Ideal Landscape near Rocca Canterana by Carl Philipp Fohr

Ideal Landscape near Rocca Canterana by Carl Philipp Fohr

My Daily Art Display today looks again at a German painter who was born at the end of the 18th century and is acknowledged as one of the most significant landscape painters of German Romanticism.  His name is Carl Philipp Fohr.

Fohr was born in Heidelberg in 1795.   His first art tuition was under the tutelage of Carl Rottmann, the genre and veduta painter, when he was aged thirteen.  It is said that when Fohr was fifteen years old the Darmstadt Court Councillor, Georg Wilhelm Issel, discovered him sketching at Stift Neuberg near Heidelberg and it was because of that and because Issel recognised the young man’s artistic potential, the following year Issel invited Fohr to come to Darmstadt and he provided him with both encouragement and financial support to continue with his artistic studies.   From 1813 Fohr received a number of commissions for paintings for the Grand Duchess Wilhelmina of Hesse, and it was for her that Fohr produced the Sketchbook of the Neckar Region, which consisted of a collection of watercolours of views and historical subjects of the region and a year later produced a similar sketchbook of the Baden area.  Such was the quality of his work that Fohr received an annual pension of 500 guilders from the Grand Princess. 

In 1815 Fohr became a student of landscape painting at the Kunstakademie in Munich, and it was here that his breakthrough into an independent and original drawing style came about.   He only remained at the Academy for a year as in 1816 he decided to embark on a walking adventure through Northern Italy which was to eventually take him to Rome.   It was whilst there that he came in contact with the group of artists, known as the Nazarene Brotherhood.  The brotherhood’s original members were six Vienna Academy students, four of whom, Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Ludwig Vogel, and Johann Konrad Hottinger, moved to Rome in 1810, where they occupied the abandoned monastery of Sant’Isidoro.   Later they were joined by Peter von Cornelius, Wilhelm von Schadow, and others who at various times were associated with the movement.   The Nazarenes believed that all art should serve a moral or religious purpose; they admired painters of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance and rejected most subsequent painting which were beloved by the European academies, believing that it abandoned religious ideals in favour of artistic virtuosity. They also thought that the mechanical routine of the academy system could be avoided by a return to the more intimate teaching situation of the medieval workshop.   For this reason, they worked and lived together in an almost monastic existence.    So where did the name, Nazarenes, come from?   Actually it was a derisory nickname they acquired because of their affectation of biblical style of hair and dress. The main aim of the Nazarenes was to revive the medieval art of fresco painting.   Fortune looked down favourably on the group as they received two important commissions to carry out the fresco decoration of the Casa Bartholdy in 1816 and a year later to carry out similar work in the Casino Massimo in Rome and their beautifully skilled work on the two projects brought their work to international attention.   However by the time the second project had been completed the Nazarene Brotherhood had all but disbanded.  The legacy of this group was that of honest expression of deeply felt ideals and it was to have an important influence on subsequent movements, particularly the English Pre-Raphaelites of the mid-19th century.

So where did Fohr go next for inspiration?   Sadly, Fohr’s life ended in tragic circumstances when in 1818, at the young age of twenty-three he drowned whilst swimming in the River Tiber.  Even sadder was the fact that his legacy to the world was only five oil paintings.

Today’s featured painting is The Ideal Landscape near Rocca Canterana and is one of Fohr’s best-known paintings, which he completed in 1818, the year of his death.   The painting shows a rocky pastoral landscape in the central mountains of Italy.  In the foreground, we can see a path which winds past craggy rocks and old, gnarled trees.   On this path we see a country girl dressed in some sort of festive costume.  In her arms she carries a young child, whilst hand in hand with another child, who is balancing a jug on her head.   If you look to the right middle-ground, under the trees, we can see a group of pilgrims who are heading towards a distant and illuminated valley.  The woman and children have just been passed by two shepherds who are heading for what Fohr has depicted as a peaceful, hilly region rimmed by steep mountains.

This painting is so like the old Arcadian landscape paintings of the past, which emerged in the Renaissance and which were inspirational to later artists who wanted to depict a “paradise on earth” theme to their works.  Fohr’ paradise on earth is emphasised by his inclusion of the pilgrims which alludes to the Christian Heaven.   The people in Fohr’s painting, who we see wandering around the landscape symbolise the journey we have to make on this earth before we die and  Fohr, in a way, is trying to remind us of the transience of all earthly things and the journey into the future, which some believe is the true goal and reason for human existence.

The picture in some ways is very simplistic but I hope you like it.