Gerson Digital : Germany I


2.12 Paintings Acquired by the Hohenzollern Family

How a small Brandenburg castle was furnished in the 17th century we can deduce from old descriptions of Oranienburg Palace.1 Louis Henriette, the first wife of the Great Elector had it built in 1651-1655 by the architect Johann Gregor Memhardt (1607-1678), who was trained in Holland. Already in 1652 the palace was ‘splendidly adorned with extremely rare paintings and precious tapestries and other goods’.2 The already mentioned large painting by Willem van Honthorst of the building of the castle hung here. Then there was a portrait gallery and illusionistic paintings on the ceiling of the porcelain cabinet. Surely everything was manufactured by Dutch artists. After the death of the electress the decoration of the interior was modernised by Willem van Langevelt, Henri de Fromentiou and Augustinus Terwesten [1].3 The picture gallery of Queen Sophia Charlotte (1668-1705) was almost exclusively adorned with Dutch paintings: landscapes by Moucheron, Lingelbach, Simon van Douw and Dirk Maas, battle scenes by Adam Frans van der Meulen and a Venus and Adonis by Gerard de Lairesse.4 Also local painters like Samuel Theodor Gericke (1665-1729) participated in the decoration of the palace. In the same period the court artist Theodoor van der Schuer (1634-1707) had to design an allegory to the association of Prussia and Orange in Honselaarsdijk castle (near The Hague), that had become the property of Prussia.5 Thus a small building gives us an idea of the works of the successive generations of Dutch paintings at the Berlin court.

Cleves was not just a gathering place for Dutch artists in the service of Brandenburg who were recommended further to Potsdam and Berlin. It also was an entrance gate for the art trade. Stadholder Johan Maurits left the Elector with a part of his collection of Dutch paintings and exotic curiosities he brought from his trip to Brazil. In 1652 he sold the latter for 50.000 Thaler. Among the goods were seven large paintings from Albert Eckhout (c. 1610-1664/6) ‘with Indians life-size after nature as well as four-footed animals, brought into a beautiful ordinance’.6 The paintings have disappeared ̶ unless one wants to see a remnant of these in the portrait of a black woman in Charlottenburg Castle [2].7 Perhaps the Elector gave some of them to his wife for the embellishment of her Oranienburg Palace. In the ceiling of her porcelain room oil paintings were included in golden frames: ‘finely painted Indian scenes in small compartments’, that were still in place in the 19th century.8

The exotic collection the Elector acquired did not consist of paintings only. A group of outstandingly beautiful drawings that Albert Eckhout brought from Brazil has been preserved. The naturalness and freshness of these sheets exceeds by far that of his paintings without losing its faithfulness. Later they were glued into five large volumes which now belong to the Preussische Staatsbibliothek [3].9 Perhaps Eckhout worked for some time for Johan Maurits in Cleves, later he was in any case in Dresden.10

Occasionally the Elector bought paintings and other artworks in Cleves and in Holland. A few of these purchases we discussed above.11 Already in 1650 the art dealer Johannes de Renialme (c. 1600-1657) offered him a landscape by Hercules (Seghers), two still-lifes of Pieter van den Bosch, marines of Jan Porcellis and figure paintings by Jan Lievens and Salomon Koninck. Wether the Elector bought all of them cannot be determined; at least the Porcellis seems to have been purchased.12 Two years later the Amsterdam agent Matthias Dögen supplied a Joachim Wtewael, a (Hendrick Cornelis?) Vroom and in 1681 we learn of a Philips Wouwermans that was acquired there.13 It was the practice to send artifacts to the court painters in Berlin, hoping that they might be able to sell them. Henri de Fromantiou for instance was a suitable person for such a job. The artist Nicolaas Roosendael (1634/5-1686) had ‘handed him two paintings […] to be sold’, though they were ‘not of great importance’.14

Besides these purchases of paintings by the Great Elector ̶ an activity that was only continued by his successors at a lower level ̶ there was another source that contributed to the increase of the Brandenburg-Prussian art collection. This was the so-called ‘Orange heritage’.15 If and which artworks Louise Henriette brought into the marriage with the Great Elector as her dowry, is not known. On the other hand we do know that her two sons received paintings from the estate of their grandmother, Amalia van Solms. These were some valuable paintings from Rubens and Van Dyck, as well as a series of less valuable family portraits. The inheritance of Amalia van Solms was divided into four equal parts for her four married daughters. A transcript of the will in the possession of the Dessau line provides information of this growth of the collection.16

