Monday, August 15, 2016

Menzel's Portraits of Dead Officers

Trigger warning: This post might be unsettling to some people, as it visualizes exhumed corpses.

Because of his knowledge of the military history of the Frederician period, Adolph Menzel was invited to join in an unusual expedition in 1873 into a crypt beneath a garrison church in Berlin, where many military officers were buried.

The coffins had been left in disorder, stacked with no concern for rank, and the bodies needed to be moved to a new location. The explorers pierced the gloom with lanterns, finding the coffins in various states of preservation.

Berlin, Garnisonkirche: corpse of a General
(Friedrich Heinrich Ferdinand Emil Graf Kleist von Nollendorf) in the crypt.
1873. Pencil. 23.8 x 33.2 cm. [9.4 x
13 in.] 
KK. © bpk/ Kupferstichkabinett/SMB/Volker-H. Schneider

As the lids were lifted, recalled Meyerheim, “if there were no names on the coffins, the historians, scholars, and military personnel present had no clue as to whose remains they had before them."

"Menzel alone recognized with great certainty each prince and general by the portions of their uniforms that remained, and only when the body wore simply a plain shroud did his knowledge fail. Of course, he soon made some drawings and came from the scene late that night to visit me and relate many interesting details, after he had washed his hands.”

Menzel drew each corpse urgently, noting the characteristic features in their deathly grimaces, as well as the identifying features of medals, uniforms and boots.

The art and text in this post is an excerpt from my introduction to the new book Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings, available signed from my website store (in stock), and available for pre-order from Amazon (releases Aug. 17). As of today, all of the orders I've received have shipped out.

Today is the final day for submitting your food truck paintings. Check out the Facebook event page to see the impressive paintings that have already been submitted.


Fabio said...

Wow, he does have some stomach to do it, admirable dedication to drawing

Terry said...

Not, I expect, quite the way an artist would hope to serve his country ever. That did take fortitude.

Lou said...

Our next Painting Challenge perhaps?

Fabio said...

@Lou: I would rather pass that :D