other hand, are seated in haphazard fashion – as if to imitate the figural arrangement of the turbulent scene in the painting. The German artist Thomas Struth (b. 1954) employs the photography medium to forge a link between painted and real space. Once competing media, painting and photography now enter into a dialogue that reformulates the question as to reality’s representation.

Thomas Struth photographed the scene at the Musée du Louvre in Paris in 1989. He took further shots for his Museum Photographs series at the National Gallery in London, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For Struth, the museum institution is not only a place for looking at art, but also one where art is created. The Museum Photographs series mirrors his interest in urban life, architecture and human civilization. In the contemplation of Struth’s works, the viewer is inevitably called upon to become aware of – and critically question – his own attitude towards art.


Quentin Massys meets Willem van Haecht

Willem van Haecht, Apelles painting Campaspe, ca. 1630, oil on wood, 104,9 x 148,7 cm, Mauritshuis, Den Haag, The Netherlands
A painting in a painting
Quentin Massys, Portrait of a Scholar, ca. 1525-30, mixed technique on oak, 68,8 x 53,3 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

The Portrait of a Scholar presumably made its way into the collection of Cornelis van der Geest before 1628. The popular and frequently copied work had been executed by Quentin Massys (1465/66–1530), one of Antwerp’s leading painters. The portrait subject was probably a humanist in the circle of the artist’s acquaintances. His clothing, the open book, and the optical aid in his hand characterize him as a scholar. Massys pictured him looking up from his reading. His raised hand creates the impression that he is engaged in conversation with an imaginary vis-à-vis. In his gallery painting Apelles painting Campaspe, Willem van Haecht surrounded it with great masterworks.

Up to the very ceiling of the high room, artworks of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries hang closely side by side and one above the other. In the midst of this striking scene sits Apelles, the most prominent painter of antiquity, before his easel. He scrutinizes his model Campaspe, the concubine of Alexander the Great. Full of admiration, the commander looks over the artist’s shoulder, watching him at work.

As the legend has it, Apelles falls deeply in love with the beautiful woman while painting her. Alexander notices his painter’s burning passion and gives him Campaspe as a gift. He keeps the painting, however: in his eyes, she is even more beautiful in the portrayal than in real life. By depicting this legend, van Haecht was alluding to the primacy of art over nature.

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The artist Willem van Haecht (1593–1637) of Antwerp executed several such gallery paintings on commission from the collector Cornelis van der Geest (1555–1638). In Apelles painting Campaspe, van Haecht makes reference to the art of antiquity, which in his day was held in the highest regard. He thus “ennobled” the contemporary artworks in the room as outstanding examples of painting.

The painted art gallery

In the early seventeenth century, artists as well as art collectors and connoisseurs were honoured with the genre of the painted art galleries (Netherlandish constcamer or kunstkamer).

Some real, some imaginary, the galleries depicted in these works feature precious collectors’ items such as paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings but also coin collections, globes, porcelain, shells or decorative flowers.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787, oil on canvas, 164 x 206 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Detail


Tischbein in Italy

Tischbein’s (1751–1829) larger-than-life portrait of the famous writer depicts him as a traveller. From beneath his wide-brimmed hat, Goethe gazes contemplatively into the distance. He reclines casually on a toppled obelisk surrounded by further testimonies to antiquity. The ruins of the Roman Campagna spread out behind him.

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During his travels in Italy in 1786, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) shared quarters in Rome with Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein and other artists. When Tischbein was compelled to turn his back on Italy several years later, he left the portrait of Goethe behind – still in an unfinished state – in Naples, his last place of residence. It remained undated and unsigned.

It is possible that the painting was completed at a later date by a different, and less practised, hand. It could explain the mysterious second left foot.

