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Januarius Zick

* 1730 – † 1797

Crucifixion, Golgotha

Oil on canvas

Labelled at bottom left (on the rock): Johannes. Cap: 19 V 24, 25, 26 / Lucä Cap. 23, V 36, 38

The scene is that described in the Gospels of Saint John1 and Saint Luke2, as the reference to the relevant Bible verses in the painting itself makes clear. Michael Brötje, who makes a persuasive case for a link with Anthony van Dyck’s Crucifixion in the cathedral of St. Rombout in Mechelen, dates the finished painting between 1770 and 1775.3 The roots of the powerful chiaroscuro effects that are a hallmark of Zick’s works can certainly be traced back to Dutch and Flemish models. This Golgotha scene in which Christ is staged as a lone figure of radiance is likewise defined by powerful lighting effects. The dying man is surrounded by his weeping mother Mary, the two thieves crucified alongside him, and several armed men, some of whom are mere onlookers, while others are casting lots for Christ’s clothes. Christ himself seems already close to death and to heaven. His light beams down on those who may yet hope for salvation, while the soldiers, being busy with their own greed and their ignominious game of dice, are banished to the gloom. The work is an outstanding example of Zick’s mastery of his medium, as is evident in his subtle treatment of the drapery or the scenes played out in the darker reaches of the canvas. Thus, within a relatively narrow space, he creates a multi-figural, richly detailed composition that weaves together complex narrative and experiential strands. The son of a fresco painter who initially learned the trade of bricklayer, Zick had a natural affinity to wall paintings from birth.4 While his father followed mainly Baroque models, preferably the Asam brothers,5 Januarius Zick favoured Rembrandt, whose works he studied closely from mid-century onwards. What is unusual from today’s point of view is that before embarking on the obligatory tour of Italy, Zick first went to Paris.6 There he copied a number of works, especially those of Antoine Watteau.7 He also made the acquaintance of the engraver Christian von Mechel, with whom he travelled via Switzerland to Rome, together with Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1779). After his return, Zick rose in prominence, winning widespread recognition as a painter. He soon made a name for himself with murals and panel paintings for Schloss Engers near Neuwied,8 Ottobeuren Abbey,9 and the chapel of the orphanage in Essen-Steele.10 Being well connected among potential patrons both sacred and secular, he suffered no shortage of commissions, most of them in southern Germany. In 1762 Zick was appointed painter to the court of the Elector of Trier and moved to Ehrenbreitstein, where he lived out the rest of his days.

  1. John 19, Verses 24–26.

  2. Luke 23, Verses 36–38.

  3. Brötje, Michael, Zur künstlerischen Aussage der Werke des Januarius Zick, in exh. cat. Januarius Zick, Gemälde und Zeichnungen. Städtische Galerie in der Reithalle, Paderborn 2001, p. 45. Citing both palette and style, however, the author of the catalogue of works, Josef Straßer, proposes 1760 as the date of painting. Cf. Straßer, Josef, Januarius Zick 1730–1797. Gemälde, Graphik, Fresken, Weißenhorn 1994, p. 375.

  4. Johannes (Johann) Zick (1702 Lachen–1762 Würzburg) was active in southern Germany in the mid-eighteenth century; his commissions included work on the Würzburger Residenz.

  5. Cosmas Damian Asam (1686–1739) and Egid Quirin Asam (1692–1750).

  6. Zick is known to have been in Paris in 1757.

  7. Die Entdeckung der Wirklichkeit, Deutsche Malerei und Zeichnung 1765–1815, exh. cat. Museum Georg Schäfer Schweinfurt 2003, p. 218.

  8. The frescos were executed in 1760.

  9. Altarpiece for the abbey church in 1766.

  10. Fürstin Franziska Christine Stiftung, founded in 1764.

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