The young emperor is in great danger as he gazes into the abyss. According to a popular Tyrolean legend, Maximilian I (1459-1519) supposedly got completely lost in the mountains while out hunting chamois near Innsbruck. On the third day, as if by a miracle, a mysterious man appeared and led the exhausted monarch back into the valley. Contrary to a previous idea of depicting the rescuer as an angel, Rethel shows him here as a shepherd in a sheepskin, albeit illuminated from behind by a supernatural light. This important early work demonstrates clearly the influence of Philipp Veit, Rethel's teacher at the Städel in Frankfurt.
Few documents about this donation have been preserved in the Städel archive. The transcript of the will of Anna Louise Friederike Koch, née St George and “widow to the late Banker Mr. Peter Marcus Koch”, relates the following wish: Three paintings and a legacy of 10,000 marks are to be passed on to the Städel Foundation upon the death of their proprietor.
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