The work entered the Städel Museum collection in 1887 as a gift from Adèle von Rothschild, and quickly became a crowd puller. It undoubtedly owes its success less to its painterly quality than to the cult surrounding Goethe, the “prince of poets”.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787, oil on canvas, 164 x 206 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Goethe: An example to follow
left: Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna (Preliminary Study), 1787, graphite, pen-and-brush drawing in grey on blue paper, , 12 x 14,2 cm, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Museen | right: Adolf von Donndorf, Goethe, Competition Draft for the Berlin Goethe Monument (1872), 1890 (originally from 1872), plaster cast, 42 x 50,5 x 26,5 cm, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Museen

Tischbein carried out several preparatory drawings for the painting of Goethe, among them Goethe in the Roman Campagna (Preliminary Study). On 29 December 1786, Goethe mentioned in the record he kept of his travels in Italy:

“Latterly I have often observed Tischbein attentively regarding me; and now it appears that he has long cherished the idea of painting my portrait. His design is already settled, and the canvas stretched.”

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1787 1

Hardly another artwork is quoted as frequently as Tischbein’s painting. The sculptor Adolf von Donndorf (1835–1916) also took it as inspiration. In 1872 he participated in a competition for the Goethe monument in Berlin, for which he submitted two drafts. In one of them, the pose and clothing are nearly identical to those of the Tischbein painting’s Goethe. The travelling cloak, however, is open. The wide-brimmed hat is lying on the ground, and the writer is holding a book.


Hammershøi’s interiors

Vilhelm Hammershøi, White Doors (Open Doors), 1905, oil on canvas, 52.5 x 60 cm, 52,5 x 60 cm, Davids Samling, Kopenhagen
Listen to more about: Vilhelm Hammershøi, White Doors (Open Doors)
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We see neither furniture nor pictures, only bare walls, white doors, and a dark plank floor that give us no clue as to the private lives of these rooms’ inhabitants. A door at the far end is open a crack, allowing a beam of indirect light to shine gently into the dark corridor.

White Doors (Open Doors) of 1905 is presumably the most well-known of the altogether eighteen interiors the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864–1916) painted of his dining room. At the same time, in its reduction to the room’s architectonic structure, it is the most radical in the series.

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Between 1898 and 1909, Hammershøi executed some eighty depictions of interiors. In the process, he took orientation from his own flat in Copenhagen. The brick building in Strandgade 30 dates from the seventeenth century and still exists today. The painter lived here with his wife Ida, who often posed for him. The unusually sparse furnishings of their flat contrasted strongly with the prevailing interior decoration tastes of the time.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, interiors became ever more important: in the age of industrialization, the cities grew rapidly, and a person’s home was often his only retreat from the fast-paced hustle and bustle of urban life. Those who had the financial means at their disposal furnished their residences with sumptuously embellished curtains, valuable carpets and ornate furniture. In Hammershøi’s paintings, however, there is nothing to create an impression of a safe and cosy home.

left: Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior. Strandgade 30, 1901, oil on canvas, 66 x 55 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V. | right: Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior, 1905, oil on canvas, 65.5 x 54.5 cm, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, (Collection von Willebrand), Helsinki


Interior: Strandgade 30 of 1901 is one of Hammershøi’s series of dining room views. The Städelscher Museums-Verein acquired the work in 2012.

At the right, a door opens into the nearly empty room. Straight ahead, we look through a dim corridor to another open door. Soft light enters through the window opposite, luring our gaze across the floor planks and the two thresholds into the depths. In between, Ida can be discerned, all but concealed in the shadows.

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Her back faces the viewer; her dark dress is plain and inconspicuous. All the doors around her are open. If we extend the lines of the doors’ edges into space, however, Ida is virtually encircled. Disconcerting, tension-filled elements of this kind are characteristic of Hammershøi’s works.

He painted a further version of the Frankfurt work in 1905: this particular depiction seems to have been important to him. Comparison reveals subtle differences: where there were originally two pictures on the dining room wall, now there is only one. The little side table next to Ida is missing. The interior of the second version appears deeper.

It is as if Hammershøi was reducing the depiction object by object until he ultimately advanced to its core.


Jan van Eyck – An eye for detail

Jan van Eyck, Lucca Madonna, ca. 1436/38, mixed technique on oak, 65.7 x 49.6 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

The Virgin Mary gazes affectionately into her child’s eyes as she nurses him. The intimate scene was depicted by Jan van Eyck (1390–1441) with exceptional realism of detail. We almost have the sense of being able to walk right into the luxuriously furnished room.

