Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze

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Biography of Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze ( 1816-1868 )

Trained at the German painting school, Emmanuel Leutze was born in 1816 near Stuttgart. His family moved to United-States in 1825 when he was nine years old. He learned arts in Philadelphia where he started a promising carrier both as portraitist and history painter.

In 1841, he decided to go back to his native country and settled in Düsseldorf. This city indeed opened in 1819 a new and prestigious Academy of Fine Arts with a very elaborate program and whose management was successively entrusted by the two renowned painters from the Nazarene movement: Peter von Cornelius (1784 - 1867) until 1824, and Wilhelm von Schadow (1788-1862). This artistic movement advocated the revival of German art through religion, taking the example of Dürer and Raphael. Leutze worked under the supervision of Lessing, but due to differences with his master, he quickly took a studio of his own.

In 1842, the artist visited Munich, Venice and Rome and returned to Düsseldorf in 1845. He produced a large number of paintings. After several trips to America in 1851 and in 1859, he decided to settle there permanently in 1863. Indeed, although he was born in Germany and trained in the narrative style of the Düsseldorf School, Leutze always considered himself as an American painter. Immersed in American history, he explored in many of his early works different aspects of the New World iconography.

His great masterpiece "Washington Crossing the Delaware" depicts the future first president of the United States on the verge of facing British troops in Trenton, New Jersey, a key battle of the American Revolution. This gigantic panorama exhibited in 1852 in the Capitol almost immediately became a major American symbol. The fame of the artist has grown fast and his talent was unanimously praised.

In this painting, the artist abandoned for a while his typical battles scenes and panoramas. Painted in 1858, "Paradise and Peri" represents a scene from the four tales of the Irish poet Thomas Moore published in 1857. Peri, a winged descendant of the fallen angels in the Islamic and Persian mythology, cannot reach Paradise as long as she does not repent. Moore’s verses chosen by Leutze describe the moment:

“The Peri yet may be forgiven
Who brings to this Eternal gate
  The Gift that is most dear to Heaven!
Go seek it and redeem thy sin
'Tis sweet to let the Pardoned in."

In Persian mythology, Peri is a spirit that has been denied from Paradise. In older sources, the Peri are described as servants of evil but they later become harmless. They are exquisite winged creatures, much like fairies that are classified among angels and evil spirits. These beings are sometimes featured in Paradise with a fairy queen as a leader, as we can see in this picture.

This painting shows Leutze’s interest in mythology while highlighting the representation of Peri offering her third and last gift: a sacred tear. According to Moore, this tear was taken by Peri to a repenting fisherman. This fisherman, moved by a child praying to God, shed a tear. Thanks to the tear of repentance, the Peri can reach Heaven. The artist represented a tear on the Peri’s face. Leutze featured a Peri facing a winged God, probably in Paradise. This God is immersed in an ochre light, an abundance of light that grants to the work an imaginary nature. It is the light of another world. The rainbow and the exotic and verdant nature accentuate this feeling of being in another place, mysterious and unknown to ordinary people. The god’s wings shapes are majestic and seem to be inspired by the first depictions of Peri.

This painting illustrates the talent of Leutze in combining realism to the fantastic world of oriental tales. He borrows from the East Peri’s costume with a lotus on her crown, directly inspired by the harems, while the Garden of Eden - with its stars, constellations and the god’s draperies, reminds of Greco-Roman antiquity.

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