Alfred Rethel (1816-1859)

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Alfred Rethel was the fourth of five children and grew up on an estate near Aachen. His father had immigrated from Strasbourg and, in 1801, married the daughter of an Aachen manufacturer. Rethel’s talent as a draughtsman was apparent from an early stage, and as a result he received his first tuition at the Aachen drawing school from Johann Baptist Joseph Bastiné (1783‑1844), who had immigrated from Leuven. In 1822, the whole family moved to Westfalen. From 1829 to 1836, the talented Alfred attended the Kunstakademie (Art Academy) in Düsseldorf, as did later his brother Otto.

Under Wilhelm von Schadow (1788‑1862), Alfred painted predominantly in the style of the Nazarene movement, but his own interests lay elsewhere, with monumental painting. In 1836, he moved to study with Philipp Veit (1793‑1877) at the Städelinstitut in Frankfurt am Main, where he received his first fresco commissions. In 1839, he won the competition to decorate the coronation hall of Aachen city hall with themes taken from the life of Charlemagne. With this commission, evidence of the Romantic yearning for the lost Holy Roman Empire and burgeoning national consciousness, Rethel found his way to an original, artistically fulfilling means of expression: large-format history painting. He created designs for Hannibal’s journey across the Alps, and travelled to Rome in order to study the frescoes in the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican.
Rethel achieved international recognition and popularity with his series of woodcuts entitled ‘Auch ein Totentanz’ (‘Another Dance of Death’) of 1848‑49, his response to the impact of the 1848 revolution in Dresden. Rethel died in Düsseldorf at the age of just 43, beset by severe mental illness.

In 1868, the Bohemian glass-painted Johann Zacharias Quast transferred the series of six woodcuts to glass, giving them form in colour. The Barbara Giesicke Gallery is offering this series of images in the ‘18th ‑ 19th centuries’ category.

Alfred Rethel in WIKIPEDIA

Alfred Rethel in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB/NDB)