Van Eyck made a major contribution to the development of the technique of oil painting. Oil-based paints could be applied in individual layers so thin as to be transparent. This permitted the deceptively real-looking depiction of, for example, light.

Every object in the painting is charged with symbolic meaning. The work is thus imbued with a depth of meaning that becomes apparent only upon close examination.


Jan van Eyck, The Annunciation, ca. 1434/36, 102.2 x 55.9 cm, mixed technique on canvas, transferred from panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

The central aisle of a Romanesque basilica rises magnificently to the heights. Soft light streams through the stained-glass windows into the interior. The wall paintings show scenes from the Old Testament.

With a gentle smile, the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will give birth to a son, Jesus Christ. His outstretched hand points to the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

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Van Eyck was aware of his exceptional skill. With a combination of modesty and pride, he frequently accompanied the signature of his works with the motto “Als ich can” – “As well as I can”.

Johann David Passavant purchased the Lucca Madonna on behalf of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut at an auction in 1850. The Annunciation was sold to a different buyer following a fierce bidding contest at the same event.

Sandro Botticelli, Idealised Portrait of a Lady (Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as a Nymph), ca 1480/85, mixed technique on poplar, 81.8 x 54 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, detail


Sandro Botticelli meets Dante Gabriel Rossetti


A portrait that poses riddles… Does it show an elegant young lady of Florence? Or was the aim of Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1444/45–1510) to use the means offered by painting to create an ideal image of feminine beauty?

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The panel’s size, unusually large for portraits of women in the artist’s day, can be cited in support of the ideal portrait theory. Rather than being shown in straight profile, the lady turns slightly towards the viewer. Her elaborate braided coiffure, embellished with ribbons, pearls and feathers, corresponds to contemporary feast day fashions. Her porcelain-like complexion, high forehead, partially lowered lids beneath gently curving brows, and sensuous lips – these facial features are encountered in several paintings by Botticelli. What is more, his female figures always radiate a sense of dreamy melancholy.

It is possible that the lady with the captivatingly mournful gaze was Simonetta Vespucci (ca. 1453–ca. 1476).The young woman of Genoa had married into the aristocratic Vespucci family of Florence, and evidently bewitched the entire town with her beauty. Giuliano Medici, one of the most powerful Florentines of his time, had chosen her as his tournament lady and “queen of beauty”. After her premature death in April 1476 she took on the status of a mythical cult figure.

I look at the amorous beautiful mouth,
The spacious forehead which her locks enclose,
The small white teeth, the straight and shapely nose,
And the clear brows of a sweet pencilling.

Fazio degli Uberti, translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 2


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Fazio’s Mistress (Aurelia), 1863 (revisited by the artist in 1873), oil on mahogany, 43.2 x 36.8 cm, Tate, London

The poem was penned by the Italian Fazio degli Uberti (ca. 1309–ca. 1357) for his ladylove. The British painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) translated it into English. It reads like a description of Rossetti’s painting Fazio’s Mistress.

In 1849, Rossetti had admired paintings by Botticelli in the Paris Louvre. It is not certain whether he was familiar with the portrait of Simonetta, which by that time was already in the Städel Museum collection.

The two portraits exhibit similarities: the slight turn away from a strict profile, the half-length depiction of the figure, the silhouette before a dark background. Yet the two women with their long, wavy hair and fine facial features resemble one another not only outwardly: they are both portrayed in a state of pensive melancholy.

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An interval of four hundred years separates the two works. Comparison of the pictorial theme and composition strongly suggests that Rossetti studied Botticelli’s ideal portraits closely. The juxtaposition once again sparks debate on the depiction of ideal beauty.


Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, Orchestra Musicians, 1872 (1874–76 reworked), oil on canvas, 69 x 49 cm, © Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) attained fame as a painter of ballet. He had likewise been infected with the enthusiasm of the nineteenth-century French public for the “poetry with arms and legs”. He skilfully captured the ballerinas’ graceful movements.

