To this day, Wilhelm Busch is famous for his amusing if not ironic picture stories, above all for “Max and Moritz”, the two rascals who take pleasure in their well-meaning misdeeds before they themselves receive their bitterly wicked punishment and meet their end. That Busch was a true double talent in the field of art and poetry is impressively demonstrated by these picture stories, yet they also prove him to be a fine observer of basic human nature.
In profound affection he dedicated a series of manuscripts to his Frankfurt patroness Johanna Kessler (1831–1915), with whom he was in close contact between 1868 and 1877. These manuscripts were either produced in preparation for the picture stories or he created them himself in laborious service to her. They then came to the Städel Museum in 1930/31, giving an insight into his creative process. Busch usually began by drawing a sequence of pictures with a free, sure hand on large sheets of paper. He then cut them out and rearranged them, as in the case of the series of pictures for “Jobsiade” (1871, inv. no. 15325–15357, Städel Museum), and then sent them to his publisher. Here, the rhymed text came later, but the verses were also usually created only in a second step. In contrast, the illuminated manuscripts of “Pater Filucius” (1872, inv. no. 15518–15559, Städel Museum), “Dideldum!” (1873, inv. no. 15359–15416) and “Abenteuer eines Junggesellen” (1875, inv. no. 15429–15517) already show verses and pictures. In their arrangement, they also anticipate the later layout. For the printing, the pictures had to be reproduced last as wood engravings. For this, Busch copied the image templates directly onto the printing block, usually in pencil, whereby he had to mirror the picture for it to appear correctly on the printed page. The engraving was then done by a professional xylographer. The illuminated manuscripts of “Hans Huckebein” (c. 1870, Inv.-Nos. 15560–15572, Städel Museum) and of “Der heilige Antonius von Padua” (1871, Inv.-No. 15358, Städel Museum) were created after the prints as a favour to his patroness Johanna Kessler. Their design is based on medieval illuminated manuscripts.
In “Pater Filucius”, Wilhelm Busch, with a sharp pen, spins the tale of a dishonest Jesuit who tries to obtain the wealth of an unmarried man of means. The anti-clerical parody was written in the context of the ‘Kulturkampf’, the conflict between Prussia resp. the newly founded German Empire and the Catholic Church, during which the Jesuit Order was also temporarily banned by law in 1872. Even before this ban, Busch, at his publisher Otto Bassermann’s suggestion and after extensive research, created “Pater Filucius”; it first appeared in print in November 1872. In preparation, the Städel’s illuminated manuscript was created, which Busch himself described as a “sketch manuscript” and which he gifted to Johanna Kessler in 1873. It shows the entire layout of the later printed book with illustrations and text. For this, Busch cut out the image templates originally drawn on larger sheets and glued them into the manuscript already provided with the text. The pen-and-ink drawings, executed with a swift stroke and sometimes cut somewhat closely, show the motifs in reverse in comparison to the print, since Busch did not mirror them when transferring the drawings to the woodblock. In contrast to the calligraphically designed text of the decorative manuscripts, Busch wrote down the verses here in his ‘normal’ handwriting, except for the initials. The binding, which probably Johanna Kessler commissioned a bookbinder with, was likely titled by Busch at a later date. – Cf. the remarks by Hans Ries in: Wilhelm Busch. Die Bildergeschichten. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, Hannover 2002, vol. II, col. 1320–1377, esp. col. 1366–1369.