Gerson Digital : Germany I


5.4 Prints and Art Collections in Frankfurt

Unfortunately we cannot discuss in detail Frankfurt as the centre of graphic arts, although this town was extremely important in its production. The Fleming Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) settled down here in 1570. He founded a publishing house, which was continued by his son-in-law Matthäus Merian I (1593-1650) [1] from Basel, and later by his son, Matthäus Merian II. The De Bry family also made prints after Goltzius and Bloemaert. Hendrick Goltzius frequently sent his prints to the Frankfurt fair [2].1 In 1592 Jacques de Gheyn wrote to his friend Isebrant Willemsen that he was working on prints of the Apostels after Karel van Mander, which had to be sent to Frankfurt [3].2 The De Passe family and Frederik van Hulsen (c. 1580-1635) are other Netherlandish engravers who found work opportunities here.

Rembrandt’s etchings were already known in the workshop of the elder Merian in the 1630s. When the Swiss Conrad Meyer became a pupil of Merian, he had to copy Rembrandt’s etchings. Merian the younger went to Amsterdam in 1637, and it is very well possible that sheets of great Dutch masters were sent to Frankfurt at his instigation. When in 1641 a new German edition of Thomas Garzoni’s ‘Piazza Universale’ was published (the first editions were dated 1619 and 1629), Rembrandt’s name is added in the chapter on copper engravers and etchers, next to the names of Abraham Bosse and Jacques Callot. A remarkable early written reference outside of Holland! In the section on painters, however, we seek for his name in vain, whereas the slightly older Rubens and Van Dyck figure prominently in the ‘central arena’.3 Also in the second half of the century the connection of the Frankfurt engravers with the Flemings is preserved, for which we briefly refer to the brothers Michiel and Jacques Christoffel Le Blon. They were born in Frankfurt as children of Flemish parents and later moved to Amsterdam, after they had wandered around in Europe.

The Frankfurt art collections are different from the princely galleries that we have treated thus far. The costly finepainters are largely unrepresented; for the average citizen they were too expensive. In their place we find the somewhat coarser low life painters and followers of Bamboccio. Still-lifes, marine paintings and church interiors are very popular. One of the oldest collections is the one of Mr. De Neufville with works by Jan van Ossenbeeck (1623/24-1674), Lucas van Valckenborch (1535/36-1597) and Wallerant Vaillant.4 Heinrich von Uchelen (1682-1746) was a collector of autographs. He owned a family book with many Dutch drawings that later passed into the collection of Duke Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig. A member of the Merian-family mentioned a very complete cabinet of almost exclusively Dutch paintings of his own, which was sold after his death in Frankfurt.5

The Uffenbach brothers, Zacharias Conrad [5] and Johann Friedrich (1687-1769) [6], who travelled in Europe between 1709 and 1711 in Europe, were in the first instance, collectors of books and prints. While in Amsterdam, they failed to visit the collections of Jacob de Flines, Willem Six, J. de Wolf and A. Rutjens, ‘because they probably have nothing but paintings and drawings’ (in translation). On the other hand they did not miss any collection of monstrosities and curiosities, but at the anatomies in Amsterdam Rembrandt’s name is not mentioned! The youngest of the brothers, Johann Friedrich is the most inclined to report on objects with artistic value. During his trips he repeatedly bought prints (in 1711 a sheet of the Hundred Guilder Print by Rembrandt for … one guilder!), and on rare occasions a painting, for instance in Rotterdam a Head by Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem and a ‘Todten-Kopf’ [Death’s Head] (for 8 florins, ‘although it was really old’!). In Delft he bought a church interior by the rare painter Johannes Coesermans (actve 1640-1664) [4], that only cost 14 guilders, while the price of a painting by Hendrick van Vliet was 40 florins.6 The church interior later passed into the collection of Henriette Amalie von Anhalt-Dessau, who lived in Frankfurt for quite a while.7