In The Orchestra Musicians, the painter grants us a view of the orchestra pit, a part of the theatre actually hidden from the audience’s sight. He depicted the musicians in almost Old Masterly fashion, with fine brushstrokes and sharp contours. In contrast, the vibrantly dynamic world of the dancers has been brought to life on the stage with light pastel shades. Degas divided the painting into two sections. Nevertheless, a connection has been created between the dark “male” sphere and the bright “female” one.

Kunst|Stück – Edgar Degas: Die Orchestermusiker


The Orchestra of the Opera is considered the companion piece to the Frankfurt painting. It is today in the holdings of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The dancers in the background are visible only up to their waists. The focus is entirely on the musicians. At the centre is Désiré Dihau, a close friend of Degas’s, playing the bassoon. The other musicians are likewise personal friends whom the artist has here brought together to form his orchestra.

Edgar Degas, The Orchestra of the Opera, ca. 1870, oil on canvas, 56.5 x 45 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris


This Ballet Scene is one of Degas’s most condensed and sophisticated compositions. It was inspired by Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Robert the Devil. For his depiction the artist chose the most famous scene: two dead nuns awaken to new life in the ruins of a convent. With their frightening and wildly exotic dance they attempt to cast a spell over Robert.

The drama of the goings-on is underscored by the extreme spatial depth. The dancers, depicted hazily with broad brushstrokes, possess a ghostly quality. In marked contrast, the opera-goers in the foreground have been described with clear contours.

Edgar Degas, The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer’s Opera Robert Le Diable, 1876, oil on canvas, 76.6 x 81.3 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Excerpt from the opera Robert the Devil by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Act 3, Baccanale,
Live recording, 23. March 2012,Teatro Verdi, Salerno (concert)
℗ & © 2013 Brilliant Classics
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Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, The Blinding of Samson, 1636, oil on canvas, 176 x 206 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, detail


Rembrandt meets Artemisia Gentileschi

The story of Samson and Delilah
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Betrayed by his mistress Delilah, Samson lies on the floor, surrounded by enemies. With a sharp dagger, one of the soldiers robs him of his eyesight. Delilah looks back over her shoulder with an expression that combines horror with astonishment. In her hands she holds the hair she has cut from Samson’s head – once the source of his superhuman strength.

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The scene of Samson’s blinding has rarely been depicted in as brutal and realistic a manner. The story continues, however. Following the horrible betrayal, Samson’s hair grows back. With his newly regained strength he takes revenge on his adversaries. In Rembrandt’s (1606–1669) day, Samson – a lone fighter against a superior enemy – was an important identification figure for the ruling classes in Holland.

In 1607, during the Eighty Years’ War, the Spanish armada had launched a surprise attack on the Netherlands. The Spanish, however, were overwhelmingly defeated and lost their supremacy at sea.


Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith slaying Holofernes, 1612/13, oil on canvas, 158.6 x 125.5 cm (left side noticeably trimmed), Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Neapel

Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk. … Judith … went to the pillar that was at his bed’s head, and loosed his sword … took him by the hair of his head and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, at this hour. And she … cut off his head … And after a while she went out, and delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bad her put it into her wallet.

From the apocryphal Book of Judith 3

Like Delilah, Judith also used her feminine charms to bring about a man’s downfall. The victim of the beautiful young woman of Bethulia is Holofernes, her people’s mortal enemy. The Assyrian commander and his troops lay siege to her city. The inhabitants threaten to die of thirst. Under a pretext, she succeeds in reaching Holofernes’ tent and kills him. When the Assyrian troops find his corpse the next morning, they flee in panic from the attacking Philistines.

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The painting is the work of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–ca. 1653). It was only because she had access to her father’s workshop that Artemisia succeeded in completing her training as an artist. She was to return to the theme of beheading and self-administered justice again and again.

The artist was herself a victim of violent sexual attacks inflicted on her by one of her father’s artist colleagues. The society of her time sought the guilt in the woman as a matter of course.

Against massive resistance, Artemisia defended herself by successfully taking her violator to court.

The close proximity of the protagonists to the viewer lends the scene heightened intensity. The painting differs from other depictions of the story in that here the maidservant takes active part in the killing. She presses Holofernes’ body down with all her strength. This scene will surely have made a deep impression on Rembrandt. It is not known whether he was acquainted with it from a drawing or an engraved copy.

