The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Kaulbach, Wilhelm von

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Edition of 1879. See also Wilhelm von Kaulbach on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

KAULBACH, Wilhelm von, a German painter, born in Arolsen, Oct. 16, 1805, died in Munich, April 7, 1874. His mother was a superior woman, and his father was a skilful goldsmith and engraver. But the family was so poor that he and his sister were glad to accept even stale bread from the peasantry in exchange for the father's engravings; and this is said to have suggested to him his earliest work, “The Fall of Manna in the Wilderness.” The sculptor Rauch procured his admission to the academy of Düsseldorf. He became the most distinguished pupil of Cornelius, and in 1825 followed him to Munich, where he spent the rest of his life, the last 25 years as director of the academy. Under the direction of Cornelius he designed (1825-'8) many frescoes for the new buildings at Munich, including “Apollo and the Muses,” for the ceiling of the Odeon; designs from Klopstock's “Battle of Hermann,” and from Goethe's and Wieland's poems, for the royal palace; purely classical illustrations of the story of Amor and Psyche, for the palace of Duke Max; and many allegorical figures for the arcades of the palace garden. These works established his reputation as the most admirable exponent of the idealistic school, while his “Lunatic Asylum,” commenced at Düsseldorf, where he had taken a morbid delight in watching the insane, made him famous as an equally great master of realism. His next great work, the “Battle of the Huns,” or “Spectre Battle,” representing the legend of the continued combat in mid-air between the spirits of the Huns and of Romans who had fallen before the walls of Rome, exhibited on the largest scale his genius for the symbolical and allegorical. Count Raczynski commissioned him to paint the work in sepia, and he finished it in 1837. The king of Saxony now offered him the direction of the academy of Dresden, with a salary of 2,000 thalers; but Kaulbach preferred to remain in Munich, although he received only 800 florins from the king of Bavaria. In 1838 he finished his masterpiece, the “Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus,” a colossal cartoon giving the fullest scope to his imaginative power and to his wonderful capacity for idealizing history. It illustrates the fulfilment of the prophecies by the Roman eagle on the high altar of the temple, and by woe-stricken women and distracted priests committing suicide; the triumph of Christianity by angels who rescue the faithful from the scene of terror; and the punishment inflicted upon unbelievers by the wandering Jew pursued by demons. Having hitherto worked almost exclusively in fresco, he spent some time in Venice and a year in Rome to prepare himself for painting the cartoon in oil for the new Pinakothek, completing it in 1846. About the same time he commenced his famous designs illustrative of the history of mankind for the new museum at Berlin, which were executed by his pupils and completed in 1860. They consist of six frescoes, representing the “Tower of Babel,” “Homer and the Greeks,” the “Destruction of Jerusalem,” the “Battle of the Huns,” the “Crusaders at the gates of Jerusalem,” and the “Age of the Reformation.” Allegorical pictures of the progress of the various nations and figures of sages and heroes fill the surrounding compartments, and an extensive frieze running round the whole, with countless lovely boys, symbolizes in their childish sports the varied incidents of humanity since the dawn of time. A complete set of engravings of these frescoes, chiefly by Eichens, was published in 1874. To the same period belong his cartoons in the new Pinakothek of Munich, showing the progress of art during the present century, for which he incurred the censure of several artists, especially Schnorr, on account of its satirical tendency. His overflowing humor and sarcasm appear in many of his other works, especially in his designs for Reineke Fuchs, in which he also proves himself to be an excellent painter of animals. But the grotesque, though not unsuitable to this subject, was often mixed up with the sublime in his productions; and for this he was much blamed by rigid purists, while others compare his irrepressible disposition to present a comprehensive view of all the various phases of human character to the similar tendency in Shakespeare. His designs to Shakespeare indicate his sympathy with his genius, and his careful study of Hogarth is also attested in these illustrations, and in many others, including Faust and Schiller's Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre. Among his other works, besides many portraits, are the “Assassination of Cæsar,” the “Battle of Salamis,” for the Maximilianeum at Munich, and the “Opening of the Tomb of Charlemagne by Otho the Great,” which he presented to the Germanic museum at Nuremberg. His paintings in private American galleries include a “Caritas,” in possession of the Longworth family in Cincinnati, and the “Meeting of Queen Elizabeth with Mary Stuart,” in that of Mr. George C. Wetmore of New York. His fervent Protestantism, which alienated him in the latter part of his life from Cornelius, who was as decided a Catholic, is most strongly expressed in his “Don Pedro de Arbuez, the Inquisitor,” which, appearing at the time of the œcumenical council (1869-'70), produced a great sensation, and gave rise to many controversies. Shortly before his death he was at work upon a large cartoon of “The Deluge;” and he had finished his “St. Michael, the Patron Saint of Germany,” in the garb of a heavenly messenger with a radiant air of triumph, and with Napoleon III. and his son and several Jesuits cowering at his feet. This work has been characterized as a grand memorial of his nation's and of his own greatness. His death was mourned as a national calamity, and measures have been taken for the erection of a monument in his honor. — His cousin Friedrich excels as a portrait painter; and he has also painted “Adam and Eve finding the Corpse of Abel,” the “Coronation of Charlemagne,” “Mozart performing his Requiem shortly before his Death,” and other historical pictures.