Allegory of the Nativity, 1835.
Carl Adalbert Hermann (German, 1791–1845)
Graphite and watercolor laid down on two pieces of superimposed cream wove paper, possibly contemporary with drawing, outside tracery also in graphite and watercolor, 11 9/16 x 11 in. (29.4 x 27.9 cm). Crocker Museum, E.B. Crocker Collection, 1871.1036.

Born in Oppeln (now Opole), Silesia, Hermann (1791–1845) probably first trained with Joseph Bergler in Prague. He then went on to study at the Dresden Academy under the painter and printmaker Moritz Retzsch. During his tenure in Dresden, he became interested in German Romantic writers such as the Schlegels, Wackenroder, and Tieck. This fascination would continue on throughout his career. After Dresden, he returned home briefly in 1814, only to leave again to become a member of the Berlin Academy. While there, he received a Prussian government fellowship that sent him to Rome in 1817, where he joined the German Romantic painters known as the Nazarenes. Hermann remained in Rome until 1820, when he returned home to Silesia eventually becoming a teacher of art history at the Magdalena and Elisabeth Gymnasium in the Silesian capital of Breslau (now Wroclaw).

First published as Carl Adalbert Hermann by Kaufmann in 2004, this signed and dated drawing demonstrates a decidedly Nazarene style of draughtsmanship. Although the drawing was executed more than a decade after his Nazarene activities, Hermann retains their Romantic style, creating forms through an economy of sharp graphic lines that reject any kind of sensuality—even as he demonstrates the angels’ beauty. While Hermann uses some parallel lines to create tone, the addition of watercolor clarifies his tranquil and ideal vision of the heavenly realm. Indeed, Hermann’s scene is ideal and not historical. According to the inscriptions, Christ is shown on the evening of the Nativity surrounded by angels singing his praises, but he is also shown as the Man of Sorrows before the Crucifix triumphant over earthly sin. The drawing achieves what Mitchell Benjamin Frank called "equal parts historical authority and originality."(1)

The drawing with its framing of Gothic tracery has the appearance of something intended for reproduction, as it may well have been. One of the collaborative projects undertaken by the Nazarenes was an illustrated Bible, in which a drawing such as this was likely intended to be included. The project was first proposed in 1811 by Johann Friedrich Overbeck. By 1835 he was the last among the original group to remain in Rome, and was less and less able to work on the Picture Bible owing to his work on an increasingly large number of commissions. Work did continue on the Bible as a collaborative project of the Brotherhood of St. Luke, much of it being done by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.(2) Many of Carolsfeld’s images for the Old and New Testaments, like Hermann’s complicated allegorical narrative, are reimaginings of the Biblical stories rather than conventional representations.

Freyda Spira, in William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010

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Notes:

(1) Mitchell Benjamin Frank, German Romantic Painting Redefined: Nazarene Tradition and the Narratives of Romanticism, Burlington, 2001, p. 81.

(2) For more on this Bible see Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld: die Bibel in Bildern und andere biblische Bilderfolgen der Nazarener, exh. cat. Neuss, 1982; and Sepp Hollweck, Und alsbald krähte der Hahn: Gedanken zur Passion nach Bildern von Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Mödling, 1988.

Inscriptions: graphite, lower right, monogrammed and dated: 1835; graphite; inscribed on banderole: GLORIA.IN.EXCELSIS.DEO.ET.IN.TERRA.PAX.HOMINIBUS.BONAE. VOLUNTATIS; inscribed in the lower margin: NOX.NATIVITATIS.CHRISTI

Marks: none discernible

Provenance: Edwin Bryant Crocker, Sacramento, by 1871; gift of his widow Margaret to the Museum, 1885

Literature: William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010, no. 56; Thomas daCosta Kaufmann, Central European Drawings in the Collection of the Crocker Art Museum, Turnhout, 2004, pp. 211–12; Master Drawings from Sacramento, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 1971, checklist p. 153


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