Daniel Richter, The Gaggle, 2007, oil on canvas, 280 x 450 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein, detail


Daniel Richter’s „Gaggle

Listen to more about: Daniel Richter, Horde
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Daniel Richter, Dog Planet, 2002, Oil on canvas, 280 x 351 cm, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig, permanent loan, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Threatening and awe-inspiring, the hazy figures tower over the viewer larger than life. They seem alert and on guard, as if they were waiting for a signal to attack. Their mask-like faces wear eerie grimaces. They possess just enough form to keep them from sliding away entirely into abstraction. The exaggerated contrasts and garish colours create a sense of virulent tension.

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In his paintings, the German artist Daniel Richter (*1962) explores photography as a means of reproducing reality. He is interested in images of present-day events from television, internet and the print media. Protests, disasters, street riots, civil wars – in the paintings in his work series, Richter creates a mood of collective fear and violence. Dog Planet and Gaggle have their pictorial theme and a certain painterly ambiguity in common. They differ in their respective experimental treatment of the colours and abstract surfaces, and the manner in which they play with contrasts.


Picasso and Fernande

left: Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Fernande Olivier, 1909, 65 x 54,5 cm, oil on canvas, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Vereins e.V., © Succession Picasso | VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2015, right: Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme (Fernande), 1909, Bronze, 40,5 x 23 x 26 cm, Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See, © Succession Picasso | VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2015
Portrait of Fernande
Pablo Picasso, Fernande Olivier, 1906 Photography, Musée Picasso, Paris © Succession Picasso/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

In the summer of 1909, Pablo Picasso painted his mistress Fernande Olivier. At the time, they were living in Horta de Ebro, a mountain village in Spain.

A face emerges from a barren rocky landscape. Dark gorges form the eye sockets, sharp ridges the forehead and cheeks. The head looks as if it had been chiselled directly from stone. In the painting Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) merges the portrait of his mistress Fernande Olivier with the rugged structure of the landscape.

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Fernande’s face breaks up into rectangular and rhombic shapes. Picasso shows it from a number of different angles simultaneously. The chin and nose, for example, are seen from below and from the front. The portrait served as the formal point of departure for Picasso’s first Cubist sculpture. He translated the two-dimensional painting into a three dimensionally modelled shape with surprising directness. The result is an intense dialogue between painting and sculpture.

Cubism is … an art which is primarily concerned with form, and, once a form has been created, then it exists and goes on living its own life.

Pablo Picasso, 1923 4


Hendrick Goltzius’s portraits


The large-scale chalk drawings by Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617) look like paintings. At the same time, these portraits retain a sense of freshness and spontaneity. In them, the master draughtsman tested a new, virtuoso technique. Black, red, yellowish brown and white – the colours and fine structures lend the sitters extremely lifelike expressions.

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At the bottom edge of the drawing is the inscription “…llis van Breen”. The name also turns up in another portrait of the same man. Gillis van Breen is thought to have been an engraver or printer of Haarlem. Goltzius executed several likenesses of him – the two men were evidently good friends. The drawing was not intended as a preliminary study, but as a work of art in its own right. This is clear from the fact that Goltzius signed the portrait.

Hendrick Goltzius, Portrait of Gillis van Breen, 1588, black, red, brown and yellow chalk, 37.6 x 29.2 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Department of Printings and Drawings


Hendrick Goltzius, Portrait of Giambologna, 1591, black and red chalk, partially gone over with a damp brush; brush and brown and brownish green ink, 37 x 30 cm, Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Goltzius highly appreciated the encounter and intellectual exchange with well-known artists of his time. On a trip to Italy in 1590/91, he made portrait drawings testifying to a number of his acquaintances. Whereas the likenesses of the 1580s had been executed for the most part on commission, the great majority of Goltzius’s later portraits depict personal friends and fellow artists.

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In the Portrait of Giambologna he created the likeness of the court sculptor to the famous Florentine family of bankers, the Medici. As was generally the case in his later portraits, he omitted the conspicuous signature. With the sparing use of red and black chalk, the artist achieved an amazingly painterly effect. He depicted the upper body as a loose contour drawing in black chalk that serves to bring out the rendering of the head in colour all the more strongly. Within just a few years, Goltzius had made great progress in the mastery of this complex drawing technique. The development is especially evident in the direct comparison of the two works.

