Gerson Digital : Germany I


2.14 Dessau

At the smaller German courts we encounter mostly the same artists that also worked in Prussia. They were particularly active as portrait painters. Paintings from Johannes Mijtens1 and Daniël Mijtens II (1644-1688) are even today still numerous in the Dessau collections [1]. Henriette Catharina, third daughter of Frederik Hendrik van Oranje, married the Anhalt Prince Johann Georg II in 1653. Just like her sister who married in Berlin, she had a predilection for the art of portraiture of the two Mijtens, by whom she and her relatives were painted repeatedly. In the Dessau Castle there are still many portraits (also studio works) of Frederik Hendrik’s four daughters, their husbands and children [2].2

Johannes Mijtens and Daniël Mijtens (II)
Group portrait of the sisters Maria (1642-1688), Albertine Agnes (1634-1696) and Henriëtte Catharina (1637-1708) of Orange-Nassau, c. 1670-1671
canvas, oil paint 163 x 141 cm
Oranienburg, Schlossmuseum Oranienburg

Johannes Mijtens
Portrait of Louise Henriette (1627-1667), Albertine Agnes (1634-1696), Henriette Catharina (1637-1708) and Maria (1642-1688) van Oranje-Nassau, dated 1666
canvas, oil paint 219,5 x 216 cm
left center : [...] Mijtens F. / 1666
Schloss Mosigkau (Dessau, Saksen-Anhalt), Museum Schloss Mosigkau

Adriaen Hanneman
Portrait of Johann Georg II Fürst von Anhalt-Dessau (1627-1693), dated 1666
canvas, oil paint 122 x 97 cm
lower left : An.° 1666. / Adr. Hanneman. F.
Dessau (Saksen-Anhalt), Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie - Schloss Georgium, inv./ 538

To the most popular portrait painters of the Oranges and Palatines also belonged Adriaen Hanneman (c. 1604- 1671), who immortalized both Henriette Catharina and her husband Johann Georg II [3], as well as the Great Elector [4]3 and various children of the Winter Queen who were married to German princes.

Thanks to favourable conditions a large number of these family heirlooms have been preserved in the Dessau palaces, but we also encounter them at other German courts, whose families were related to the Oranges.4 When Maria van Oranje-Nassau (married to Ludwig Heinrich Moritz von Pfalz-Simmern in 1666) [5] died childless in 1688, her possessions were divided between her still living sisters, Henriette Catharina and Albertina Agnes. This growth of the Dessau collection is revoked by a loss. When Henriette Amalia, daughter of Henriette Catharina, married her cousin Hendrik Casimir II van Nassau-Dietz in 1684, she obviously took some of the family heirlooms to Friesland.5 But most of it stayed in the possession of her brother Leopold I von Anhalt-Dessau, whose daughter Henriette Amalie (1720-1793) founded the well-known Amalienstiftung in Dessau, which kept a large part of the inheritance together. In addition to Berlin, other parts of the former Orange estate are in Eisenach (since a daughter of Albertina Agnes married into a family there) and in castles in Hannover.

One used to send one another one’s portrait as a present. In particular, the Great Elector abundantly made use of this convention, which indirectly benefited the dispersal of Dutch art. In the same way Louise Henriette established a portrait gallery in her small castle Oranienburg, her sisters did so as well. Oranienbaum Castle near Dessau housed the collection of Henriette Catharine. The best impression of a traditional painting gallery is still granted today at Mosigkau Castle, although it was not built until the 18th century. 6

Adriaen Hanneman
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm van Brandenburg (1620-1688), 1659 (?)
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
Dessau (Saksen-Anhalt), Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie - Schloss Georgium, inv./ 1384

Johannes Mijtens
Portrait of Maria van Oranje- Nassau (1642-1688), c. 1665-1666
canvas, oil paint 121,5 x 96.5 cm
Dessau-Wörlitz, Schloss Oranienbaum

The younger generation of the Dessau princes was mainly painted by Jacques Vaillant, Daniel Mijtens II and Maria van der Laeck (c. 1637/8-1664). Van der Laeck must have lingered at the Dessau court in the 1670s.7 There is a pretty family portrait by her hand of Henriette Catharina surrounded by her children [6] and a not less fine portrait of her son Leopold (the later ‘old Dessauer’) [7], which stylistically stands between Nicolaes Maes and Johannes Mijtens.8

Anoniem Noordelijke Nederlanden (historische regio) 1668-1669
Portrait of Henriette Catharina van Oranje Nassau (1637-1708) and six children, 1668-1669
canvas, oil paint 140 x 113,5 cm
right : FBleck [?] Fe. 1668 [9?]
Dessau (Saksen-Anhalt), Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie - Schloss Georgium, inv./ 131

