Peter Cornelius


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(b Düsseldorf, 23 Sept. 1783; d Berlin, 6 Mar. 1867).

German painter, draughtsman, and teacher. He trained at the Düsseldorf Academy, where his father was a teacher, and from the beginning of his career his primary ambition was to produce monumental wall paintings. He moved to Rome in 1811 and the following year became a member of the Nazarenes. In 1819 he was called to Munich by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later Ludwig I), for whom he worked extensively, notably on a series of frescos in the Ludwigskirche (1836–9), including a Last Judgement that is larger than Michelangelo's in the Sistine Chapel. During his early years in Munich he also spent a good deal of time in Düsseldorf, teaching at the Academy. In 1841 he moved to Berlin to work for Frederick William IV of Prussia. His major commission there was for a series of frescos in a mausoleum for the royal family. The project was officially cancelled after the revolution in 1848, but Cornelius continued to work on his drawings for it for the rest of his life. From 1853 to 1861 he lived in Rome again. His style is rather self-conscious in its desire to revive the heroic pictorial language of Raphael and Michelangelo, and combine it with the didactic philosophy of German Romanticism, but his work has an impressive epic sweep. Cornelius was director of the academies at Düsseldorf (1821–5) and Munich (1825–41) and he helped to make these institutions the most important centres in Germany for the teaching of history painting. His work was a major influence in promoting a revival of fresco decoration in Germany and his reputation in the field was such that in 1841 he visited London to give advice on the projected mural decorations for the Houses of Parliament.

Subjects: Art.

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