Matthäus Merian (II)
Portrait of Matthäus Merian I (1593-1650), c. 1642
canvas, oil paint 79 x 65 cm
Vienna, Kunsthistorische Sammlung des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, inv./ GG 1580

Hendrick Goltzius
The annunciation, dated 1594
paper, copper engraving, 2nd state 478 x 357 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP-P-H-OB-101.006

Jacques de Gheyn (II) after Karel van Mander (I)
The Apostle Andreas, 1591-1592
paper, copper engraving, 1st state 299 x 193 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP-P-OB-102.180

Johannes Coesermans
Interior of the 'Oude Kerk' in Delft,
canvas, oil paint 41 x 35 cm
location unknown : Johan Coeserman
Dessau-Wörlitz, Schloss Oranienbaum

Pieter Schenk (I) after Theodor Roos
Portrait of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1683-1734),
paper, mezzotint, engraving, 2nd state 247 x 184 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-1915-1418

Johann Georg Dathan
Portrait of Johann Friedrich von Uffenbach (1687-1769), dated 1746
panel, oil paint 42 x 32 cm
lower right : G. Dathan fe / 1746
Frankfurt am Main, Historisches Museum Frankfurt, inv./ hmf.B0604

Through the years the number of small collections of Dutch art grew steadily. Hüsgen knew of over 80 collections in 1780 and the examples he mentions, are completely in line with the image of the bourgeois painting culture of art in Frankfurt in the 18th century. The choice collection of Dutch paintings from Johann Friedrich Ettling (1712-1786) included works by Jacob de Wet I, Aert van der Neer, Abraham Mignon, Adriaen van der Velde, Herman Saftleven and many other minor masters.8

Even Rembrandt’s name occurs in Frankfurt collections and auctions every now and then, but we should not take the attributions too seriously. At that time autograph works of the master were no more likely to be found for just a few guilders than they would be today, and the type of bourgeois collector who filled his house with attractive minor master would not have been prepared to pay a high price for a major work of art. Incidentally, these school paintings were sufficient to completely satisfy the idea of the bizarre and picturesque chiaroscuro which was connected to Rembrandt’s name in the 18th century. The envoy of Saxony, Christian Ludwig von Hagedorn (1712-1780), who was employed in nearby Mainz in 1741, knew the collections in Frankfurt well, but the bourgeois art cabinets cou not impress the diplomat and collector, who moved in princely circles. And what people there were lured into to buy as a Rembrandt, not to mention forgeries of the much more valuable Adriaen van der Werff. ‘Mr. Göring has been tremendously ripped off. He was talked into buying a Head of a Woman, apparently by Aert de Gelder, one of the last and cheapest pupils of Rembrandt’ (in the 18th century the early Rembrandts in the style of Dou were loved most!), ‘as a Rembrandt, while he was cajoled to part with a Caspar Netscher and two works by Jan Joost van Cossiau [c. 1664-c. 1733], while Netscher’s work exceeds those of Rembrandt, even when they were authentic’. Poor Rembrandt! Sic transit gloria mundi!

A local speciality was the miniature cabinet like those of Prehn and Morgenstern. Johann Valentin Prehn (1749-1821) collected the smallest pieces by Frankfurt painters he could lay his hands on and united them together with small-scale copies after Dutch paintings in a ‘cabinet’, in the way we know from inlaid small paintings in Flemish cupboards [7].9 The ‘Morgensternschen Kabinett’, which was worked on by three generations of the Morgenstern family, unites more than 100 small oil sketches after Old Master paintings [8-9]. 10

The churches in Frankfurt, however, hardly housed any Dutch paintings, as was to be expected. Only once the name of Abraham Bloemaert pops up in the description of the Dominican church; Flemish paintings in the taste of Anthony van Dyck, Erasmus Quellinus and Abraham van Diepenbeeck, on the other hand were mentioned repeatedly. We have treated the art collections in Frankfurt a bit more extensively, because they give us a good understanding of the culture of German towns that formed a breeding ground for Dutch oriented artists in the 18th century.11

