Elsheimer, Adam

, a celebrated painter, born at Francfort upon the Maine in 1574, was a taylor’s son, and at first a disciple of Philip Uftenbach, a German: but an ardent desire of improvement carrying him to Rome, he soon became an excellent artist in landscapes, histories, and night-pieces. He was a person by nature inclined to melancholy, and through continued study and thoughtfulness so far settled in that unhappy temper, that, neglecting his domestic concerns, he contracted debts, and imprisonment followed; which struck such a damp upon his spirits, that though he was soon released, he d’ld not long survive it, but died about 1610. The Italians had a great esteem for him, and lamented the loss of him exceedingly. James Ernest Thomas, of Landaw, was his disciple; and his pictures are so like Elsheimer’s, that they are often taken the one for the other.

That which renders Elsheimer’s pictures so interesting is, the grandeur of style in which they are executed. | Many of his figures partake so much of Raphael’s best manner of character, of action, and disposition of the draperies, that if they were magnified, they would appear to be of that great master’s own hand and they have superadded a colour which is of a superior class in the production of which, indeed, the smallness of their size was of considerable assistance to him; for it is by no means so easy to extend a full body of colour over a large surface, with equally pleasing variety of tone, and freedom of execution and in it to separate and form the distinct parts as in a smaller one and though it requires more neatness in the execution of the latter, it does not demand so free and so ready a hand to unite, to blend, and soften the various parts, and to give expression its full force, as in the former. His pictures exhibit great attention to nature particularly his perspective is very perfect, in lines, at least and he not unfrequently chose very difficult things to manage: such as working with a short perspective distance, and sometimes placing his figures on the top of a hill, and suddenly losing the ground, till it is recovered again in a deep valley. His landscapes have, in general, the air of real views, and are finished with wonderful attention to general form, and beautiful scenery. Their colour is not always exactly that of nature, but as seen under a peculiar illumination, like the tone which Titian has adopted in his St. Peter Martyr; giving it an air of grandeur not to be obtained, perhaps, by the brighter hues of nature.

From the extreme care and excellence with which his works are finished, they were not, of course, in his short life, very numerous; and are rarely to be met with. While he was alive, his pictures bore an excessive high price, which was amazingly enhanced after his death: and Houbraken mentions one of them, representing Pomona, which was sold for eight hundred German florins. Sandrart describes a great number of his capital performances; among which are, Tobit and the angel, now at lord Egremont’s Latona and her sons, with the Peasants turned into Frogs the death of Procris and his most capital picture of the flight into Egypt, which needs no description, as there is a print of it extant, engraved by Gaud, the friend and benefactor of Elsheimer. Some of his works were in the collection of the grand duke of Tuscany. The richest collection of them in this country is at the earl of Egremont’s, at Petworth, in Sussex. There are ten | pictures by him, eight of which are of one size, viz. about four inches high, by two and a half wide, or perhaps a little more. The subjects are, a St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John Baptist, Tobit and the angel with a fish, an old woman and a girl, an old man with a boy, and a capuchin friar, with a model of a convent in his hand. The figures in all these are about three inches high, yet their characters and expressions are just and excellent; and the drawing of their figures, and the draperies, in the best style of art. Another picture represents the interior of a brothel by fire and candle light, in which there are ten or more figures gaming, and indulging in the licentiousness of such a place, all exquisitely wrought; with some expressions that have never been surpassed, although the figures are not more than two inches and a half high. The last is “Nicodemus’s visit to Christ;” but it is not of so good a quality as the others. 1


Argenville.—Descamps, vol. I.—Rees’s Cyclopædia.—Pilkington and Strutt.