7014 A MOST UNUSUAL BAROQUE PERIOD GREEN PAINTED AND GRISAILLE BOISERIE FROM THE DINING ROOM, SCHLOSS HERBLINGEN Swiss, Probably Schaffhausen. Late Seventeenth Century. Measurements: Height of each panel: 100” (254cm) Average width of each panel: 36” (91.5cm); Height of each door: 100” (254cm) Width of each door: 34” (86.5cm). Approximate dimensions of room: Width: […]
Retaining the original painted decoration. Comprising a series of sixteen panels, a coffered ceiling, dentiled cornice, pilasters and pair of doors. Each trompe l’oeil panel depicting a grisaille figure within an architectural niche. The room incorporating a later chimneypiece of faux oriental alabaster with shaped shelf and jambs of carved bolection mold. The giltwood mirror above replaced, but early eighteenth century. Incorporating a later shelved niche, glazed window sections and baseboards. The wide planked pine floor old but replaced. Restoration consistent with seventeenth century paneling.
Schloss Herblingen, near Schaffhausen, Switzerland. Removed by previous owner.
The present boiserie is a rare survival of a significant seventeenth century Swiss paneled room. It is an example of the central European tradition of Wandmalerei, or decorative wall painting, and comprises a series of trompe l’oeil painted panels, complete with coffered ceiling and doors. Each depicts a figure within an architectural niche representing a different concept, painted en grisaille in imitation of sculpture. Close examination of the figures and the meanings depicted in the scheme give a fascinating insight into the intellectual and political outlook of the seventeenth century Swiss patron who commissioned it.
The format of a figure within a niche can be traced to the traditional presentation of medieval religious sculpture and painting of saints in ecclesiastical settings. An architectural niche serves to “reinforce the figure’s physical presence and ennoble it.”1 Renaissance Humanism in Italy led to a rise in the popularity of showing ancient deities in niches, such as those composed by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio (circa 1500-65) in the early-sixteenth century, a set of which can now be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (figure 1 available on request). The tradition of depicting figures representing a variety of concepts can be traced to older ideas of emblems in the later sixteenth century, and especially Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, the first edition of which was published in 1593. Here was a series of concepts presented through the medium of the human form, with a number of related attributes or paraphernalia that furthered their meaning. In addition, the format of the allegorical figure in an architectural niche was the subject of various sets of engravings. A number of artists produced such works from the late sixteenth to the late seventeenth centuries that must have been a major influence on the present scheme, like the series produced by Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617) of 1593 showing the vices and virtues (figure 2).
Although few examples survive, the tradition of Wandmalerei presented here was found across southern Germany and Switzerland at this time, and is closely linked to the practice of external wall decoration that was also common to the area. The use of allegories of virtues as wall decoration can be traced specifically to Switzerland, where one of the greatest artists of the period, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), decorated the Hertensteinhaus in Luzerne in 1518 and the Haus zum Tanz in Basel in circa 1525 with such schemes. A highly representative, slightly later example of this occurrence can be seen in the courtyard of Schloss Ambras, close to Innsbruck in Austria, which was painted for the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand II in the 1560s and 1570s (figure 3). The complex decorative grisaille painted scheme consists of a series of tiers, with figures in imitation of sculpture on the first and third that are close in style to those shown on the present paneling, particularly those on the first row that also feature “scallop shell” coving. The figures represent a mix of different kinds of allegory including vices and virtues, as well as references to eminent members of the Habsburg dynasty, and figures that presumably had special significance to Ferdinand.2 Although the painter has not been identified, the scheme at Ambras is thought to borrow from the works of Jörg Breu the Younger, Virgil Solis, Jost Amman and Hans Burgkmairs.3 Breu was a particularly prolific exponent of Wandmalerei in his hometown of Augsburg, decorating many interiors for the city’s leading Fugger family, in particular their palatial home, the Fuggerhaus.4 A room of similar date and scheme survives in the vineyard-castle Hoflößnitz, near Dresden, in the elector Johann Georg I’s private apartments (figure 4). Like the Herblingen example, it is of a decidedly similar shade of green with figural subjects within faux niches, and also has a painted coffered ceiling.