Johann Valentin Prehn
Diptych with paintings from the collection of Johann Valentin Prehn (1749-1821), section 22, 1809-1821
panel ? x ? cm
Frankfurt am Main, Historisches Museum Frankfurt

Johann Ludwig Ernst Morgenstern and Johann Friedrich Morgenstern
Morgenstern'sches Miniaturcabinet I with 65 miniatures after original paintings, 1803-1843
panel, oil paint 96 x 138 cm
several : Each miniature copy is signed, dated and inscribed with the name of the painter of the original and with the dimensions of the original.
Frankfurt am Main, Historisches Museum Frankfurt, inv./ B 81:12

Johann Ludwig Ernst Morgenstern and Johann Friedrich Morgenstern and Carl Morgenstern
Morgenstern'sches Miniaturcabinet II with 75 miniatures after original paintings, 1796-1830
panel, oil paint 96 x 138 cm
several : Each miniature copy is signed, dated and inscribed with the name of the painter of the original and with the dimensions of the original.
Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurter Goethe-Haus mit Goethe-Museum, inv./ IV-1980-4


1 [Gerson 1942/1983] Van Mander/Floerke 1906, vol. 2, p. 242-244. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Filedt Kok 1991-1991, p. 163, 202 and note 20; Van der Coelen 2004, p. 6-7.

2 [Gerson 1942/1983] Van Regteren Altena 1936, p. 4, 119. David Vinckboons sent paintings to Mr. Caymox in Frankfurt (Van Mander/Floerke 1906, vol. 2, p. 370). [Van Leeuwen 2017] Van der Coelen 2004, p. 8.

3 [Gerson 1942/1983] Enschedé 1913, Scholte 1915.

4 [Van Leeuwen 2017] On Wallerant Vaillant: § 5.3. Gerson based this information on De Marsy 1880, p. 41-43, which describes artworks that were seen by Baltasar de Monconys in Frankfurt. However, from the description it appears that De Neufville owned work by Jan van Ossenbeeck. On 7 January 1664 De Monconys himself bought a round painting by Lucas van Valckenborch representing the torture of Jan Hus.

5 [Gerson 1942/1983] Hoet 1752, vol. 2, p. 344-357.

6 [Gerson 1942/1983] Uffenbach 1753-1754, vol. 2, p. 331, 412, 417, vol. 3, p. 307, 349, 391, 554, 583, 583, 595, 690-1. In Amsterdam he also bought ‘a perspective piece of the old church here, painted on alabaster’ (in translation). [Van Leeuwen 2017] Van de Roemer 2015. 

7 [Gerson 1942/1983] Now in Oranienbaum near Dessau; Dessau 1913, no. 581. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Gerson erroneously mentioned Henriette Charlotte von Anhalt-Dessau, but he obviously meant Henriette Amalie. Grosskinsky/Michels et al. 2003.

8 [Gerson 1942/1983] Hüsgen 1780, p. 317-319. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Also in RKDexcerpts, derived from Meusel 1779-1787, no. 12 (1782), p. 328. The collection contained 528 Dutch, Flemish and German paintings.

9 [Gerson 1942/1983] Now in the Historisches Museum in Frankfurt. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Schmidt-Linsenhoff/Wettengl 1988, p. 33-122; Ellinghaus/Cillessen 2012. Online in the Historisches Museum in Frankfurt:

10 [Gerson 1942/1983] See Gerson 1942/1984, p. 323. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Helmolt 1979;  Schmidt-Linsenhoff/Wettengl 1988, p. 123-145; Cillessen 2012. Online at the Historische Museum Frankfurt:

11 [Gerson 1942/1984] On collecting in Frankfurt: Hüsgen 1780, p. XXIII, 173, 209, 233ff; Gwinner 1862, p. XII, 513ff; Bamberger 1916; Von Holst 1931. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Schmidt-Linsenhoff/Wettengl 1988; Gerchow 2012.

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