Picture of the Month




The Nuremberg Pharmacist's Family Leinker

by Johann Eberhard Ihle, early 1770s
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg (Inv. Gm 2319)

If you wonder why the picture looks so strange, that's because I pasted two photographs together. The right one was taken at a slight angle.

The first person that caught my eye was the woman at the left, whose dress immediately said "1740s" to me. But according to the plaque, the family portrait was painted "not long before 1776". I guess that the painting is owned by descendants (it's in the museum on loan) who have researched into who the depicted persons are, and that one of them died in 1776, while the small child was probably known to have been born around 1770.

Actually, the ruchings on the older girl's dress, her sleeve ruffles and the lace neck ruffles on all female family members look 1760ish. Compare, for instance, with Suzanna Beckford (1756), Elisabeth von Sachsen, or the Lady with a Shuttle. The low, simple hairdos (note how they all have a small ornament right above the middle of the forehead) also look conservative when compared to those fashionable in the late 1760s and early 70s, which tended to be higher and more complicated. For comparison, look at Henrietta Vernon (c.1766) or Mr and Mrs Custer (1773).

As if that wasn't enough to suggest that the family was conservative, let's look at the adult women: Sleeve cuffs! They'd gone out of fashion around 1750. It's not clearly visible in this small rendering, but their françaises have a double pleat along the front edge, a 1740s holdover from the waist-less robe battante of the 1730s. Dresses 30 years out of style? In a family wealthy enough to own what looks like a gilded coffee set and diamond jewellery, to have a huge slab (from memory, I'd say 200 by 130 cm) of a portrait painted? When people usually donned their best for the portrait? On a grandmother, maybe...

At first I thought these two were the mother and grandmother, but then it occurred to me that it was the white hair on one that made me think so. And the museum plaque, which mentioned three generations being depicted. But look at them: Does the right one really look older than the left? Wouldn't an elderly lady cover up her decolletage and ear a cap? Which of the two has more lines on her face? Maybe they are, in fact, the wife and sister of the patriarch.

It makes you wonder whether the painting was mid-dated by about 20 years. The early-teen girl dressed at the height of fashion, the older ones 10 years out of style: That would work. And the name the genealogist pinned on the patriarch at the keyboard would, in fact, belong to the small child.

Apart from all that, I most liked the shift sleeves which peek out from the sleeves. They prove that the engageantes were tacked to the shift sleeves rather than to those of the dress.

Pictures of the month archive