Masters of Mobility


6.2 Court Paintings for Johann Wilhelm II, Elector Palatine (1708-1716)

Rachel Ruysch’s appointment as court painter of Johann Wilhelm II [5] in 1708 was the first solid sign of the appreciation of her work in Germany. Johann Wilhelm had visited the Netherlands in 1695, and it is very plausible that he became familiar with Rachel’s work either during his visit to the famous anatomical museum of her father, Frederick Ruysch,1 or at an exhibition at the Guildhall of the art society Confrerie Pictura in The Hague, where Rachel was a member.2 Travelling was a very common way of gaining knowledge and getting to know other cultures. Frederick Ruysch’s visitors’ book, for example, was frequently signed by visitors from all over Europe.3 He had many cultural and scientific relations abroad and it is not surprising that his daughter Rachel shared this interest in international contact.

Rachel was employed as a court painter by Johann Wilhelm: she had a contract with a fixed salary, however, she was not expected to work for her patron exclusively and she was allowed to complete her work for him in her own workshop in Amsterdam, which would have been an unusual arrangement at the time. During the eight years she served as a court painter, she visited Düsseldorf at least twice.4 Six commissioned paintings survived: two counterparts and a flower piece now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, a large painting in the Städtische Kunstsammlungen in Augsburg and two pendant paintings in the Uffizi in Florence. Not all of these works were commissioned for the same purpose, nor were they all created during her appointment as court painter. What happened with these paintings after they were exported to Germany? Where were they intended to reside?

Jan Frans van Douven
Portrait of Johann Wilhelm, elector of the Palatine (1658-1716), 1708
Düsseldorf, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf, inv./ B 820

Düsseldorfer Galerie
From 1709 until 1714 the Elector built his ‘Düsseldorfer Galerie’: a gallery displaying 337 paintings, which was opened to the public in 1714.5 It was the largest accessible gallery at that time in the Holy Roman Empire. The gallery existed until 1806, when the artworks were transferred to Bavaria, ending up in the collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich in 1836. Two contemporary sources from Düsseldorf survived: a catalogue written by Gerhard Joseph Karsch in 17196 and an extensive catalogue by Nicolas de Pigage, printed and illustrated by Christian von Mechel (1737-1817) in 1778. The last catalogue includes prints showing the interior of the gallery.7 The catalogue begins by illustrating a side view [6] and a map [7] of the building, with its five exhibition rooms. The following prints show the numbered rooms, with each wall illustrated separately. At the end, four prints show the paintings that were placed on the ‘Volets’ in each of the five rooms, as it explains on the print in French. ‘Volet’ literally means ‘shutter’, which most probably refers to the main doors between the rooms. The doors were depicted as dark open spaces on the other prints. These last four prints are arranged by genre: portraits, history paintings, landscapes and still lifes. The final plate, number XXVI, shows the two still lifes by Rachel Ruysch, obviously pendant paintings, hanging at the top [8]. Since 1836, both works are kept in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich [9-10].

Christian von Mechel
Side view of Johann Wilhelm's Düsseldorfer Galerie, dated 1776
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History

Christian von Mechel
Floor plan of Johann Wilhelm's Düsseldorfer Galerie, 1776
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History

Christian von Mechel
Johann Wilhelm's Düsseldorfer Galerie, with among others two still lifes by Rachel Ruysch, dated 1776
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History

Rachel Ruysch
Flowers in a glass vase, with a praying mantis, on a marble ledge, dated 1708
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, inv./ 430

Rachel Ruysch
Still life of fruit and animals at the bottom of a a tree in front of a grotto, dated 1709
Munich, Alte Pinakothek, inv./ 420

Present for Cosimo III de’Medici
A contemporary source of information on the appreciation of Ruysch’s work during her lifetime is the travel report written by the Frankfurter Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1683-1734) [11].8 In 1709-1711, as the final element of his studies, he embarked on a ‘Grand Tour’ through several European countries, together with his younger brother Johann Friedrich von Uffenbach (1687-1769). Details of his trip, including day-to-day activities, were published posthumously in 1753-1754. On the 14th of May 1711 they visited the artist couple Juriaen Pool and Rachel Ruysch at their house in the Wolvenstraat in Amsterdam. According to Von Uffenbach, Ruysch had to deliver one painting a year to her patron, the Elector Palatine in Düsseldorf. At the time of Von Uffenbachs visit, Ruysch was working on two paintings on panel for the Grand Duke of Florence, the elector’s father-in-law: Cosimo III de’Medici (1642-1723). The elector was married to Cosimo’s daughter Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici (1667-1743) in 1691. The paintings were ordered by the elector as a special commission, and were not included in Ruysch’s regular duties to her patron. They were a present for his Italian father-in-law.9 Johann Wilhelm and Cosimo de’Medici both had large art collections, and they often exchanged works and ideas. The Amsterdam art scene incorporating Rachel Ruysch was certainly familiar to Cosimo de’Medici, as he had travelled to the Netherlands in 1667 and 1669. He had visited Frederick Ruysch as well as Rachel’s teacher, Willem van Aelst (1627-1683) in Amsterdam.10 The two pendants in landscape format that Rachel Ruysch painted for Cosimo de’Medici – one [12] depicting fruits strewn upon a forest floor, and another [13] a basket filled with flowers – are still to be found in Florence.

