Gerson Digital : Germany I


3.3 The Düsseldorfer Residence under the First Electors

When we turn to the artistic life in Düsseldorf,1 we see that already the dukes of the house of Jülich-Cleves employed portrait painters that were trained in the Netherlands. Duke Wilhelm V of Jülich-Cleves-Berg commissioned Johan Malthain (born c. 1550) to paint portraits of himself and is son [1-2], which were engraved by Willem van Swanenburg (1580-1612) [3-4] and Crispijn de Passe I (1564-1637). Johann Spilberg I (active 1613-1624) produced numerous portraits for the family tree of the house of Jülich that was engraved by De Passe. Johann’s brother Gabriel Spilberg (active c. 1590-after 1620) was sent to the Netherlands for this training. He delivered designs for De Passe as well [5-7].

(after?) Johan Malthain
Portrait of Wilhelm V, Duke of Jülich-Kleve-Berg (1516-1592), dated 1591
panel, oil paint ? x ? cm
upper right :
Düsseldorf, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf

Willem van Swanenburg after Johan Malthain
Portrait of Wilhelm V, Duke of Jülich-Kleve-Berg (1516-1592), dated 1610
paper, copper engraving, 1st state 268 x 202 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-1878-A-2841

Johan Malthain
Portrait of Johann Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Kleve-Berg (1562-1609), dated 1605
panel, oil paint ? x ? cm
upper right : Anno.1605. / Aetat. 43
Düsseldorf, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf

after Johan Malthain
Portrait of Johann Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Kleve-Berg (1562-1609), c. 1614
paper, copper engraving 170 x 125 mm
The Hague, RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Collectie Iconografisch Bureau)

Crispijn de Passe (I) after Gabriel Spilberg
One of the seven acts of mercy: Sheltering the pilgrims (Matthew 25:35-36), dated 1608
paper, etching 216 x 259 mm
London (England), British Museum, inv./ 1937,0915.371

Crispijn de Passe (I) after Gabriel Spilberg
One of the acts of mercy: visiting prisoners (Mathew 25: 35-36), dated 1608
paper, etching 216 x 259 mm
London (England), British Museum, inv./ 1937,0915.374

Crispijn de Passe (I) after Gabriel Spilberg
One of the seven acts of mercy: Burying the dead (Matthew 25:35-36), dated 1608
paper, etching 218 x 259 mm
London (England), British Museum

Düsseldorf’s prosperity began with the government of the dukes from the Wittelsbach house of Pfalz-Neuburg. For Philipp Ludwig of Neuburg-Sulzbach had married the heiress of the above- mentioned Duke Wilhelm V of Jülich-Kleve-Berg, by which these lands accrued to the Palatinates. His son Wolfgang Wilhelm (1578-1653) [8], the ancestor of a very artistic family, choose Düsseldorf as his residence, as did both his successors. Because of his conversion to Catholicism, the ties to Flanders, to Rubens and Flemish art, became closer than to the protestant Northern Netherlands. But still during his reign we find connections to Dutch art and culture, which would grow stronger towards the end of the century.

In 1629 Wolfgang Wilhelm was in Brussels and subsequently in Holland. At this time he had himself portrayed [9] by ‘einem Mr. peintre de Delfft’, a painting that was engraved by Willem Jacobsz. Delff (1580-1638). At first he was not very pleased with the result. When the print was sent to him, he complained that the eyes were distorted: ‘it looks as if we squint’, he writes to his agent Johan van der Veken (1549-1616) [10] in The Hague. In the second state the problem was solved [11].2

In 1640 Wolfgang Wilhelm sent his painter Johann Spilberg II (1619-1690), whose father already served the previous Duke of Cleves, to Antwerp with a letter of recommendation to Rubens. However, Rubens had died, so young Spilberg went on to Amsterdam and to Govert Flinck, with whom he stayed for seven years. After his return to Düsseldorf he had plenty opportunity as a portrait painter. After the death of Wolfgang Wilhelm, Spilberg must have been in Amsterdam again, until his successor Philip Wilhelm (1650-1690) called upon him in 1661.3

studio of Anthony van Dyck
Portrait of Wolfgang Wilhelm, Count Palatine and Herzog von Neuburg (1578-1653), c. 1628-1634
canvas, oil paint 205,6 x 131,7 cm
Neuburg an der Donau, Staatsgalerie Neuburg an der Donau, inv./ 402

attributed to Michiel van Mierevelt or studio of Michiel van Mierevelt
Portrait of Wolfgang Count Palatine of Neuburg (1578-1653), dated 1630
panel, oil paint 63,5 x 52,5 cm
left center : A.° 1630.
Whereabouts unknown

Pieter van der Werff after Anoniem Noordelijke Nederlanden (historische regio) eind jaren 1690
Portrait of Johan van der Veken (1549-1616), late 1690s
canvas, oil paint 82 x 68 cm
on the frame, below : 16 Johan van d'Veecque 02
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ Sk-A-4490

