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Melchior Michael Steidl (Innsbruck 1657 – Munich 1727). Study for a Ceiling Decoration: Allegory of Night, Private Collection, Germany

Melchior Michael Steidl (Innsbruck 1657-Munich 1727). Study for a Ceiling Decoration: Allegory of Night. Pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash over black chalk on buff laid paper. 218 x 321 mm., 8 9/16 x 12 5/8 in.

Melchior Michael Steidl (Innsbruck 1657-Munich 1727). Study for a Ceiling Decoration: Allegory of Night. Pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash over black chalk on buff laid paper. 218 x 321 mm., 8 9/16 x 12 5/8 in.

 

Melchior Michael Steidl (Innsbruck 1657-Munich 1727)
Study for a Ceiling Decoration: Allegory of Night
Pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash over black chalk on buff laid paper. 218 x 321 mm., 8 9/16 x 12 5/8 in.

Private Collection, Germany

In style this drawing of an Allegory of Night in an oval format is related to Steidl’s powerful youthful penmanship at its very best, in particular his drawings for Karthaus-Prüll. Over traces of a black chalk, Steidl worked in pen and a very dark brown ink and grey washes, adding and, in the end, correcting some details with lead white heightening, which stands out brilliantly from the buff paper ground. The drawing is trimmed to the borderline but a piece of paper outside the oval and with the signature “Melchior Steidl f: I” is still attached.

Night is represented as a sleeping young woman sitting in clouds before the sphere of the full moon. At the left, she is accompanied by two owls, beneath her are another owl and two sleeping putti, and at the right is another sleeping person, whose head is bitten by a huge dog. Another woman, seen from her back and half naked in the lower right quarter of the composition is pulling a curtain spangled with stars and serving as a backdrop behind the moon; behind all this spreads the night sky with more stars. At the very bottom of the composition, a bat is concealed by white heightening.

Ripa, in his description of Night and her four phases, mentions two children and a bat (prima parte), but the children are in Night’s arms, and one has crooked feet, while the other wears a wreath with poppies. Other representations by Steidl follow Ripa in certain notable details. For example, in another drawing (Strasser 15) he shows Night clad in a mantle decorated with stars and holding a globe as in Ripa’s seconda parte, but the iconographic features of the present drawing are particularly complex and typical of Steidl’s own invention. In a fresco of 1691 in Schloss Harmating, Oberbayern,[1] the subject, inclusive of the moon figuring almost as a halo, is borrowed from Pietro Testa[2] The dark drapery studded with stars behind the figural group, however, seems to be Steidl’s own. It is still present in his ceiling in Augsburg[3] where the allegory is mounted on a chariot.

The closest iconographic parallel, however, is found in the ceiling of the summer refectory, now the Kaisersaal, in Kremsmünster, Oberösterreich,[4] an extremely important early work, paid for in 1696. The fresco shows Apollo-Helios drawing along the zodiac toward the left, where Night awakes at the arrival of Phosphorus. No longer sleeping, she sits in clouds in front of the large white sphere of the full moon before the backdrop of a star studded drapery in whose darkness a number of people are still asleep while owls and bats are flying in front of a night sky.

The close iconographic relation between our representation and the ceiling in Kremsmünster is matched by stylistic parallels: proportions, facial types, hands, fingers, and feet are virtually the same. A sleeping man in the fresco wears the same cap as the figure bitten by the dog in the drawing and rests his head in a similar way on his arms and the half-naked female figure seen from her back in the drawing is virtually identical with a woman at the lower left end of the representation in Kremsmünster. Very similar figures are found elsewhere in the Kaisersaal decoration: within the quadratura framing in the woman at the right of the Allegory of Winter, or the man with Bacchus’s leopard at the right of the Allegory of Autumn. The drawing should therefore be dated to near 1696, three years earlier than his work at the gates of Regensburg.

It is by no means certain that the present drawing is preparatory for Kremsmünster, because of the substantial differences between it and the final work, yet it seems thinkable that there might be such a connection. Steidl started his work on ceilings on a large scale in the church of the monastery of Sankt Florian, Austria (1690-96), where he represented, in the vaults of the travées of the nave, surrounded by extensive quadratura painting, scenes from the life of the patron saint in oval compositions, seen only slightly di sotto in su just as the figure of Night in our drawing. He might have thought, in the beginning, to fill the long shape of the Kremsmünster Kaisersaal (25.50 x 13.50 m) with two ovals representing day and Night within a more complex quadratura decoration, before uniting them before an illusionistic sky in a single representation and employing the entire ceiling following the model of Italian masters of the 17th century.

Related Literature: Viktoria Meinecke-Berg, Die Fresken des Melchior Steidl, diss. München, Munich 1971; Josef Strasser, Melchior Steidl (1657-1727): Die Zeichnungen, exh. cat. Salzburg, 1999.


[1] Viktoria Meinecke-Berg, Die Fresken des Melchior Steidl, diss. München, Munich 1971, Kat. II; Falk Bechler et al., in Hermann Bauer, Bernhard Rupprecht, Corpus der Barocken Deckenmslereien in Deutschland, Band 2, Freistaat Bayern Regeirungsbezirk Oberbayern. Die Landkreeise Bad Tölz Wolframshausen, Garmish-Partenkirchen, Miesbach, München München, 1981, pp. 187-190 (illustrated).

[2] Bartsch 38; Bellini 32, Cropper 79.

[3] Meinecke, Kat. III The two scenes in Kat. II, identified by Meinecke as Jupiter and Juno and Mars and Venus, are taken from Pietro da Cortona’s decoration of the Palazzo Pamphilij in Piazza Navona, Rome. They represent in fact  scenes from Vergil’s Aeneid: Juno asking Aeolus to destroy the fleet of Aeneas and V;enus receiving the Arms of Aeneas from Vulcan.

[4] Meinecke Kat. III

  • <It is still present in his ceiling in Augsburg[3] where the allegory is mounted on a chariot.Meinecke, Kat. III The two scenes in Kat. II, identified by Meinecke as Jupiter and Juno and Mars and Venus, are taken from Pietro da Cortona’s decoration of the Palazzo Pamphilij in Piazza Navona, Rome. They represent in fact scenes from Vergil’s Aeneid: Juno asking Aeolus to destroy the fleet of Aeneas and Venus receiving the Arms of Aeneas from Vulcan.>
    Please could you be more specific about this fresco in Augsburg (where?), and what is the relationship with the scenes in Kat.II?
    Thank you!

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Isidoro Bianchi: Painter, Stuccatore, and Architect