Sunday, January 19, 2014

Looted Art, 200 Years Ago

You may get as old as Methuselah but you keep learning. Last week I read in the Badische Zeitung that one-hundred years ago the older of the Brothers Grimm, Jacob, had stayed overnight in Freiburg, from January 16 to 17, 1814. The winter season explains the first phrase in a letter he wrote to his brother Wilhelm left behind in Kassel: Freiburg must be nicely situated in summer, however, the city is neither as well built nor as big as Heidelberg, but friendly and wealthy, although the Minster is very beautiful from both out- and the inside, spacious and full of stained glass, an altarpiece by Hans Baldung if I am remembering his name correctly (Freiburg muß im Sommer ausnehmend schön liegen, ist aber nicht so gut gebaut, noch so groß wie Heidelberg, doch freundlich und wohlhabend, aber der (!) Münster ist auswendig und inwendig sehr schön, geräumig und voll Glasmalereien, ein Altargemälde von Hans Baldung, wenn ich den Namen recht behalten habe).

Jacob had worked as librarian for Jérôme, Napoleon's youngest brother and king of Westphalia, in Kassel. Following the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 German territories had been liberated from imperial troops. Now the anti-Napoleonic alliance was chasing the French emperor in his own country. On their way many crowned heads - among them the Austrian Emperor Franz, the Russian Tsar Alexander, and the Prussian King Wilhelm - and their armies were in town, a heavy burden for Freiburg. The poet and professor at Freiburg's university Johann Georg Jacobi however hailed the friendly invasion on his deathbed: Now I shall gladly die, for I am dying as a free German (Gern will ich nun sterben, denn ich sterbe als freier Deutscher).

Jacob Grimm had been nominated by his old and new ruler, the elector of Hesse, once Wilhelm had returned from his exile in Prague, legation councilor of a commission that was sent to Paris to track down art objects Jérôme fleeing Kassel had stolen from his residence Napoleonshöhe (now renamed Wilhelmshöhe). In fact, the Bonaparte kin had looted the museums in Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands and accumulated the objets d'art in the French capital. The most notorious theft from Germany was that of Johann Gottfried Schadow's Quadriga from top of the Gate of Brandenburg in 1806. The Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher returned the four horses and the goddess of victory to Berlin in 1814.

Contemporary political cartoon: Napoleon himself stealing the Quadriga

Restored Quadriga: Victoria displaying a laurel wreath
surrounding the Iron Cross topped by the Prussian eagle
During his short stay in Freiburg Jacob noticed the attachment of the local people to the House of Habsburg when he wrote to his brother: By the way, city and countryside (the Breisgau) still heartily Austrian, Emperor Franz was fetched home with joy. When he entered the city people tried to pull his carriage, and when he refused to tolerate this and changed the carriage for a horse it is said that those people attached themselves to his horse.
Their only hope is that they will return to Austrian rule and the Government of Baden is regarded as pressure and tyranny, taxes are monstrous ... and I heard reasonable people movingly complain how stepmotherly Carlsruhe is treating this province (Übrigens Stadt und Land (das Breisgau) noch herzöstreichisch, Kaiser Franz ist mit Wonne eingeholt worden. Bei seinem Einzug in die Stadt hatten die Bürger versucht, die kaiserliche Kutsche zu ziehen, und als er sich das Ziehen verbat und deswegen aus dem Wagen auf ein Pferd gestiegen war, sollen sie sich an das Pferd gebunden haben.
Auch ist ihre einzige Hoffnung, daß sie wieder zu Österreich kommen und die badische Regirung wird wie Druck und Tyrannei betrachtet, die Auflagen (Steuern) sind ungeheuer ..., und ich habe brave und vernünftige Leute ordentlich rührend klagen hören, wie stiefmütterlich man von Carlsruhe aus diese Provinz behandelt).

Red Baron is looking forward to reading the full text of Jacob Grimm's letter in the yearbook of the Breisgau Geschichtsverein being published this fall.

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