- Contemporary painting of the musicians at the Ducal Chapel of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1770, by Leopold August Abel
19.5 x 24cms, probably painted at Ludwigslust, 1770, framed and glazed (overall c.40 x 45cms), laid down on card (partly lifted, slightly affecting the inscription on verso), some cockling of the vellum, some minor surface loss, mainly affecting the background rather than the musicians
This is an attractive and detailed group-portrait of the famous musicians and singers at the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in north-east Germany in 1770. Eighteenth-century iconographical sources showing musical ensembles are of the greatest rarity at auction; the Ducal Chapel at Ludwigslust, where this was probably painted, was one of the finest in Germany.
Leopold August Abel (1718-1794), brother of the famous composer and gamba-player Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), was a violinist and miniaturist, who in 1770, became first violinist of the Hofkapelle. In the same year Carl Westenholz was appointed Kapellmeister, having recently married the prima donna soprano there, Barbara Lucietta Affabili. These new appointments possibly occasioned the present group portrait, executed by Leopold Abel himself (who appears as the leftmost violinist). Each figure is a distinct and carefully painted individual portrait, with the painting showing up to 6 male and 3 female singers, with up to 4 violinists, a cellist and a bass-player, 2 flautists 2 oboists, a bassoonist, 2 horn-players and a harpsichordist (playing a wing-shaped spinet), presumably the Kapellmeister Westenholz. The lady in the centre is probably Luise Friederike, Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1722-1791), a keen musician and collector herself, here wearing the badge and the sash of the Russian Order of St Catherine. To the far left are found the three court trumpeters and timpanist, in their distinctive blue Ludwigslust livery. This ensemble accords fairly closely with Marpurg's description of the Hofkapelle in 1757. Many other outstanding singers and instrumentalists were members of the chapel, one of the finest in Germany, for which composers such as Westenholz, J.F. Reichardt, J.G. Naumann, F.L. Benda and F.A. Rossetti composed oratorios. For another, more sophisticated, representation of this ensemble in 1770, by Georg David Matthieu, see MGG (1965), 12, 409-410.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr Samantha Owens and Teri Noel Towe in our cataloguing of this lot.