Botticelli in Rysiowice

Published on: 13 / 12 / 2009

Authors of this entry:
  • Magdalena Palica

On 22nd of August 1929 in his letter to Joseph Duveen about some paintings from the counts von Ingenheim’s collection Bernard Berenson wrote „Even the poor photograph suffices to assure me beyond all question that the two panels are by none less than Masolino. As he was Masaccio’s master you were right in seeing resemblance to your Madonna by the latter. Do your darndest to get this Masolino".

Beside the paintings of Masolino (Archangel Gabriel and Virgin Mary) ) the famous art historian recognized also other works of Italian Renaissance masters decorating walls of the Ingenheim family’s palace in Rysiowice (Reisewitz) by Nysa (Neisse). In the second half of 1920’s, probably because of the global economic crisis, the family decided to sell those valuable works of art, opening their door to representatives of art trade companies, including the famous American company Duveen Brothers. Long-standing negotiations with numerous art dealers concerning the sale of Botticelli's tondo depicting Virgin Mary with a Child, St. John the Baptist and Angel failed to result in a transaction, due to the owners’ excessive price demands. During World War II by order of the regional conservator the painting was secured in the storehouse in Kamieniec Ząbkowicki (Kamenz), from where it was transported to the National Museum in Warsaw in 1946.

The impressive collection of art stored in the palace in Rysiowice until World War II was created by Gustav Adolf von Ingenheim. Born in 1789, he was a son of Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm II and a lady-in-waiting, Julia von Voss. Brought up in the court circles, Gustav Adolf was destined for a clerical career, during which he reached a position of a regular privy counselor in service of his stepbrother, king Friedrich Wilhelm III.

After the last phase of Napoleonic wars had ended count von Ingenheim was demobilized and decided to pursue his true passion – art collecting. His keen interest in Italian art, reinforced by his studies and a journey to Italy with one of the most renowned specialists in that matter at the time, Aloys Hirt, resulted in including the count in the group of experts who were charged with the task of purchasing Italian works of art for the newly established museums in Berlin. Remaining in royal service between 1816 and 1826 count von Ingenheim amassed an impressive collection of paintings and antiquities at the same time, while financially supporting several artists as well. Gustav Adolf von Ingenheim was inspired by a popular idea among the 19th century collectors of creating an ideal art gallery in which each epoch would be appropriately represented, yet his greatest passion was the painting of Italian Renaissance. Almost half of around 140 paintings he collected were works of Italian artists. An analysis of the collection, including verifying the former attributions, proves Gustav Adolfs’s insight into old and contemporary masters as well as his trained eye. A perfect evidence of this are the masterpieces he managed to acquire for his collection, including a tondo by Botticelli, which remains the pride of the Gallery of Foreign Painting of the National Museum in Warsaw today. The paintings of Italian Primitives are also worth mentioning, in particular two altar sections originating from the sacristy of the Florentine church of Santa Croce (St. Francis before the Sultan and The Death of the Knight of Celano) by Taddeo Gaddi, ), both of which were admired by Vasari (as a work of Giotto) and Bernardo Daddi's Madonna,, eliciting well-deserved admiration of Bernard Berenson. Ingenheim also possessed works of such masters as Giovanni Bellini, Masolino da Panicale, Fra Angelico or Filippino Lippi, exhibited in prestigious American collections nowadays. The count was well acquainted with the new aesthetic tendencies of the beginning of the 19th century – among the works of art he collected there were also examples of cassone painting, at the time only beginning to gain the recognition of collectors. A fine supplement of the outstanding collection of Old Masters were the works of contemporary artists, which Ingenheim at times commissioned himself (for instance from Franz Catel or Martin von Rohdena), including Italian landscapes and biblical scenes.

Count von Ingenheim amassed his collection during his journeys to Italy. Several years’ stay in Rome resulted in numerous acquaintances, also in Vatican circles. He took part as a spectator in church ceremonies, e. g. in a Corpus Christi procession, he was also invited as a special guest for visiting Capitoline museums by the light of burning torches. After the death of pope Pius VII the count managed to acquire at least one painting from the pope’s inheritance for his own collection. He also used to buy paintings and antiquities in Roman antique shops and in residences of important families, e. g. Colonna or Vescovali. Ingenheim built a collection of antique sculptures and vessels as well, enriched during his sojourns in Naples. It consisted of about 180 items, mainly Roman antiques: marbles and southern-Italian pottery, but also some Etruscan and Egyptian items. Over forty of them, sold by the collector himself, are now stored in Altes Museum in Berlin.

Aside of his keenly built artistic collections, Ingenheim was also renowned for his cultural activities and supporting of artists and researchers. For many years he financially supported Friedrich Müller – a painter and poet living in Rome. He provided for and cared about the education of orphaned Buonaventura Genelli who came from a family of artists. Ingenheim introduced the young painter to famous artists and used to visit him at work, supervising his progress in painting. The count often paid visits to artists in their studios, e. g. he visited Martin von Rohden while he was painting a canvas with the waterfalls of Tivoli. Moritz Daniel Oppenheim

and Franz Ludwig Catel could also count on his support as Ingenheim not only ordered their paintings himself, but also used his contacts at the Prussian court to find more purchasers for their works. Making use of his relationship with the Prussian monarch, Ingenheim sought a financial research grant for a well-known archeologist, Eduard Gherard.


Close rapports between the count and the artists seem to be confirmed by his numerous portraits. Most famous ones were painted by Johann Erdmann Hummel.

A bust of Ingehneim sculpted by Rauch (with whom the count was acquainted for many years) survived until today. Ingenheim also posed for Thorvaldsen, which is known from the preserved correspondence between them. Ingenheim was portrayed by sculptor Emil Wolff and painters Wilhelm Hensel and Paul Habelmann as well. Count von Ingenheim is often mentioned in the diaries of his contemporary artists. He is described as an excellent host of his salons in Berlin and Rome, where by the table laden with food and drink it was possible to attend lectures and concerts. For instance the diary of Schinkel mentions Ingenheim very frequently. In the notes from September 1824 we find the following passage: “We woke up early to set off on a trip to Pompeii, where count von Ingenheim was giving a big breakfast. (We visited the Street of Tombs, houses with wall-paintings and mosaics, the theatre and the forum). In the so-called gladiators’ barracks, which are now considered to be a market square, stands a huge weeping willow, and a long marble table underneath it, on which the breakfast was served and eaten outdoors. There was a lot of foreign wines and champagne on ice. The breakfast filled us up for the whole day.”

After Ingenheim’s death, in accordance with his decision, the art collection was divided between his four children. Because of premature deaths of two of them, the collection became a property of brothers Julius and Franz Ingenheim, who settled in Silesia: in Jelenia Góra and Rysiowice by Nysy. In the proximity of the palace in Rysiowice there is a now devastated family chapel where the founder of the family was buried, as it is inscribed on the broken gravestone.

The article is based on the PhD dissertation: M. Palica, Gustav Adolf von Ingenheim (1789-1855) - kolekcjoner i mecenas, Wrocław 2009 (typescript in the Art History Institute of Wrocław University).

Project co-financed by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy under Government Project – Civic Benefit Fund.
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