Dierk Schmidt, Xenophobe - Shipwreck Scene, Dedicated to the 353 Drowned Asylum Seekers Died on the Indian Ocean, on the Morning of October, oil and acrylic on PVC sheeting, 176 x 299,6 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Vereins e.V., © VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2015, detail

Personal hint


What you can only see in the original

Strips of white tape cut through black surfaces. Overlapping pictorial elements merely hint at fragmentary details of a disaster: the point of departure for the series SIEV-X – “On a Case of Intensified Refugee Politics” was a ship accident that was never fully explained.

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“SIEV” stands for “suspected illegal entry vessel”. That is what the Australian government calls boats carrying illegal immigrants. The “X” refers to the nameless boats that manage to bypass the patrols.

Dierk Schmidt (*1965) researched extensive pictorial material and brought it together in a nineteen-part cycle. The explosive nature of the topic echoes not only in the alienating and fragmented depiction.

The artist transferred the motifs to extremely fragile surfaces such as transparent plastic foils, photocopy paper or PVC flooring. He thus very deliberately evades the traditional task of history painting to capture historical events on canvas for eternity.

The Raft of the Medusa

Dierk Schmidt makes reference to Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Frenchman depicted a dramatic shipwreck off the coast of Mauritania on a canvas measuring approximately 5 by 7 metres. Owing to the work’s overwhelming scale and relentless realism, it met with angry rejection. Yet Géricault’s politically motivated painting would prove to set an example for entire generations of artists – down to the very present.

Pierre-Désiré Guillemet und Étienne-Antoine-Eugène Ronjat: The Raft of the Medusa, copy after Théodore Géricault, 1859/60, oil on canvas, 493 x 717 cm, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, Foto: Musée de Picardie, Amiens



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Picture credits

Sandro Botticelli
Idealised Portrait of a Lady (Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as a Nymph)
ca. 1480/85
Mixed Technique on Poplar
81.8 x 54 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: U. Edelmann – Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Fazio’s Mistress (Aurelia)
1863 (revisited by the artist in 1873)
Oil on mahogany
43.2 x 36.8 cm
Tate, London, Purchased with assistance from Sir Arthur Du Cros Bt and Sir Otto Beit KCMG through the Art Fund 1916
Photo: Tate, London 2015

Johann Friedrich Städel‘s house (centre) on Rossmarkt in Frankfurt
ca. 1870
Photo: Städel Museum

The Städel Museum on Schaumainkai
Poto: Städel Museum

View of the staircase completed in 1878, photographed after 1921: The portrait busts depict citizens of Frankfurt dedicated to the cultural, political and economic life of the city
Photo: Städel Museum

Thomas Struth
Louvre 1, Paris 1989
Colour photograph
183 x 234 cm
Atelier Thomas Struth
© Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth
Louvre 3, Paris 1989
Colour photograph
155 x 172 cm
DZ Bank Kunstsammlung im Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
© Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth
Art Institute of Chicago 2, Chicago
Colour photograph
184 x 219 cm
Atelier Thomas Struth
© Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth
Kunsthistorisches Museum 3, Wien
Colour photograph
187 x 145 cm
Atelier Thomas Struth
© Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth
Louvre 4, Paris
Colour photograph
187 x 211 cm
Atelier Thomas Struth
© Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth
Art Institute of Chicago 1
Colour photograph
174 x 206 cm
Atelier Thomas Struth
© Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth
National Gallery 1, London
Colour photograp
180 x 196 cm
Atelier Thomas Struth
© Thomas Struth

Willem van Haecht
Apelles Painting Campaspe
ca. 1630
Oil on wood
104.9 x 148.7 cm
Mauritshuis, Den Haag, Niederlande
Photo: Mauritshuis, Den Haag, Niederlande

Quentin Massys,
Portrait of a Scholar
ca. 1520-30
Mixed technique on oak
68.8 x 53.3 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Goethe in the Roman Campagna
Oil on canvas
164 x 206 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Goethe in the Roman Campagna (Preliminary Study)
Graphite, pen-and-brush drawing in grey on blue paper
12 x 14.2 cm
Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Museen