Willem Jacobsz. Delff after Michiel van Mierevelt
Portrait of Wolfgang Count Palatine of Neuburg (1578-1653), dated 1630
paper, copper engraving 419 x 297 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP-P-OB-50.093

Maybe Spilberg interrupted his first stay in Amsterdam, as is suggested by the dates on his paintings. This would result in the following:

  • c.1638 – 1647 with Govert Flinck;
  • 1648 in Düsseldorf (signed and dated portrait of Wolfgang Wilhelm in Düsseldorf [12];
  • 1650/2 in Amsterdam (signed and 1650 dated civic guard portrait in the Rijksmuseum [now Amsterdam Museum, ed.] [13] and other portraits; birth of his daughter;
  • 1654 again in Düsseldorf (signed and dated portrait of Elisabeth Amalia von Hessen Darmstadt, wife of Philip Wilhelm [14];
  • After that again in Amsterdam;
  • 24 December 1661 present in Düsseldorf.4

Johann Spilberg (II)
Portrait of Wolfgang Wilhelm von Pfalz-Neuburg, Duke of Jülich-Berg (1578-1653), dated 1648
canvas, oil paint 121 x 94 cm
location unknown : Joh. Spilberg fecit 1648
Düsseldorf, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf

Johann Spilberg (II)
Feast of the civic guard in honor of the appointment of Burgomaster Jan van de Poll (1597-1678) as colonel, 1650, dated 1650
canvas, oil paint 297,5 x 589 cm
lower right : Johan:Spilberg 1650
Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum, inv./ SA 7406

Johann Spilberg (II)
Portrait of Elisabeth Amalia of Hesse-Darmstadt (1635-1709) probably with her eldest daughter Eleonora Magdalena Theresia of Palatinate-Neuburg (1655-1720), dated 1654
canvas, oil paint 243 x 169 cm
location unknown : Jan Spilberg pinxit 1654
Düsseldorf, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf, inv./ B DL 239

The portraits by Spilberg demonstrate clearly that he was taught in Holland. The Architect in Schleissheim [15] belongs to the school of Rembrandt and is most reminiscent of Salomon Koninck.5 The early portraits, for example the Portrait of a lady of 1639 in Napels [16],6 are completely Dutch (Flinck and Bol). The same goes for his biblical scenes, such as the Sisera of 1644 (in Berlin) [17] and Christ healing the blind man of Jericho (collection Hudig, Rotterdam) [18]. Victors or Flinck is the model here as well. Rembrandt’s spirit and Utrecht light effects appear clearly in the Concert [19], possibly identical to the depiction of ‘singing and music’ that is mentioned by Houbraken.7

Johann Spilberg (II)
An architect, 1650s
panel, oil paint 83 x 64 cm
location unknown : Jan Spilberg
Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, inv./ 4807

Johann Spilberg (II)
Portrait of an unknown woman, dated 1639
canvas, oil paint 108 x 83 cm
lower right : ÆTATIS. 65 / J·Spilberg f / 1·639·
Napels, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, inv./ Q 190

Johann Spilberg (II)
Jael with hammer and nail, dated 1644
canvas, oil paint 76,7 x 68,4 cm
lower left : J. Spilberg.
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), inv./ 1928

Johann Spilberg (II)
Christ healing the blind man of Jericho, dated 1654
panel, oil paint, grisaille 41 x 54 cm
below, right of the middle : Joh. Spilberg 1654
Paul Brandt (Amsterdam) 1970-11-10 - 1970-11-16, nr. 127

Johann Spilberg (II)
Concert, before 1650
canvas, oil paint 104 x 109 cm
lower left : SPILB[.....]
C.J. Wawra (Vienna) 1930-04-07, nr. 200

Around 1650, he becomes more elegant and decorative, attempting to achieve the splendid style of Van der Helst, as is demonstrated by his militia piece of 1650 (Amsterdam) or the Falconer [20], that Peltzer attributes to him.8 In altar pieces (Düsseldorf, Andreaskirche) [21] he sticks to the scheme and manner of the school of Rubens. His daughter Adriana (1656-after 1697), who also was a painter, married the Dutchman (?) Willem Breckvelt († 1687) [22] and in her second marriage the famous Eglon van der Neer, who was held in high esteem at the court in Düsseldorf. We know Adriana painted portraits [23] and ceiling paintings.9

Johann Spilberg (II)
Falconer, 1650s
canvas, oil paint 194,5 x 169,3 cm
Oberschleissheim, Staatsgalerie im neuen Schloss Schleissheim

Johann Spilberg (II)
Crucifixion, early 1650s
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
Düsseldorf, Sankt Andreas Kirche

Wilhelm Breckvelt
Allegory: Purity and Temperance crowned, in or before 1687
paper, pen in brown ink, brown wash 368 x 266 mm
lower right : WBreeckvelt
Leiden, Universitaire bibliotheken Leiden - Bijzondere collecties, inv./ PK-T-AW-265

