CARL FRIEDRICH LESSING

Johann Hus in Constance

1842

Oil on canvas
Inv. No. 901

308 × 455 cm

zur  Biographie

This painting polarized its contemporaries: for some it was the “greatest of all paintings”, while for others it was “a good recommendation for moths and bugs”. For Philipp Veit, the first director of the Städel, it was the occasion for resigning his post in outrage. After touring Germany, the monumental work was acquired in 1843 as a means of raising an awareness in Frankfurt of the realistic painting of the Düsseldorf school. Lessing depicts the Bohemian preacher before the Council of Constance in 1415, staunchly defending his doctrine, aware that it means being executed as a heretic. The Catholic parties were appalled at this glorification of a Protestant, while the painting’s champions praised its empathetic reconstruction of the historical event and its nuanced characterization of the personalities involved. The psychologically penetrating depiction opens up a timeless perspective on this historical incident. In the politically turbulent period preceding the 1848 revolution, the historical example served as a model and a vision of the future.

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