Adolf von Donndorf
Goethe, Competition Draft for the Berlin Goethe Monument (1872)
1890 (originally from 1872)
Plaster cast
42 x 50.5 x 26.5 cm
Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Museen

Vilhelm Hammershøi
White Doors (Open Doors)
Oil on canvas
52.5 x 60 cm
The David Collection, Copenhagen
Photo: The David Collection, Copenhagen, Pernille Klemp

Vilhelm Hammershøi
Interior. Strandgade 30
Oil on canvas
66 x 55 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Vilhelm Hammershøi
Oil on canvas
65.5 x 54.5 cm
Ateneum Art Museum Finnish National Gallery, (Collection von Willebrand), Helsinki
Photo: Finnish National Gallery/ Helsinki, Hannu Aaltonen

Jan van Eyck
Lucca Madonna
ca. 1436/38
Mixed technique on oak
65.7 x 49.6 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Jan van Eyck
The Annunciation
ca. 1434/36
102.2 x 55.9 cm
Mixed technique on canvas, transferred from panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

Edgar Degas
Orchestra Musicians
1872 (1874–76 reworked)
Oil on canvas
69 x 49 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Edgar Degas,
The Orchestra of the Opera
ca. 1870
Oil on canvas
56.5 x 45 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Photo: bpk | RMN-Grand Palais |Hervé Lewandowski

Edgar Degas
The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer's Opera Robert Le Diable
Oil on canvas
76.6 x 81.3 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
The Blinding of Samson
Oil on canvas
176 x 206 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Oil on canvas
158.6 x 125.5 cm (left side noticeably trimmed)
Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimente Neapel
Photo: Fototeca della Soprintendenza Seciale per il PSAE e per il Polo Museale della Città di Napoli e della Reggia di Caserta

Daniel Richter
The Gaggle
Oil on canvas
280 x 450 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Daniel Richter
Dog Planet
Oil on canvas
280 x 351 cm
Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, on permanent loan
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015
Photo: Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin, Jochen Littkemann

Pablo Picasso
Portrait Fernande Olivier
Oil on canvas
65 x 54,5 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Property of the Städelscher Museums-Vereins e.V.
© Succession Picasso
Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK

Pablo Picasso
Tête de femme (Fernande)
40,5 x 23x 26 cm
Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See
© Succession Picasso | VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See

Pablo Picasso
Fernande Olivier
Musée Picasso Paris
© Sucession Picasso/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015
Photo: bpk | RMN – Grand Palais

Hendrick Goltzius
Portrait of Gillis van Breen
Black, red, brown and yellow chalk
37.6 x 29.2 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Hendrick Goltzius,
Portrait of Giambologna
Black and red chalk, partially gone over with a damp brush; brush and brown and brownish green ink
37 x 30 cm
Teylers Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands
Photo: Teylers Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands

Dierk Schmidt
Xenophobe - Shipwreck Scene, Dedicated to the 353 Drowned Asylum Seekers Died on the Indian Ocean, on the Morning of October 19, 2001
Oil and acrylic in PVC sheeting
176 x 229.6 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, property of the Städelscher Museums-Vereins e.V.
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Pierre-Désiré Guillemet and Étienne-Antoine-Eugène Ronjat
Le Radeau de La Méduse/ The Raft of the Medusa, copy after Théodore Géricault
Oil on canvas
493 x 717 cm
Musée de Picardie, Amiens
Photo: Marc Jeanneteau


1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Travels in Italy, trans. Charles Nisbet, entry of Dec. 29, 1786 (London: George Bell and Sons, 1885), p. 141.

2 Fazio degli Uberti, lines 18–21, translated and published in The Early Italian Poets (1861) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, quoted in The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860–1910, ed. by Andrew Wilton and Robert Upstone, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (London, 1997), p. 100.

3 The Holy Bible, Book of Judith (London: Keating and Brown, 1825), p. 459.

4 Interview with Maurius de Zayas (1923), quoted in the New York Times obituary of April 9, 1973 by Alden Whitman, (accessed 13 August 2015).