The region of Schaffhausen from where this paneling comes was particularly noted for its impressive decorative painting tradition. The most important examples include the Haus zum Ritter painted by Tobias Stimmer (1539-84) between 1568-70, which was directly influenced by the schemes of Hans Holbein in Luzerne and Basel mentioned above.5 Once more the iconography is heavy with allegory, including renditions of the virtues and personifications of religious concepts alongside two scenes from Homer’s Odyssey. Also nearby, but slightly earlier in origin, is St. George’s Abbey in Stein am Rhein that includes a Festsaal, or Banqueting Hall, covered in painted wall decorations of 1515, once again of an allegorical nature, thought to have been executed by Hans Holbein’s brother Ambrosius.6
Schloss Herblingen (figure 5) commands an imposing position overlooking the village of Herblingen and the more distant city of Schaffhausen. The site was occupied from at least 1052, when Pope Leo IX consecrated a chapel on the grounds, but the oldest extant part of the castle dates back to the twelfth century, when the estate belonged to the Knights of Herblingen. The castle changed hands numerous times in its long history; in the thirteenth century it was owned by the Dukes of Austria and then the Brümsi family from 1534-1566 before coming into the hands of the City of Schaffhausen, when it served as the residence for regional officials. Later still, for a brief period after 1733, it was owned by a Viennese banker, Johann Wilhelm Gestefeld. In contrast to the austere façade of the building, the interior was magnificently furnished, with stucco ceilings and paneled walls containing an exquisite and eclectic collection of furniture, tapestries, porcelain, silver, sculpture, and European and Oriental works of art. Although it is not entirely certain whether the this room was commissioned for Schloss Herblingen, its style and execution encourages confidence that it is from the local area.7
Whilst the figures represented in this room are from the same tradition as those mentioned above, they are not immediately clear in their meaning. It is likely that this is intentional and the viewer is encouraged to consider the possible significance of the figures carefully. It would appear that, in some instances, they have been “adapted” to convey additional layers of meaning, suggesting the requirements of a particular client. A mixing of different types of allegory is discernible, and must have been selected and configured by the client in a very particular way to evoke his own outlooks and beliefs. The complexity of meaning in the figures, potentially including vices, virtues, the four continents and the four seasons, encourages a concentrated examination, and some are explored below, moving anti-clockwise from the fireplace.
A figure in the form of an agricultural worker (figure 6) may be representing Summer or possibly Sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. He reposes on his rake and pitchfork, and his sickle lies discarded on the ground. The choice of an agricultural worker may well represent the antagonism felt between the wealthy Swiss urban classes, a member of which probably commissioned this room, and the peasant laborers working in the country’s rural areas. The Swiss Peasant War of 1653, a bitter conflict fought between these groups, and which involved troops from Schaffhausen, exemplifies this tension perfectly. It is notable that this figure is wearing a classic Alpine hat with a feather, which is reminiscent of the Swiss folk hero William Tell, an important nationalistic symbol to the peasants during the war.8
Similarly, a figure representing Justice (figure 7), one of the seven virtues, is particularly Swiss. It appears to be based on the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Justice Fountain) in the city of Bern by Hans Gieng (circa 1525–1562). There are a few similarities: the single bared leg, the brandished sword, and the armor. However, most significant is the blindfold, which was apparently an innovation especially associated with Gieng’s sculpture.9 Smaller figures on the fountain, including a pope, an Emperor, and a Sultan, yield to the figure of Justice, hence the sculpture’s success as a symbol of Swiss independence and justice, explaining its subsequent popularity and appearance on other fountains throughout Switzerland and in decorative schemes such as this room.
Of the continents, America or “the West” (figure 8) wears a feathered headdress and holds a bow and arrow, and is loosely based on the character of America in Ripa’s Iconologia. However, some additional attributes are incorporated, including the scallop shell, which has been used to represent the western setting sun, and a pineapple growing from the ground, perhaps the most exotic of fruits brought back to Europe from the New World.
A figure of an old man wrapped in furs (figure 9), may be the personification of Winter or possibly represent Greed in the guise of an alchemist. The character is reminiscent of alchemists by David Teniers the Younger, like his 1650 painting The Alchemist. Other earlier print makers used the profession to act as a moral warning, like Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who in 1558, produced his engraving The Alchemist, depicting the protagonist melting his last gold coin whilst his wife laments her empty purse and the children play in an empty larder. With his two candles, the figure might be attempting to show a trick of some kind, additionally reminding the viewer to beware of artifice.
