Count Lothar Franz von Schönborn (1655-1729), Prince bishop of Bamberg, Elector and Archbishop of Mainz, and as such Chancellor of the Reich, was the second most powerful man after the German Emperor. In 1705, he began collecting paintings and ten years later, in 1715, he installed part of his growing collection for the first time in Castle Weissenstein in Pommersfelden (Upper Franconia), which he had built between 1711 and 1718. Weissenstein was to become the place for official functions. Another part of the collection was preserved in the family castle Gaibach in Lower Franconia, which served as his private residence. A catalogue of this part of the Schönborn collection was published by its director, the painter Jan Joost van Cossiau (1664-1734) in 1721.
Count Lothar Franz liked to compare his collection of about 1000 paintings to the Imperial collections in Vienna and to the Palatine collection in Düsseldorf. As early as 1715 he expressed the wish to have a choice selection engraved. This may have prompted Rudolf Bys (1662-1738), his curator and court artist, to prepare an inventory of the collection for private circulation. Published in 1719, it has proven to be most reliable and trustworthy. Nevertheless, the count withdrew Bys’s catalogue shortly thereafter. Today only two copies are known to exist, one in the library in Ansbach, the former library of the castle, the other one in Bamberg. (Despite its rarity, Bys’s catalogue is known in the scholarly world and always quoted in more recent literature discussing paintings in the Schönborn collection.)
Katharina Bott now re-publishes Bys’s catalogue with its lengthy, laudatory introduction, updates the location and bibliography of the paintings, although not always up to the more recent literature (John Ingamells’s catalogue of the Wallace collection of 1992 would be preferable to the 1920 catalogue she cites), and at times rather haphazardly. (One might also have expected a reference to the exhibition held in 1989 in Nürnberg, Die Grafen von Schönborn.)There are concordances at the end to Bys (Bott and Bys numbers correspond only through 146, the paintings in the gallery), and to Theodor von Frimmel, who published the last catalogue of the Schönborn collection in 1894; an index lists artists and subjects by page rather than inventory numbers, and omits present locations of paintings sold in 1867.
The revised, annotated edition necessitated a renumbering of the paintings in Pommersfelden, which now add up to 481 works, and their measurements were converted from the Nürnberg Schuh (which equals 30 cm or about 11 inches) to the metric system. Bott also included the opinions given by Ludwig Burchard in a letter to Ernestina, Countess of Schönborn-Wiesentheid on 28 June 1934. Horst Vey supplied additional information on Anthony van Dyck.
Katharina Bott renders a great service to the reader by reproducing 250 paintings from photographs taken between 1934 and 1937 by Foto Marburg. Two illustrations of interior views of the Galerie and the Marmor-Saal in Castle Weissenstein by Salomon Kleiner, published in 1728, give remarkably clear images of the paintings and illustrate their dense, frame-to-frame installation.
Bys’s inventory follows the order of the rooms where the paintings were exhibited (rather than in alphabetical order by artist as Frimmel’s 1894 catalogue), beginning with the principal room of the collection, the actual gallery (Galerie), followed by the Marble Hall (Marmor-Saal), the audience room (Audienz-Zimmer), the private living quarters (Retirade), the bed chamber of the Elector, the small adjoining room (today’s ‘Blumenzimmer’ or ‘room of flowers’), the chapel and additional living rooms. The catalogue ends with a list of the ceiling decorations, among them in the grand staircase by Rudolf (Rudolph) Bys himself (Bott 482-97).
The majority of the paintings in the Schönborn collection are by Dutch and Flemish artists, about half as many are from the Italian school, very few are by German artists, and only about a dozen by French artists. Among painters represented by more than five paintings we find Bruegel, most likely younger members of the Brueghel family, Van Dyck, Honthorst, Rembrandt, Rubens, Weenix, and Wouwerman. For the Italian school we find names like Albani, Giordano, and Titian, for the German school Bys himself as well as Hulsman and Seiter. More than half the subjects represent mythology; the religious paintings hung primarily in the Elector’s bed chamber, and genre scenes, landscapes together with portraits were found more readily in the private rooms.
A comparison between Bys’s catalogue and Frimmel’s 1894 edition shows that two thirds of the works listed in 1719 are still in Pommersfelden. It also makes clear that Frimmel was able to identify only about half of the works Bys had described, since the latter’s catalogue was unknown to him. Katharina Bott has now corrected this with her present publication. An additional benefit of her investigation was the realization that fewer paintings than believed previously were auctioned on 17-18 May 1867 in Paris due to financial difficulties. Many of the paintings sold at that time, often still lifes, came from the main gallery, others from the private rooms or Retirade. All are clearly indicated by Bott and, when known, their new location is listed (for example Rembrandt’s St. Paul Reading is now in Stuttgart [Bott 69]; a still life by De Heem is in Sarasota, FL [Bott 9]; a Gerard Dou belongs to the Staedel in Frankfurt [inv. no. 1082; Catalogue 1971, p. 21; Bott 196], and an Adrian van der Werff is part of the Wallace collection, London [inv. no. P165; Bott 195]). One other Rembrandt painting of an old man in a fur hat Burchard downgraded to an old copy (Bott 347).
A few remarks on Flemish paintings may be added here: St. Francis Xavier Visiting the Emperor of Japan (Bott 81), according to Bys by Van Dyck, Ludwig Burchard attributed to an anonymous Flemish artist of c.1660, possibly Jan Erasmus Quellinus. Fifty years later, in 1985, Julius Held associated the painting with Jan Boeckhorst. (The work was included in the Boeckhorst exhibition in Münster, but due to its poor condition not on view; see Jan Boeckhorst 1604-1668, Medewerker van Rubens, Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte, exh. cat. 1990, no. 15). The early Rubens painting of Caritas (Bott 83) is also known in a drawn copy by Jan de Bisschop (New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library) where the figures are placed in front of a much larger architectural setting that includes two columns and an archway, partly obscured by a bunched piece of drapery. De Bisschop’s drawing therefore suggests that the painting may have been severely cut at the top and the bases of the columns and part of the drapery were overpainted.
The representation of Rinaldo and Armida (Bott 163) according to Bys was by the Flemish artist Peter Thys the Elder (1624-77) rather than Anthony van Dyck. The composition is also known in a painted version once in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (auctioned at Sotheby Parke-Bernet in 1982 with an attribution to Erasmus Quellinus), and a drawing by Anthony van Dyck in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA (see Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens, exh. cat. Wellesley 1993-94, cat.no. 13. According to J. Douglas Stewart the drawing is a copy; see also his article on Peter Thys in Apollo, CXLV, January 1997, pp. 37-43).
The two paintings in the audience room that Bys listed as by Anthony van Dyck, Achilles Among the Daughters of Lycomedes and Amaryllis and Mirtillo (Bott 175-76), Burchard re-attributed in 1934 to Jan Boeckhorst; today they are once again considered to be by Van Dyck (see Anthony van Dyck, Washington, DC, 1990-91, exh. cat., no. 60 and fig. 1).
In conclusion, more than two-thirds of the paintings Rudolf Bys listed in his inventory of 1719 have now been identified. (In 1894 Frimmel was able to correctly attribute about half of them.) The renumbering of the collection established that only one-fifth of the paintings were auctioned in Paris in 1867, predominantly from the Dutch and Flemish schools and not about half, as was feared at one time; only about two dozen works can no longer be identified, while about one tenth is lost. Today, Castle Weissenstein in Pommersfelden is reknown as one of the largest private collections in Germany.