Augustinus Terwesten (I)
Allegory on the Triumph of Porcelain in Europe, dated 1697
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
bottom, in the middle : A. Terwesten inv. et fec. A: 1697
Oranienburg, Schlossmuseum Oranienburg

Albert Eckhout
Portrait of a black woman
canvas, oil paint 73 x 59,4 cm
Berlin, Berliner Stadtschloss

Albert Eckhout
Sketch of an African woman, c. 1640
paper, oil paint 36 x 24 cm
Cracow, Biblioteka Jagiellońska

At the death of William III of Orange in 1702 King Friedrich I immediately claimed the estate which he had to share with the Frisian line. In political terms he had no ambition, but the art possessions of the Dutch stadholder and English king allured him very much. The palaces in and around The Hague were assigned to him, while Johan Willem Friso inherited ‘Het Loo’ palace, which certainly sheltered the most valuable paintings. The stock of pictures from the Hague castles that were transferred to Berlin in the following years reflects the taste of Frederik Hendrik: mythological and history scenes from Utrecht painters [4], cavalry battles, portraits and decorative landscapes, but also some precious paintings by Rembrandt [5] and Rubens [6] were among them. Incidentally there were many complaints about the condition of the paintings. The castles themselves were bought back by the House of Orange-Nassau in 1754.17

Rembrandt’s Passion series, which the artist painted for Frederik Hendrik, did not come to Berlin. There are two possible reasons for this: either Friedrich I or Friedrich der Große did not like the series, or William III already handed the paintings over. We only know that shortly after his death the series surfaced in the collection of the Düsseldorf Elector Johann Wilhelm and afterwards ended up in Munich by way of direct succession.18

Abraham Bloemaert
Theagenes and Chariclea amidst the slain robbers, dated 1625
canvas, oil paint 95 x 117,5 cm
lower left : A.Bloemaert fe. / 1625
Potsdam (Germany), Bildergalerie am Schloss Sanssouci, inv./ GK I 2531

Samson and Delilah (Judges 16:19), dated 1628
panel (oak), oil paint 61,3 x 50,1 cm
lower left : RHL (in monogram) 1628
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), inv./ 812 A

Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Snijders
The crowning of Diana, c. 1625
canvas, oil paint 165,5 x 187 cm
Potsdam (Germany), Bildergalerie am Schloss Sanssouci, inv./ GK I 6293

Friedrich der Große had sent over more paintings from Honselersdijk castle via his envoy Georg Wenzeslaus Baron von Knobelsdorff (1699-1753) [7].19 But the king also increased the Prussian art collection in other ways. Although one thinks of his purchases of French art in the first place, his interest in other schools increased when he was considering the establishment of a picture gallery close to Sanssouci Palace. The gallery came into being right at the time of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).20 No wonder the king was not in a position to compete with the Dresden or Palatine electors as a collector. Notable is his predeliction for the paintings of Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) [8] and other fine painters from the school of Gerard Dou such as Hendrik van Limborch (1681-1759) [9], but in this his taste does not differ from his princely contemporaries in Europe.21

Antoine Pesne
Portrait of the architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff (1699-1753), dated 1737
canvas, oil paint 98 x 82 cm
upper right : Ant.Pesne / fecit /1738
Doorn (Utrechtse Heuvelrug), Kasteel Huis Doorn, inv./ HuD 1717

Adriaen van der Werff
The two holy families, dated 1709
panel (oak), oil paint 81,5 x 57,6 cm
lower right : Chevr vr werff. fe / an° 1709
Potsdam (Germany), Bildergalerie am Schloss Sanssouci, inv./ GK I 10002

Hendrik van Limborch
The Holy Family with St. Elisabeth and St. John the Baptist, c. 1750
panel, oil paint 68,7 x 53,4 cm
Berlin/Potsdam, Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg, inv./ GK I 7719


1 [Van Leeuwen 2017] In the 18th century the inventory of Oranienburg Palace was transferred to other castles in Berlin or Potsdam. Oranienburg is accessible to the public as a museum since 1999, presenting mostly Netherlandish paintings, including works from the old inventory. Bartoschek 1990.

