Masters of Mobility


14.2 Heimbach’s Oeuvre

The earliest works of Heimbach are quite faithful copies after Dutch models. It is likely that they were painted in the Netherlands. The painting Guards by a fireplace in Flensburg follows a work by Willem Duyster today in Schwerin [7-8].1 The format is slightly bigger and the head of the figure in the foreground has undergone small changes. Another example is the Noble couple which is a copy after a composition by Pieter Codde. The oval composition by Codde has been changed into a rectangular format which is also slightly bigger [9-10]. The result is that the figures appear more isolated and somehow lost in space. Both works demonstrate that Heimbach is a skillful but not inventive painter at this early stage of his career.

Wolfgang Heimbach after Willem Cornelisz. Duyster
Soldiers by a fire, c. 1634
Flensburg, Städtisches Museum Flensburg, inv./ 20468

Willem Cornelisz. Duyster
Soldiers by a fire, c. 1630
Schwerin, Staatliches Museum Schwerin, inv./ G29

Wolfgang Heimbach
Cavalier and lady, after 1635

Pieter Codde
A lady and a gentleman in conversation, 1630s
Private collection

A recently surfaced Tavern scene is signed and dated 1635 and might still have been painted in the Netherlands [11]. The composition shows how Heimbach reused models such as the noble couple, incorporating them into a bigger scene. The handling of the light is also quite typical of his style, covering the light source with a figure, whose back is to the viewer. The repeatedly noted influence of Gerard van Honthorst on Heimbach’s nocturnal scenes, for instance by Morsbach, does not look so strong to me.2 Whereas Honthorst’s figures are mostly life-size, Heimbach prefers small scale figures and his paintings are usually of a small format as well. Works by Duyster for example seem to be much more comparable in format and the similar handling of light and shadow. So the supposed stay in Utrecht might never have happened. Furthermore, Heimbach may also have seen works by Honthorst, or his followers, in Italy.

The previously mentioned Interior scene in Bremen [12] shows how the artist is using models by, among others , Willem Buytewech, Anthonie Palamedesz or Dirck Hals.3 A painting by Dirck van Delen (1605-1671) and Dirck Hals, today in Dublin [13], has often been compared to Heimbach’s work to demonstrate his dependence on these painters. In my opinion however, the similarities are only very general.4 Heimbach’s painting in Bremen is also important because it possibly shows how the artist crossed the boundary between genre and history painting. The coats of arms in the background are from Oldenburg and Bremen. The nobleman who makes a gesture of speech has the features of Heimbach’s patron Count Anton Günther. Thus the painting might allude to a real event of a wedding which so far has not been traced.

Wolfgang Heimbach
Candle lit 'kortegaard', dated 1635
London (England), art dealer Rafael Valls Limited

Wolfgang Heimbach
Elegant company, dated 1636 and 1637
Bremen, Kunsthalle Bremen, inv./ 39-1908/19

and Dirck Hals Dirck van Delen
An interior with ladies and cavaliers, dated 1629
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, inv./ NGI.119

A similar interpretation may be given to another Interior scene in Vienna whose architectural setting has been identified as the Rittersaal of the Alte Hofburg in Vienna [14]. Therefore, it might show an historic event. This work especially may serve as a proof that Heimbach was also aware of Flemish paintings of his time. The setting of the multi-figural composition is closer to works by Frans Francken II (1581-1642) or his circle than to Dutch models [15]. One might even wonder whether Heimbach did not travel to Antwerp instead of Utrecht. Typical for Heimbach are the huge shadows in the background.

Wolfgang Heimbach
Banquet by night, dated 1640
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv./ 1619

Frans Francken (II)
Banquet of King Belshazzar, c. 1610

This close relationship with paintings from Antwerp can be underlined with some more details. In some of Heimbach’s interior scenes the artist made reference to works by Rubens with paintings integrated into the room. For example, the Interior by Night in Kiel dating from 1647 [16] contains a supraporte showing a well-known composition by Rubens with Jesus and St. John in reverse, indicating that Heimbach may have used an engraving as a model [17]. Another Interior with two men reading shows a Rubens-like composition of Cain slaying Abel between two portraits on the wall at the back [18]. What does this reference to famous works by Rubens mean? Probably the artist wanted to demonstrate that he was aware of the work of one of the most important painters of his time. But in the case of the painting in Kiel the incorporation of a Rubens image of Jesus and St. John might be the key to understand the hidden religious theme of the painting: Herod’s Feast. One of the servants holds a dish which has an image of St. John the Baptist, thus making an allusion to the beheading of St. John.5 It might be a reflection of the real head of St. John which is hidden by the figure, seen from behind, in front of the table. In this way, the genre-like interior is transformed into a religious painting or at least alludes to a biblical theme.

Wolfgang Heimbach
Evening meal, dated 1647
Kiel, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, inv./ CG 5 (VdF 5)

Christoffel Jegher after Peter Paul Rubens
Jesus and John the Baptist as children in an arcadian wooded landscape, after 1628
Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina

Wolfgang Heimbach
Two men in the studio, c. 1649-1650
Rome, Galleria Borghese, inv./ 257

During the late 1640s and 1650s Heimbach began to paint scenes in landscapes with daylight, thus entering into a new genre. A recently surfaced Scene with Women washing Linen by the Ramparts of Christianshavn, Copenhagen is a good example of this new aspect of Heimbach’s oeuvre [19]. Again his approach is very descriptive with a huge crowd of women washing clothes, talking to each other and even quarrelling. It is maybe not without significance that the artist included himself as a passenger sitting in the carriage on the far right. Thus the art of observation or describing is part of the image. This work already offers a new perspective on Heimbach as a more inventive master. This ability is especially detectable in his late works from the late 1660s on.

Wolfgang Heimbach
Women Washing Linen by the Ramparts of Christianshavn, Copenhagen, between 1653-1667
London (England), art dealer Rafael Valls Limited


1 For literature and other information on the artworks described in this article, see the records in RKDimages.

2 Morsbach 1999, p. 26; Morsbach 2008, p. 81.

3 Morsbach 1999, p. 9-10.

4 Morsbach 1999, p. 37-39.

5 Luckow 2007, p. 45.

Cookies disclaimer

While surfing the internet, your preferences are remembered by cookies. Cookies are small text files placed on a pc, tablet or cell phone each time you open a webpage. Cookies are used to improve your user experience by anonymously monitoring web visits. By browsing this website, you agree to the placement of cookies.
I agree