Designs for a triptych with scenes from the Song of the Nibelungs, Carl Philipp Fohr
Carl Philipp Fohr
Designs for a triptych with scenes from the Song of the Nibelungs
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Carl Philipp Fohr: Aktstudien zu Siegfried und Hagen, 1818, Bleistift auf starkem Büttenpapier, 441 x 295-297 mm. Inv. Nr. GS o/3117, Landesmuseum, Mainz (Märker 2015.527.Z.725)

Carl Philipp Fohr

Designs for a triptych with scenes from the Song of the Nibelungs, 1818

384 x 477 mm
Physical Description
Grey ink and brush over pencil, grey washes, squared with pencil, on ribbed laid paper
Inventory Number
Object Number
212 Z
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

Carl Philipp Fohr was one of the most talented and independent draughtsmen of his generation. His numerous nature studies and representations of southern landscapes, as well as his portraits and interpretations of literary works, are defined by precise observation and subjective perception.

His sketch for a Nibelungen triptych depicts Kriemhild taking her leave of the body of Siegfried in the central section. The scenes at the sides show, on the left, the killing of the hero and, on the right, Dietrich von Bern with the perpetrator Hagen in chains before Kriemhild, who is sitting on the throne. Fohr has set the portrayal of the silent grief for the beloved Siegfried - between the malice which preceded the event and the subsequent thirst for revenge - behind a mock architecture framework. It recalls the Gothic tracery of Venetian palazzi, which Fohr may have seen as a student in 1815 when he travelled from Munich to Venice in the footsteps of Dürer. The transparency of the construction unobtrusively separates the different events and decoratively emphasises the poetic and magical setting.

The story of the 'Song of the Nibelungs', which had come to light in Hohenems in 1755, was taken up with enthusiasm by patriotic-minded youths in connection with the 1813-1815 wars of independence against Napoleon. It was around this time that the young Fohr was introduced to Old German poetry, including the 'Song of the Nibelungs', by his mentor, the historian Philipp Dieffenbach in Darmstadt. He also read the German heroic epic later within the circle of students in Heidelberg, but it was in Rome, far from home, that his interest was first reflected in his work. When Fohr arrived there in the autumn of 1816, he met Peter Cornelius, who was working on large drawings on the subject of the 'Song of the Nibelungs'. In 1817, a year after his Faust cycle, they were published as a series of prints. Both the architectural frame on the cover and the Old German linear style, influenced by Dürer's copperplate engravings, as well as the pathos of the Nazarene artist differ considerably from the younger artist's Romantic approach, his characteristic graphic style and the spontaneous-looking wash, which joins the figures and space in a picturesque way. Fohr's sudden early death - he drowned in the Tiber in the summer of 1818 - left some of his projects unfinished. His sketches for a group picture of the German artists in the Caffè Greco, which made their way to the Städel, were drafted in preparation for a copperplate engraving, but we can only guess at the purpose of his sketch of the Nibelung triptych. The squares point to a considerably larger version and hence to a painting, a banner or even a wall painting.

About the Acquisition

Johann David Passavant's (1787-1861) biography was an unusual one. Originally trained as a merchant in Frankfurt, he developed from 1817 on into a Nazarene painter and eventually became a co-founder of a science-oriented art history. His work on 'Rafael von Urbino und sein Vater Giovanni Santi', published in 1839, is regarded as a cornerstone of art research. The author dedicated the book to the "venerable administration" of the Städel, which had supported the research undertaking and the printing. Passavant had long cultivated close links with the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and had advised it on its art purchases since 1817. He eventually became its gallery inspector in 1840. The artist and art scholar also established his own small private collection. During his lifetime he bequeathed individual artworks to the Städel, and further objects followed in his will in 1861.

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