Adriana Spilberg
Portrait of a woman, sitting at a table with a watch, 1670s
canvas, oil paint 60 x 54 cm
left center : (...) / Spilberg
Amersfoort/Rijswijk, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, inv./ 2449

It seems that Philipp Wilhelm also employed Franz de Hamilton as a portrait painter before 1661, when we encountered him at the Brandenburg court.10 Joachim von Sandrart I (1606-1688), who was a subject to Philipp Wilhelm because of his estate in Stockau, was also active as a portrait painter for the court [24]. Furthermore, commissioned by the Elector, he painted an altar piece for the church in Neuburg depicting the martyrdom of Saint Peter.11

However, Philipp Wilhelm also loved finepainting. From the cabinet De Bye in Leiden he bought The dropsical woman by Gerard Dou [25] -- allegedly -- for fl. 30.000 as a gift for Prince Eugen von Savoyen.12 From Frans van Mieris he acquired ‘the most excellent of his painting’,13 possibly The doctor's visit [26] that is now in Munich and came from Düsseldorf.14 Yet he appears not to have intended to form a real art collection. The Heidelberg cabinet of paintings of Elector Carl II, whose Electoral Palatinate he inherited in 1685, escapes him and falls to Philip II of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV; he was sufficiently pleased to be allowed to have some of the paintings copied!15

studio of Joachim von Sandrart (I)
Portrait of duke Philipp Wilhelm, Elector Palatine (1615-1690)
canvas, oil paint 208 x 140 cm
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, inv./ 6786

Gerard Dou
Dropsical woman, dated 1663
panel, oil paint 86 x 67,8 cm
lower left : 1663 GDOV OVT 65 JAER
Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv./ 1213

Frans van Mieris (I)
The doctor's visit, dated 1667
panel, oil paint 44 x 33 cm
location unknown : Fvan Mieris / A° 1667.
Los Angeles (California)/Malibu (California), J. Paul Getty Museum, inv./ 86.PB.634


1 [Gerson 1942/1983] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 353-354; Daelen 1888; Levin 1905, Levin 1906, Levin 1911.

2 [Gerson 1942/1983] W.J. Delff after Mierevelt (Franken 1872, no. 68); Levin 1905, p. 140.

3 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 42-45: ‘Na dat hy zig in de Latynsche en andere talen had geoeffent, begaf hy zig tot de penceelkonst, waar in hy door zyn vernuft en vlyt zoodanig vorderde dat de Hertog Wolfgang Wilhelm daar groot behagen in nam; en willende hem dienst bewyzen, een brief schreef met eigen hand aan Rubbens (voor wiens konst hy groote agting had) waar in hy hem de zorg over den Jongeling aan beval. En hy zont hem met den zelven naar Antwerpen: maar hy hoorde, op weg zynde, dat Rubbens overleden was. Des wende hy zyn reis naar Amsterdam, en tot den beruchten Govert Flink…’.This anecdote is widely refered to in art-historical literature, but there is no documentary evidence. The letter allegedly written by Wolfgang Wilhelm is neither preserved nor documented.

4 [Gerson 1942/1983] Levin 1906, p. 147.

5 [Gerson 1942/1983] Peltzer 1930 p. 252-253, fig. 240,

6 [Gerson 1942/1982] Image in Isarlo 1936.

7 [Gerson 1942/1983] Frimmel 1920, p. 37-38, ill.; Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 46.

8 [Gerson 1942/1983] Peltzer 1930, p. 225

9 [Van Leeuwen 2017] The castle in Düsseldorf with the ceiling paintings is destroyed (Schavemaker 2010, p. 41-42). On Eglon van der Neer, see below.

10 [Gerson 1942/1983] See the correspondence of 1677-1680 by Philipp Wilhelm and his daughter Eleonore, who married Emperor Leopold. In 1659 Philipp Wilhelm was the godfather of a son of ‘Franz de Hameltungh’ (Levin 1905, p. 156-157).

11 [Gerson 1942/1983] We will talk about his art at another place. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Gerson is slightly mistaken here: in the Pfarrkirche St. Peter in Neuburg an der Donau is a side altar depicting Saint Sebastian that still is in its original location (not on We were unable to retrieve an image.

12 [Gerson 1942/1983] The heiress of the prince sold his collection to Karl Emmanuel of Savoy in Turin. The French looted the work in 1706 (presently in the Louvre; Hofstede de Groot 1907-1928, vol. 1 (1907), p. 362-363, no. 66; Martin 1913, p. 71, ill.). [Van Leeuwen 2017] Baer 1990, no. 87.

13 [Gerson 1942/1983] ‘het uitmuntenste van zijn Penseelkonst’ (Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 6).

14 [Van Leeuwen 2017] The painting was sold by the museum in Munich in 1935 and is now in The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

15 [Gerson 1942/1983] Levin 1906, p. 159.

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