Pieter Schenk (I) after Theodor Roos
Portrait of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1683-1734)
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-1915-1418

Rachel Ruysch
Still life of fruit, animals and insects on a mossy ground, dated 1711
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv./ 1276 (1890)

Rachel Ruysch
Still life of flowers in a wicker basket, probably 1711
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv./ 1285 (1890)

Private art gallery
Next to the gallery in Düsseldorf, which was open to the public, Johann Wilhelm built an extensive private art collection.11 His cabinet of paintings contained 254 works, which were hung in two rooms next to his bedroom. When he died in 1716, his younger brother Karl Philipp III (1661-1742) [14] inherited both collections. He took the private cabinet with him to Mannheim in 1730; the Düsseldorfer Galerie stayed behind until 1806. What the two private cabinet rooms in Düsseldorf would have looked like is uncertain.12 However, in 1731, straight after the arrival of the collection in Mannheim, court painter Jan Philips van der Schlichten (1661-c. 1745) made four drawings of the new display.13 Two of them [15-16] feature paintings by Rachel Ruysch – a large still life with flowers and fruits, dated 1714 [17] (now in Augsburg) and a flower piece, dated 1715 (now in Munich) [18]. According to the Van der Schlichten’s drawing [15], the large painting made for Johann Wilhelm’s private cabinet enjoyed a prominent position in Mannheim, which could indicate that this had been the case in Düsseldorf as well.

Jan Philips van der Schlichten
Portrait of Karl III Philipp, Elector Palatine (1661-1742), dated 1729
Heidelberg, Kurpfälzisches Museum, inv./ G 1861

Jan Philips van der Schlichten
Picture cabinet of Elector Karl III Philipp von der Pfalz-Neuburg (1661-1742) in Mannheim, 1731
Paris, Institut national d’histoire de l'art, inv./ MS 409

Jan Philips van der Schlichten
Picture cabinet of Elector Karl III Philipp von der Pfalz-Neuburg (1661-1742) in Mannheim, 1731
Paris, Institut national d’histoire de l'art, inv./ MS 409

Rachel Ruysch
Flowers and fruit in a forest, dated 1714
Augsburg, Städtische Kunstsammlungen Augsburg, inv./ 12580

Rachel Ruysch
Flowerpiece, dated 1715
Munich, Alte Pinakothek, inv./ 878

Rachel Ruysch worked for the elector between 1708 and his death in 1716, so altogether for around eight or nine years. The relationship between the elector and the artist couple must have been excellent: Ruysch and Pool even named their youngest son Jan Willem (1711-1758) after the elector. The elector and his wife Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici were also apparently present at his baptism in Amsterdam in the summer of 1711.14 Previously, Ruysch had been in Düsseldorf to introduce her new-born son to the electoral couple, and on this occasion her son was honoured to be presented with a medal featuring Johan Wilhelm’s portrait.15

Commission for Juriaen Pool
In (or shortly before) 1716, Juriaen Pool also received a commission from the elector. He was asked to paint a family portrait of his own family, including himself, his wife Rachel and their youngest son Jan Willem [19]. In the portrait, Rachel sits right in the centre next to a bouquet of flowers. Her husband is standing behind her, drawing attention to one of her flower paintings on the easel. Their son Jan Willem, who must have been about five years old at that time, is leaning against his mother, presenting the aforementioned medal. The division of roles within the family is clear: Rachel Ruysch obviously played the most important role. Unfortunately, Johann Wilhelm never got to see the group portrait, as is lamented by the artist-biographer Jan van Gool. When the painting was to be transported to Düsseldorf in 1716, the news of the elector’s death reached Amsterdam, so the portrait stayed within the family. Van Gool saw the work during his visit to the widow Ruysch, shortly before her death in 1750, and added the story to Pool’s biography.

and Rachel Ruysch Juriaen Pool (II)
Self portrait of Juriaen Pool II (1666-1745) with Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and their son Jan Willem Pool, 1708-1716
Düsseldorf, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf


1 They kept in touch afterwards: Berardi 1998, p. 91-92.

2 Berardi 1998, p. 71-109; Berardi 2000, p. 4.

3 The ‘bezoekersboeken’ (visitors’ books) are kept at the University Library of Amsterdam, Special Collections, inventory numbers I E 20 and I E 21.

4 Van Gool 1750, p. 215, mentioned two trips to Germany, in 1710 and 1713.

5 Baumstark et al. 2009, vol. 1; vol. 2, p. 9-133.

6 Karsch 1719, cat. nos. 139 and 140.

7 De Pigage 1778, nos. 346 and 347. Ruysch’s still lifes were not included in the preparatory drawings, except for the leather-bound album, where they were colorfully redrawn: p. 79 verso and 80 recto. A simple catalogue raisonné, without prints, was also published, see: (consulted September 2017). Between the 1719 catalogue and the 1778 catalogue there were 60 paintings added to the collection: Baumstark et al. 2009, vol. 2, p. 135-155.

8 Von Uffenbach 1753-1754, vol. 3, p. 627-628.

9 This was not only reported by Von Uffenbach, but also by Van Gool 1750-1751, p. 216.

10 Jacobsen Jensen 1936, p. 17-20.

11 Baumstark et al. 2009, vol. 1; vol. 2, p. 157-251.

12 Only the location, size and shape of the rooms are known from a map of the Düsseldorf palace in 1755 (Baumstark et al. 2009, p. 157, ill. 1).

13 Korthals Altes 2003; Baumstark et al. 2009, p. 250-275.

14 The christening took place on the 21st of July 1711 (Amsterdam City Archive, Doop- trouw-, begraafboeken, access number 5001, vol. 48, p. 148).

15 Van Gool 1750-1751, p. 215.

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