Friedrich Matthäi, Die Ermordung des Aegisth, 1803
© Albertinum | GNM, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut

Focus Albertinum: Histories

For centuries, history painting was the most important artistic form in the history of art: scenes from the fields of history, ancient mythology, biblical tales and legends of saints, as well as literary material, were often depicted in large-format paintings adapted to the respective world view of the epoch. History painting served as a means of self assurance in politics and society. It conveyed the ideology of the ruling class or its opponents. This is also expressed in the change of style in the 19th century, from classicism through realism up to academic heroization.


  • DATES 30/09/2020—17/10/2021
  • Opening Hours Friday to Sunday 10—17 
  • Admission Fees normal 6 €
Buy a Ticket

[Translate to English:] weitere

© Albertinum | GNM, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut
Heinrich Hofmann, Der Jesusknabe im Tempel, um 1880 Öl auf Leinwand, 152 x 204 cm

[Translate to English:] Ernst Barlach zum 150. Geburtstag: Eine Retrospektive

From today's perspective, the reading of history in many of the depicted themes and motifs is differently evaluated now than in the time when the paintings were made. For example, this applies to Columbus’ role in the “conquest“ of the American continent (Julius Röting: Columbus before the Spiritual Council of Salamanca, 1851). Or they employ stereotypes in the conflict between Judaism and Christianity (Heinrich Hofmann: Young Jesus in the Temple, circa 1880).

Women (Königin Christine und ihr Stallmeister)

The absence of women in most history painting is striking. If they appear, as in Friedrich Matthäis’ The Murder of Aegisthus (1805/1806), for example, then they do so as secondary figures or victims. An exception is the painting Queen Christine and Her Equerry by Ferdinand von Rayski. Here, the Swedish queen is the main figure. She was been esteemed for her political stance, her interest in science, and also for her role as a woman operating independently in history. However, the painting’s focal point is a history of disappointed love, which relativizes the queen’s historical significance.

© Albertinum | GNM, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut
Ferdinand von Rayski, Königin Christine und ihr Stallmeister, 1835 Öl auf Leinwand, 49 x 60,5 cm


History painting was at the top of the academic canon as it required the artist to have a good mastery of all subjects: beginning with an anatomically correct depiction of humans and animals, through the perspectival construction of space and the convincing grouping of figures, to a scholarly study of the historic details of events, as well as an in depth knowledge of clothing and interiors of the depicted time period.

The Murder of Aegisthus

Some artists managed to make a name for themselves right at the beginning of their career with large-scale compositions. Friedrich Matthäi, for instance, painted The Murder of Aegisthus (1805/1806) during his study trip to Florence. He placed the large-format painting in exhibitions in Dresden, so that it attracted a great deal of attention and he was subsequently offered a professorship. On the one hand, Matthäi oriented himself towards the taste of classicism and combined it with the depiction of terror and violence in the sense of the “Terribilità,” a controversial category of artistic aesthetics since the Renaissance.

© Albertinum | GNM, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut
Friedrich Matthäi, Die Ermordung des Aegisth, 1803 Öl auf Leinwand, 158 x 239 cm

Columbus before the Spiritual Council of Salamanca

Julius Röting’s Columbus before the Spiritual Council of Salamanca was a debut work. In the exhibition at the Dresdner Akademie 1852 it drew a lot of attention and was sold through the Lindenau-Stiftung to the Gemälde-Galerie. The express goal of this foundation was to acquire history paintings by local artists.


The Sacrifice of Codrus

Some of the historical themes are directly linked to contemporary history. Matthäis’ The Sacrifice of Codrus (1823) was commissioned by the Assembly of the Estates of Lower Lustatia. This alliance of privileged demographic groups was founded in the 16th century. The painting, which heroizes a ruler’s readiness to make sacrifices for the state, was intended to honor the nobleman Ernst von Houwald (1778–1845) who defended his homeland in the military and political conflicts of the time.

© Albertinum | GNM, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut
Friedrich Matthäi, Der Opfertod des Kodrus, 1823 Öl auf Leinwand, 37 x 52 cm

Into the 20th century

Into the 20th century, a central topic of history paintings was always the question of power in the conflicts between men, particularly the conflict between secular and clerical power. In contemporary art since the late 20th century, there has been a critical approach to the historical image in art, for example in the work of A. R. Penck, Gerhard Richter or Katharina Sieverding. But in popular media, commercial film, and computer games, the grand gestures of these impressive pictorial worlds are developed further without question.


Further Exhibitions
08/08/2020 —23/09/2020


in Residenzschloss

Portrait eines Mannes mit Hut und Vollbart
29/08/2020 —10/01/2021

Gerd Richter 1961/62

in Albertinum

To top