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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Haina 1751–1829 Eutin

Portrait Bust of Ulysses

oil on panel
15 1/8 x 11 3/4 inches
38.5 x 29.8 cm

signed and dated, lower right: ‘Tischbein f. 1794’



(Possibly) Graf Leopold Nádasdy (1802–1873)
Dorotheum, Vienna, 18 February 1969, lot. 149
Private Collection, Vienna



Marianne Haraszti-Takács, ‘La tête d‘Ulysse par Tischbein et l’idée allemande de l’antiquité au tournant des XVIII-XIXe siècle’, Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, Budapest, 52, 1979, pp. 63-75.

Tischbein was a leading figure in the German community in Settecento Rome. He was Goethe’s choice as cicerone when he arrived there in 1786 and went on to paint the celebrated portrait of Goethe in the Campagna (Städel Museum, 1157) in 1787. Like Goethe and his fellow German compatriot Johann Winckelmann, Tischbein was consumed by a fascination with the classical world, and this ultimately found expression in an ambitious graphic work entitled Homer, nach Antiken gezeichnet (‘Homer, drawn after the Antique’) published upon his return to Germany in 1801.

This Odysseus type, with its characteristic helmet ornamented with Erotes, palmettes, and lotus blossoms, reoccurs in other related works by Tischbein: notably the ensemble etchings of Busts of the Seven Major Heroes of the Iliad, such as those at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1985-52-14235) and the British Museum (1873,0809.150; fig. 1) and the independent drawing of Odysseus (private collection, Italy). These are clearly based on an ancient prototype, a bust bought in the 18th century by Lord Bristol, Bishop of Derry (Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins, MMoCA176; fig. 2). In Tischbein’s Homer nach Antiken gezeichnet (Homer drawn after the Antique), published in 1801, the accompanying text by Christian Gottlob Heyne specifies ‘Der Kopf ist nach einer Marmorbüste bey Mylord Bristol gezeichnet’ (The head [of Odysseus] is drawn from a marble bust of Lord Bristol) (p. 35). Frederick Augustus Hervey, the Fourth Earl of Bristol, was known for his eccentric dress and extensive art collection. He spent extensive time in Rome and patronized the artists Thomas Jones (see cat. 46), Angelika Kauffmann (see cat. 45), Pompeo Batoni (see cat. 6, 7, 9, and 13), and Anton von Maron (see cat. 41). Lord Bristol’s bust of Odysseus was significantly restored by Cavaceppi in the same way that he often restored Classical sculpture, such as The Rockingham Silenus Riding a Goat (see cat. 20) which was also bought by a British collector, Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Marquess of Rockingham.

Fig. 1 Wilhelm Tischbein, Seven Heads of Heroes from Homer’s Iliad from ‘Homer nach Antiken gezeichnet’, etching and engraving, ca. 1796. British Museum, London.
Fig. 2 Anonymous Roman artist with Cavaceppi restorations, Head of Odysseus, marble, late 1st to early 2nd century AD. Museé d’Art Classique de Mougins

Tischbein portrays Ulysses here in the format of a robed portrait bust, depicting him almost as if he were a living monument. Ulysses was idolized for his bravery, fidelity and above all resourcefulness, and was the basis for Homer’s second epic poem. Tischbein said of the Odyssey ‘So fond am I of that book that I long nurtured the wish that those around me on my deathbed should place the Iliad on my brow and the Odyssey on my breast.’ (Max Kunze, ‘Homers Odyssee und der Rückzug ins Private’, Wiedergeburt griechischer Götter und Helden. Homer in der Kunst der Goethezeit, Stendal, 1999, exh. cat., p. 143) In the late 18th century, the Odyssey was considered the ultimate rstenspiegel (‘mirror for princes’). In 1800, announcing the forthcoming publication of the set of illustrations of Homer, Tischbein wrote, ‘no other poet has done so much for the education of mankind as Homer’ (Allgemeiner Literarischer Anzeiger, Leipzig, 1800, vol. 1, no. 189, columns 1857–58). The planning of these illustrations occupied the artist throughout his last years in Italy and he concentrated, working from busts, statues, intaglios and reliefs on creating the greatest possible likeness to antique models. The engraving used for the frontispiece of the ‘Zweites Heft’ (second part) of this Homeric encyclopedia was a bust of Ulysses, based on this painting, executed five years earlier.

Goethe noted that ‘Tischbein is well versed in the various types of stone used both by the ancient and modern builders. He has studied them thoroughly and his artist’s eye and his pleasure in the physical texture of things has greatly helped him’ (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey [1786–1788], New York, 1962, p. 140). This is immediately apparent in the care which Tischbein lavished on the painting of the worn, chipped, rusticated stone surrounding the bust of Ulysses. In the later engraving, the figure appears against a dark background with no stone border. Our painting was executed in Naples where Tischbein stayed from 1788 until 1799, when the French invasion prompted his return to Germany.

A replica of this painting formerly in the collection of Albert Nyáry is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (76.1).❖

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