2 [Gerson 1942/1983] ‘mit überauss raren Gemählden und kostbaren Tapeten und anderen mobilien trefflich gezieret’ (Boeck 1938, p. 25).

3 [Gerson 1942/1983] Boeck 1938, p. 46, 52, 59.

4 [Gerson 1942/193] Boeck 1938, p. 69. [Van Leeuwen 2017] From a list of 13 paintings that were fixed into the panelling and removed in 1800.

5 [Gerson 1942/1983] Morren 1904, p. 68. [Van Leeuwen 2017] De Heer 1984, p. 23-24; Slothouwer 1945, p. 84, 282.

6 [Gerson 1942/1983] ‘daerin Indianer nach dem Leben unf Grösse und sonst allem darinnen befindlichen vierfüssigen …. Gethierten… in eine schöne Ordinatio gebracht waren’ […]). These are not the paintings that are kept in Copenhagen now. In the literature these (lost?) works are frequently attributed to Frans Post, but from the description it is clear that they must stem from Eckhout. Compare Thomsen 1938, p. 126-127 and Gerson 1942/1983, p. 470 and 554. [Van Leeuwen 2017] See Gerson/Van Leeuwen/Roding 2015, § 2.14.

7 [Van Leeuwen 2015] Missing since World War II (Bartoschek/Vogtherr 2004, vol. 1, p. 155, no. GK I 5023).

8 [Gerson 1942/1983] ‘feingemalte indianische Scenen, in kleinen Abtheilungen’ (Boeck 1938, p. 25). Most of the porcelain ended up in Charlottenburg. Did the portrait of the black woman also derive from Oranienburg?

9 [Van Leeuwen 2017] During evacuation in 1941 divided in several parts. A part was transported to the Benedictine monastery at Grüssau (Krzeszów), remaining in Poland after the war. In 1977 the drawings were rediscoverd in the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Cracow (black-and-white photographs completely in the visual documentation collection of the RKD).

10 [Van Leeuwen 2017] See § 2.15.

11 [Gerson 1942/1983] For the purchase of Italian paintings from Gerrit Uylenburgh, see p. 228-229 [§ 2.10]. Friedrich III also ordered casts of roman antiques for the Berlin academy.

12 [Gerson 1942/1983] Bredius 1891, p. 61-65; Seidel 1890, p. 123; Bredius 1898, p. 7.

13 [Van Leeuwen 2017] On Dögen: Galland 1911, p. 96-97. The painting by Wouwermans was delivered to the Great Elector by a Tiberius Matroos, one of his Dutch agents, who begged for payment (Galland 1911, p. 98).

14 [Gerson 1942/1983] Bredius 1915-1921, vol. 2 (1916), p. 545, quoting from the estate of Roosendael’s widow: ‘Onder Hendrick Fromantiou, konstschilder van Syn keurvorstelycke Doorluchtingheyt te Berlijn, syn berustende 2 stucx schilderyen van geen grote importantie door Nic. Roosendael terhanden gestelt om vercocht te werden’.

15 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Börsch-Supan 1967; Schacht/Bartoschek et al. 1999.

16 [Gerson 1942/1983] Rost 1873; Hofstede de Groot 1923.

17 [Gerson 1942/1983] The several inventories of the Orange palaces, for instance the lists of the transports of paintings to Berlin, are not published yet. See also Drossaers/Hofstede de Groot/De Jonge 1930. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Börsch-Supan 1967, esp. p. 192-198; Drossaers/Lunsingh Scheurleer 1974-1976, esp. vol. 2, p. 519 ff.

18 [Van Leeuwen 2017] See § 3.5.

19 [Gerson 1942/1983] Dr. H. Schneider gave me insight in the list of Von Knobelsdorff. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Börsch-Supan 1967, p. 194-196.

20 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Windt/Hartmann/Jagodziski 2015; Hüneke/Bauer et al. 2013.

21 [Gerson 1942/1983] Seidel/Bode/Friedländer 1906; Oesterreich 1764 (five paintings by Adriaen van der Werff); Oesterreich 1771 (16 paintings by Adriaen van der Werff). Compare also Oesterreich 1773. Henschel-Simon 1930; Henschel-Simon 1930A; Poensgen 1930. Von Holst 1939A.

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