Johann Anton Ramboux's striking double portrait of the brothers Konrad and Franz Eberhard exemplifies the late phase of German romanticism at its finest and can be ranked among the great accomplishments of 19th-century lithography. Ramboux (1790–1866) was a painter and draftsman trained in Paris in the studio of Jacques-Louis David and later at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Both sitters were sculptors originally from Munich but active for much of their careers in Rome. Ramboux met them there in 1816 and, around 1821/1822, rendered them in a double portrait in oil now in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne. The lithograph, which records the painting in its actual size, was executed shortly after Ramboux and the Eberhards returned together to Munich.
The portrait is a Freundschaftsbild, literally a "friendship picture." This image type attained its most characteristic features within the Nazarene Brotherhood, a close circle of German artists who migrated to Rome, where they devoted themselves to an aesthetic of simple piety modeled on the art of the Renaissance. Ramboux has depicted Konrad Eberhard (on the left) in a semblance of Renaissance garb that the Nazarenes often wore themselves. Moreover, the rendering of the figures consciously invokes the portraiture of Albrecht Dürer, the foremost artistic model for the group. The Eberhards are shown in near profile and three-quarter view, an antique format with a decidedly modern inflection. By means of Franz's piercing outward glance Ramboux has disrupted the inherent restraint of the profile to generate a startling sense of energy and psychological presence. The unrelentingly intense and determined expressions of both figures reflect the austere Nazarene sensibility, a matter of lifestyle as well as of art. Inspired by contemporary literature and philosophy along with their particular vision of the Renaissance, the Nazarenes recruited much of the best talent among German artists of the period.
The monochromatic clarity of Ramboux's crayon lithograph, with its sharp delineations and restrained shadowing, simultaneously evokes the sheen of a silverpoint drawing and the chiseled surface of a relief sculpture. These qualities, particular to the lithograph rather than the painting on which it is based, establish the print as an independent work of art with an aesthetic force entirely its own. The handling of the lithographic crayon is meticulous and subtle in the extreme, and the gray undertone lent by printing an additional "tint stone" beneath the dominant design adds tonal richness and dimension to the figures.
The lithograph appears to be rare. It is recorded that Ramboux initially printed it in a very small edition, likely for the Eberhard brothers themselves to distribute among friends as would be consistent with the very principle of a Freundschaftsbild. Although it is impossible to confirm that our impression was among those first printed, given its fresh appearance and high quality there is good reason to suppose that it was. It is a masterful achievement, the concentration invested in the personal affect of the figures being perfectly matched by the brilliance and precision of the draftsmanship.
lower left in image: J. A. Ramboux del Monachij; lower right in image: Romae pinx MDCCCXXII; upper left in image: K Eberhard, Scul & Pic / AE LII; upper right in image: AE LIII
(Kunsthandlung Helmut Rumbler, Frankfurt am Main); purchased 2009 by NGA.
- Winkler, Rolf A. Die Fruhzeit der deutschen Lithographie. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1975.