Wolfgang Heimbach was a unique painter: although he was deaf-mute, he was able to read several languages and developed an international career. He was born in Lower Saxony, studied painting in Holland and worked the major part of his life in Germany and in the Danish capital Copenhagen. He was an original painter, both stylistically and in in the choice of his subjects.
Our portrait most probably represents Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (with that typical Habsburg physical appearance), the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands between 1647 and 1656. Heimbach must have painted this portrait either circa 1640/42 in Vienna or in 1651 in Brussels.
About Wolfgang Heimbach
Ovelgönne 1613 – 1678 Oldenburg; (certain biographers think he was born earlier circa 1600/1605).
Both Ovelgönne and Oldenburg lie in N. Germany, in Lower Saxony:
Ovelgönne lies some 40 km NW of Bremen, Oldenburg lies some 30 km SW of Ovelgönne and 35 W of Bremen.
Portrait and genre painter.
Heimbach was deaf-mute, but he compensated this by being able to read and write several languages. He stayed unmarried. He had an international career and was active in present-day Germany, Holland, Austria, Italy and Denmark. In his youth and during his early career Heimbach was sponsored by Count Anton Günther (1583 – 1667) from Oldenburg.
Heimbach studied in Germany and in Holland, probably in Haarlem and in Utrecht, in circles of the genre scene painters Willem Duyster and of Pieter Codde.
He returned to his native Lower Saxony in 1636/37.
He was in Vienna between 1640 and 1642.
He then travelled to Italy: in 1644 he was in Naples, in 1645 in Rome (working for the Pamphilj) and between 1646 and 1651 in Florence (working for the de Medici).
He travelled back North in 1651 over Bohemia, Prague, Nuremberg and Brussels.
In 1652 and 1653 he was court painter in Oldenburg in Lower Saxony of Count Anton Günther.
Between 1653 and 1662 he was mostly active as a court painter for King Frederik III (1609 – 1670) and Queen Sophie-Amalie in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Form 1663 until 1669 he was back in Oldenburg, except for a short spell in 1667 in Copenhagen. After Count Anton Günther’s death in 1667 Oldenburg fell in Danish hands (until 1773).
From 1670 until his death in 1678 Heimbach worked for Christophe Bernhard von Galen (1606 – 1678), the infamous Prince-Bishop of Münster in Germany.
About the identification of our horseman
Our horseman closely resembles a portrait of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, which was painted by Heimbach in 1642. This portrait on copper is today at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The physiognomy of our cavalier shows indeed typical Habsburg characteristics: the full, hanging lower lip and the long narrow under jaw. The curly hair and the heavy bags under the eyes also remind of the Archduke.
Heimbach must have painted this portrait of the Archduke either in Vienna on his way to Italy around 1640/1642 or in Brussels on his way back to his native Lower Saxony in 1651.
About Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria
Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (1614 – 1662) was the youngest son of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II and the brother of his successor Ferdinand III.
After having served as a military commander he became the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands (Flanders) between 1647 and 1656. As an Austrian Habsburg prince he had been appointed in this office as there were no more Spanish Habsburg princes left. The Archduke did not enjoy this position in Flanders, especially not after the Treaty of Westphalen of 1648, the end of the Eighty Year’s War with the official recognition of an independant Dutch Republic. Most of his energy and money went into his art collection, especially of paintings: he spent a fortune acquiring both Flemish and Italian paintings.
After nine years King Philip IV of Spain finally let Leopold Wilhelm return to Vienna in 1656; things would only get worse in Flanders but the Archduke never returned.
His brother, the emperor died in 1657 and his 18-year old son (the Archduke’s nephew) Leopold I, succeeded him. The archduke died in 1662.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because these small equestrian portraits are very sought after.
Because Heimbach is such an interesting painter: Dutch by training, Italian-influenced, but still firmly rooted on the border between Germany and Denmark.