Wolfgang Heimbach (c. 1613–1678)
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Wolfgang Heimbach was born around 1613 in Ovelgönne to Wolff Heimbach, an administrator to Count Anton Günther of Oldenburg (1583-1667). It is not known from whom he learnt the art of painting although it has been suggested that he was trained by a local painter before travelling to the Netherlands in the late 1620s or early 1630s. While Heimbach’s stay in the Netherlands is not supported by documentary evidence, the influence of Dutch painters like Pieter Codde (1599–1678) and Willem Duyster (1599–1635) is clearly visible in his early work. By 1636 Wolfgang was back in Germany, where he painted an Interior Wedding Scene (Bremen, Kunsthalle) signed “CWHB FECIT /OVELGÖNNE /ANNO1636 /BREMEN/1637”. Around 1640 he travelled to Vienna, where he stayed until about 1642 at the court of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria.
From Austria, Heimbach went to Italy, where he stayed for about eleven years. Most of his time was spent in Naples and Rome. He was held in high esteem by the Pope, cardinals and other noblemen due to the excellence of his art, which by then he could support with documents and letters. His work reveals knowledge of artists such as Carlo Saraceni (1579-1620), Domenico Fetti (1589-1623) and members of the bamboccianti such as Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656), which is particularly evident in the genre scenes he painted in Rome in the early 1640s. During this period, Heimbach worked for several Roman noble families including the Borghese, Pamphili and Medici. In 1651, he went to Náchod (Bohemia), where he was employed at the Náchod Castle for Prince Octavio Piccolomini. In the same year he lived in Prague; and from Bohemia, it is believed that he travelled back to his hometown, planning to make stopovers in Nuremberg and Brussels.
In the winter of 1651, Heimbach returned to Ovelgönne where he worked for Count Anton Günther. The painter, who was sought and well-paid by Count Günther, is reported to have completed nine paintings in 26 weeks. For those works, he was paid 200 Reichstaler, a sum that attests to the high esteem in which he was held. In 1653, Heimbach was employed as court painter to King Frederich III of Denmark. He remained in Copenhagen for nearly ten years until 1662-1663. He then returned to Oldenberg where he worked again for Count Anton Günther and other local clients. After the death of Günter in 1667, Heimbach returned to Denmark but failed to regain the King’s favour. Finally he entered into the service of Prince Bishop Bernard von Galen in Münster and Coesfeld. He probably died shortly after in 1678.
Heimbach is recalled as one of the most important painters active in northern Germany in the seventeenth century. His peripatetic career resulted in a heterogeneous artistic production as he often adapted his style to a variety of local artistic traditions. With respect to this, his catalogue includes genre painting, still-life painting, portraiture, history painting and landscape painting. Aside from his talent as an artist, Heimbach read and wrote proficiently in multiple languages.
Fritz, Rolf. Wolfgang Heimbach: Hofmaler Christoph Bernhards von Galen, Westphalen, 1962.
Göttsche, Gertrud. Wolfgang Heimbach, ein norddeutscher Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1935.
Lorenz, Angelika. Wolfgang Heimbach Selbstbildnis, 1660: Öl/Holz. Münster: Westfäl. Landesmuseum für Kunst u. Kulturges, 1995.
Morsbach, Christiane Die Genrebilder von Wolfgang Heimbach (um 1613-nach 1678) Germany: Isensee, 1999.
Oldfield, David. German Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland: A Complete Catalogue. India: National Gallery of Ireland, 1987.