Anoniem Noordelijke Nederlanden (historische regio) ca. 1681-1685
Portrait of Leopold van Anhalt-Dessau (1676-1747) with hound, c. 1681-1685
canvas, oil paint 124 x 87 cm
Dessau (Saksen-Anhalt), Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie - Schloss Georgium, inv./ 130

Abraham Snaphaen
Young woman with mousetrap, dated 1682
panel, oil paint 21,2 x 17,9 cm
lower left : A. Snaphaen 1682
Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, inv./ 538

The Leiden painter Abraham Snaphaen (1651-1691)9 was also appointed as an Anhalt-Dessau court painter, probably in the 1680s, after the death of Maria van der Laeck. In any case it is striking that his genre paintings in the taste of Gerard Dou that originated in his home town cannot be distinguished from the usual Leiden production of the time [8], while his Dessau portraits [9-12] are rather clumsy and incongruous. Only superficially they still remind us of works by Frans van Mieris and Godefridus Schalcken. 10 Snaphaen ends up the same as so many other minor talents, who, when abroad, lack the support of the broad-flowing painting culture of the Netherlands and slip down to becoming a negligible figure.

Abraham Snaphaen
Family portrait of (1665-1706), Henriette Amalia (1666-1726), Marie Eleonore (1671-1756), Johanna Charlotte (1682-1750) and Henriette Agnes (1674-1729) of Anhalt-Dessau, c. 1687
panel, oil paint 46,5 x 35,3 cm
Dessau/Schloss Wörlitz, Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz

Abraham Snaphaen
Portrait of Johanna Charlotte von Anhalt-Dessau (1682-1750), c. 1685-1690
unknown, oil paint ? x ? cm
Whereabouts unknown

attributed to Abraham Snaphaen
Johann Georg II of Anhalt-Dessau and Henriette Catharina of Orange-Nassau at the sickbed of their daughter Marie Eleonore, c. 1687
canvas, oil paint 57 x 46 cm
Halle (Saksen-Anhalt, distr.), Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg, inv./ I-598

Abraham Snaphaen
Group portrait of the six children of Johann Georg II van Anhalt Dessau and Henriette Catharina van Oranje-Nassau, c. 1685-1690
unknown, oil paint ? x ? cm
Whereabouts unknown


1 [Van Leeuwen 2017] On Mijtens: Bauer 2006.

2 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Bauer 2005.

3 [Gerson 1942/1983] All three in Dessau Castle. The portrait of the Great Elector (formely in Wörlitz) of 1659 is probably also a gift of the vain man, this time possibly on the occasion of the wedding of his sister-in-law which took place the same year.

4 [Gerson 1942/1983] Rost 1873 and Hofstede de Groot 1923. [Van Leeuwen 2017] See also § 2.12, note 15 and 16.

5 [Gerson 1942/1983] About the art collection of the Frisian line, who also owned Oranienstein Palace near Diez (built by Albertina Agnes in 1672-1676): Heck 1927, Heck 1936 and Heck 1939. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Berg/Van Luttervelt/Bleier 1965.

6 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Gerson states ‘das adlige Fräuleinstift Mosigkau’ (the foundation for unmarried noble women); until 1945 the castle was indeed inhabited by unmarried noble women, according to the wish of (unmarried) Princess Anna Wilhelmine, who died in 1780. The castle is a museum since 1951.

7 [Van Leeuwen 2017] No one of the name Van der Laeck was at the court in Dessau. Before 1928 the two paintings mentioned here by Gerson were attributed to Reynier van der Laeck (c.1615/20-1647/48), based on the fact that a signature on the family portrait was read as ‘van der Laeck’. Because Reynier appeared to have died before the 1650s, a new attribution to his daughter Maria van der Laeck was proposed (Thieme/Becker 1907-1950, vol. 22 [1928], p. 192-193). However, Maria also died too young to have been able to paint the portraits dating from c. 1670 (Buijsen/Dumas et al. 1998, p. 322). In 1999 the signature on the family portrait was read not as ‘van der Laeck’ and ‘16.8.[1678?]’ but as ‘FBleck [?] Fe. 1668 [9?]’ (Schacht/Bartoschek et al. 1999, p. 326, no. 9/9, ill.; Bauer 2005, p. 86-89, no. 131, ill.).

8 [Gerson 1942/1983] Grote 1927, no. 130-131.

9 [Van Leeuwen 2017] On Snaphaen: Sluijter et al. 1988, p. 219-221 and Savelsberg 2003.

10 [Gerson 1942/1983] Images in Biermann 1914, vol. 1, no. 195-197.

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