December 27, 2017

Germany 2017 Post 5

The reason we were in Leipzig *at all* was because of genealogy.

I had always wanted to go back *one generation* on my German lines, which would allow me to identify the parents of my first immigrant ancestors. In 2012 I had the opportunity to go to Germany for work, and I did a little genealogy work beforehand. One of my ancestors had a really uncommon last name, and I found an obituary on Google Book of a guy with that same last name, who lived in the town where my guy was born. Could they be related? I printed it out and brought it with me.

Friends I made at the museum in Germany where I was working translated the obituary for me. I learned that the guy with the same name had been married to the daughter of the portrait painter Gottlob. Fascinating! I couldn't get any farther without help, so I hired a researcher in Germany to help me. For the next few years I worked with her, and she helped confirm connections between the American and German branches of the family and to link them to the person whose obituary I'd originally found. To Belinda Bölckow (real name), I am eternally grateful. I'd ask her specific questions and she'd bring me answers from various archives in Saxony. I'd do my own research based on what she found, and then I'd develop new questions. Much of the family story rested in Leipzig, it seems, so I really wanted to go there.

Day 2 in Leipzig, we boarded one of its many graffitied trains headed downtown and had coffee at Café Riquet. The facade sports elephant gargoyles and mosaics. The interiors have deeply carved wooden paneling with duck pond scenes. It's so beautiful that you can't simply pass it by.

After some coffee, we went into the Altes Rathaus (old town hall). Can't recall why we walked in, but it had to be my favorite stop in Leipzig. We entered the main hall, and it was lined with portraits of government officials. I asked the lady at the counter if she knew whether any were by Gottlob, and she did not know. But mrguy quickly started scanning the walls and found portrait paintings of Gottlob's that I hadn't even known about. It was exciting. These were objects created, and touched, by my 5th great grandfather. There were also a few of his etchings, but the paintings really show the direct hand of the artist.

Not sure how much I've spoken of Gottlob, but he has been a great find in the family tree. He was born in a military installation in Poland. By the age of 25, the time of his first child's birth, he was both a bodyguard to a count and also a painter. As seen through his children's baptismal records, which note his profession, over the years he progressed to cabinet painter and royal Bernbergian court painter. His children's godparents show that Gottlob was acquainted with a variety of artists, minor royalty, merchants and artists or musicians of note. My sense is that these sponsorships might have been requested during portrait sittings, because Gottlob was seemingly not of royal birth. And we may never know.

Gottlob was known primarily as a portrait painter, and often a copyist. When the famous local portrait painter Anton Graf was not available, my guy Gottlob was often called on to start a portrait from scratch or to copy an existing work by Graf. When I saw the courthouse lined with portraits it suddenly became clear that these were the governor's photo of their day. Every government building needs one, and that adds up to a lot of portraits, not all of which could be painted by Anton Graf. Here are a few from the Rathaus:

Christian Erdmann Deyling
Georg Gottfried Hermann (definitely in the style of Graf)

Romanus Teller

And just for the icing on the cake, another gallery displayed a portrait of two daughters of Adam Friedrich Oeser, one of Gottlob's mentors from the Leipzig painting academy. These women were godparents to two of Gottlob's children.

I can't say enough about this place and its collections. There was an exhibit of special trunks belonging to various guilds. A chronological exhibition about the city of Leipzig was completely gripping. Here were a few items from the various collections:

Mourning art:

Shelf lining paper in a festive Hitler Youth design. Looks wholesome and normal, just like the Boy Scouts. Scary.
A chunk of wall graffitti by Alfred Frank "Hunger! All thanks to The Fuehrer".
I was moved by the fairly unflinching look at their culture and what their people have done. There was a display of photographs of members of the Roma community that had been exterminated. And then a section detailing the Cold War period. All really well done. My mind was full, but it was only mid-day.

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