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 Peter von Cornelius  (1784 - 1867)

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Lived/Active: Germany/Italy      Known for: Christian themed easel and mural paintings

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Ad Code: 3
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from Auction House Records.
Die Predigt Johannes des Täufers
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Peter von Cornelius was a German painter.  He was born in Düsseldorf. His father, who was inspector of the Düsseldorf gallery, died in 1799, and the young Cornelius was stimulated to extraordinary exertions.

His earliest work of importance was the decoration of the choir of the church of St Quirinus at Neuss. At the age of twenty-six he produced his designs from Faust. On 14 October 1811, he arrived in Rome, where he soon became one of the most promising of that brotherhood of young German painters which included Overbeck, Schadow, Veit, Schnorr and Ludwig Vogel (1788–1879), a fraternity (some of whom selected a ruinous convent for their home) who were banded together for resolute study and mutual criticism. Out of this association came the men who, though they were ridiculed at the time, were destined to found a new German school of art, the Nazarene movement.*

At Rome Cornelius participated, with other members of his fraternity, in the decoration of the Casa Bartholdi and the Villa Massimi, and where thus employed he was also engaged upon designs for the illustration of the Nibelungenlied. From Rome he was called to remodel the Dusseldorf Academy*, and to Munich by the then crown-prince of Bavaria, afterwards Louis I, to direct the decorations for the Glyptothek.

He is associated with the Dusseldorf school* of painting. Cornelius, however, soon found that attention to such widely separated duties was incompatible with the just performance of either, and most inconvenient to himself; eventually, therefore, he resigned his post at Düsseldorf to throw himself completely and thoroughly into those works for which he had been commissioned by the crown-prince. He therefore left Dusseldorf for Munich, where he was joined by those of his pupils who elected to follow and to assist him. At the death of Director Langer, 1824–1825, he became director of the Munich Academy*.

The fresco* decorations of the Ludwigskirche, which were for the most part designed and executed by Cornelius, are perhaps the most important mural works of modern times. The large fresco of the Last Judgment, over the high altar in that church, measures 62 ft. in height by 38 ft. in width. The frescoes of the Creator, the Nativity, and the Crucifixion in the same building are also upon a large scale. Amongst his other great works in Munich may be included his decorations in the Pinakothek and in the Glyptothek; those in the latter building, in the hall of the gods and the hail of the hero-myths, are perhaps the best known.

About the year 1839–1840 he left Munich for Berlin to proceed with that series of cartoons, from the Apocalypse, for the frescoes for which he had been commissioned by Frederick William IV, and which were intended to decorate the Campo Santo or royal mausoleum. These were his final works.

Cornelius, as an oil painter, possessed but little technical skill, nor do his works exhibit any instinctive appreciation of colour. Even as a fresco painter his manipulative power was not great.  But if he were not dexterous in the handling of the brush, he could conceive and design a subject with masterly purpose. If he had an imperfect eye for colour, in the Venetian, the Flemish, or the English sense, he had vast mental foresight in directing the German school of painting; and his favorite motto of "Deutschland uber alles" indicates the direction and the strength of his patriotism.

To comprehend and appreciate thoroughly the magnitude of the work which Cornelius accomplished for Germany, we must remember that at the beginning of the 19th century Germany had no national school of art. Germany was in painting and sculpture behind all the rest of Europe. Yet in less than half a century Cornelius founded a great school, revived mural painting, and turned the gaze of the art world towards Munich. The German revival of mural painting had its effect upon England, as well as upon other European nations, and led to the famous cartoon competitions held in Westminster Hall, and ultimately to the partial decoration of the Houses of Parliament. When the latter work was in contemplation, Cornelius, in response to invitations, visited England (November 1841).

The personal appearance of Cornelius could not but convey to those who were fortunate enough to come into contact with him the impression that he was a man of an energetic, firm and resolute nature. He was below the middle height and squarely built. There was evidence of power about his broad and overhanging brow, in his eagle eyes and firmly gripped attenuated lips, which no one with the least discernment could misinterpret. Yet there was a sense of humour and a geniality which drew men towards him; and towards those young artists who sought his teaching and his criticism he always exhibited a calm patience.[1]


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