Asia or “the East” (figure 10) is, again, much like that depicted in Ripa’s Iconologia, presented with an incense burner. Additionally, she holds what appears to be a pestle and mortar, presumably representing the spice trade. The most interesting element is the discarded Turkish turban and crescent pendent on the floor, possibly referencing the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna in 1683, which must have been a very considerable relief for all those living in central Europe.
Prudence (figure 11), considered since antiquity to be the mother of all virtues, is represented with a serpent at her feet, reflecting wisdom, as Christ commanded his disciples “be as wise as Serpents.” Here she also appears to be holding a piece of coral, representing Christ’s passion and God’s protection.
A female figure holding a bouquet in one hand and resting her other arm on a shovel may personify Spring, or the virtue of Diligence (figure 12). There are other examples of the figure of Diligence being presented with a spade; a similar rendering was painted by Federico Zucarri on the ceiling of the library of the Palazzo Zuccari in Rome in the 1590s (figure 13 available on request). In both instances plants and flowers are used to represent the fruits of hard work and application.
In a departure from the human allegories, one of the niches depicts a cat (figure 14), possibly intended to represent Swiss freedom because it is an animal that never expresses subservience. As stated in Ripa, “the cat, since it will not tolerate any sort of control or limitation of its freedom of movement, is an old symbol for liberty, and many of the Germanic tribes, lovers of liberty all, who fought against the Romans used it for their emblem.”10 It may have been a symbol especially associated with Swiss freedom because in the 1758-60 Hertel edition of Ripa, the cat and William Tell’s hat are used as attributes of the figure representing Liberty, who is placed against an Alpine landscape.
Finally, a portly, plump figure, frequently used to depict overindulgence in art, may represent deadly sin of Gluttony (see figure 2), resting unsteadily on his feet and singing, and he appears somewhat drunk, a particular reference furthered by the inclusion of the full glass of wine. He holds a plate of grapes in one hand and a bundle of gourds in the other, and may, therefore, also serve to represent the season of Autumn.
The doors of the room are also painted; one with a foliate flourish and heart issuing branches, and the other with extremely interesting masks created in the Arcimboldo manner. There was a parallel tradition in Swizerland for these composite faces beginning with the aforementioned Schaffhausen printmaker Tobias Stimmer in the sixteenth century, and continuing into the early seventeenth century with a family of painters by the name of Merian, whose anthropomorphic landscapes brought Arcimboldoesque painting to the region. The green color of the room may have been selected owing to its connotations of nature, renewal of life, and hope. In view of its complex iconographical scheme we can be confident that this room was probably intended as a study or library. The room provides an insight into the outlook of its seventeenth century Swiss patron, the vices he feared, the virtues he revered, his view of the distant eastern and western ends of the world, and his feelings towards his own nation.
Period rooms in their original dimensions and format are extremely rare, due to the inevitable occurrence of reconfiguration when moved from one setting to another. In this instance, however, owing to the uncommon survival of the present room’s entire painted coffered ceiling, one can be sure that it retains its original proportions.
1. Martha Hollander, An Entrance for the Eyes: Space and Meaning in Seventeenth-century Dutch Art, (Los Angeles, 2002) 54.
2. Elisabeth Scheicher, “Ein Böhmisches Schloss in Tirol zu den Fassadenmalereien des Ambraser Hochschlosses,” from Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalplege, Vol. 46, (1992) 13.
4. Gordon Campbell, The Grove Encyclopedia of Northern Renaissance Art, Volume 2, (Oxford 2009) 248.
5. Erika Michael, Hans Holbein the Younger: A Guide to Research, (London 1997) 33.
6. John Rowlands, The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger, Complete Edition, (Oxford 1985) 16.
7. We would like to thank Thomas Boller for his assistance with this assessment.
8. Oliver Zimmer, A Contested Nation: History, Memory and Nationalism in Switzerland, 1761-1891, (Cambridge, 2003) 35.
9. Ursula Schneeberger, “Staat, Krieg und Moral im Programm der Berner Figurenbrunnen”, in Berns mächtige Zeit: Das 16. und 17. Jahrhundert neu entdeckt, Berner Zeiten 3, (2006) 157–161.
10. Cesare Ripa, Iconologia, (1603) 292-3.