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Auf den Spuren der Nazarener : Re-reading Vittoria Caldoni: Friedrich Overbeck’s "Portrait" in the Neue Pinakothek

Davis, Charles

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The study provides a new reading of the painting of the fifteen-year-old Vittoria Caldoni (1805-1872), a Winzerstochter from Albano near Rome and the most famous Italian artist’s model of her time, by Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869). This work is now exhibited in the Neue Pinakothek (München; Inventory WAF 757; oil on canvas, 89,5 x 65,8 cm). It was commissioned in 1820/1821 by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (1786-1868), executed in Rome in 1821, and then sent to Munich at the end of 1821. The portrait may have been commissioned to satisfy the Prince’s taste for portraits of attractive females, but possibly a conflict between the Prince’s wishes and Overbeck’s conception of his art led to a mixed reception of the painting at the royal court in Munich.

Always considered simply as a portrait, a re-reading of the painting seeks a meaning beyond that of a mere portrait representation, owing to several puzzling aspects of the work. Vittoria Caldoni was the daughter of a vineyard keeper and wine producer, but she is represented as a worker in the wheat fields, with the attributes of (1) the wheat field, (2) working clothes, (3) a sickle, and (4) a sack of grain. She has no attributes pertinent to the cultivation of grape vines or to wine-making. Thus arise the questions: "Why does a Winzerstochter sit before a wheat field, instead of before a vineyard, and Why does she sit before a fig tree, and not under a grape arbour?". What Overbeck has painted is not a portrait in the traditional sense. In Overbeck’s execution of his commission from the Crown Prince, it appears that his concept of portraiture was determined by his own idea of his art as a strictly Christian art and by his conception of religious painting. It has been claimed that, in his Vittoria Caldoni, Overbeck expands the genre of portraiture to include an allegorical dimension, but, rather than an allegory of summer or autumn, Vittoria Caldoni becomes a Christian allegory, cast as a "Ruth" sitting at the foot of a tree, a figure of the genesis and generations of Christ.

Document type: Article
Date: 2013
Version: Primary publication
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2013 20:24
Faculties / Institutes: Research Project, Working Group > Individuals
DDC-classification: Painting
Controlled Subjects: Overbeck, Friedrich / Vittoria Caldoni aus Albano, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Julius, Hess, Heinrich von, Nazarener, Caldoni, Vittoria, Bildnis
Subject (classification): Artists, Architects
Countries/Regions: Germany, Switzerland, Austria