Masterful Research at the Library of Congress  cover

Masterful Research at the Library of Congress

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To celebrate my newly-minted and publicly searchable catalog records in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog at the Library of Congress, I was invited to share one of my research adventures. Here is one I found particularly satisfying!


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Masterful Research at the Library of Congress

A Blank Wall

Scholars work very hard to make a singular discovery even though their study often yields dead ends. Yet, sometimes we are fortunate to find answers much more easily than anticipated.

While it seems that common sense and chance prevail, as Pasteur noted, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” In doing research on the collection of old master drawings in the Library of Congress, I had come up against some blank walls in my field of Italian drawings. Becoming discouraged at this impasse, I decided to look at some of the unattributed nineteenth-century sheets.

Jesus Appearing To His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee

Jesus Appearing To His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee

Public Domain

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Stylistic Variances

One drawing, in particular, intrigued me because of its basis in Renaissance drawing technique and style: a pen and ink study of Christ with his Disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

Because the drawing was inscribed “Sonntag/d.16 h/ 56./ 18 JCS [?] 56,” a note in the old record prompted investigating William Sonntag as the possible creator. However, with other inscriptions in German on the drawing, it was soon evident that Sonntag translated as “Sunday” and did not refer to the author of the drawing. I observed that the sheet fit stylistically into the German Nazarene movement, which rejected the contemporary style of the mid-1800s in favor of a return to early Renaissance Italian art.

Secret Letters

The monogram of letters on top of each other had a prominent “S” so I started looking at Nazarene painters whose initials included an “S” and found one of its most notable: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (Leipzig 1794-Dresden 1872).

I immediately found that the monogram was his and appeared on numerous drawings, often with a date (1856), as in this case. In comparing the handwriting on his other drawings, I could be certain that this drawing was by Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Public Domain

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Helping the Illiterate

From there it was easy to learn about Schnorr’s important work on an Illustrated Bible, one that came out of a 40-year Nazarene project to produce a book that could educate the literate and illiterate by bringing biblical subjects to life.

Schnorr’s project, Die Bibel in Bildern, was published in thirty parts between 1852 and 1860 (published by Georg Wigand in Leipzig in 1860) and republished many times thereafter. The bible contained over 240 illustrations depicting both Old and New Testament scenes. Many of Schnorr’s drawings carry numbers that correspond to those of the illustrations in Die Bibel. Christ Appearing to His Disciples and the Miraculous Draft of Fishes corresponds to this drawing, which is numbered “224.” Often, as here, the artist transcribed the biblical passage being illustrated; this work portrays John 21:7.

Masterful Research

Masterful Research

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As the Library of Congress’ extensive holdings of bibles includes Die Bibel in Bildern, I was intrigued by the opportunity to compare the original drawing with the finished wood engraving.

For me it was exciting to make a discovery in a field other than my own, which opened up an area I knew little about and enjoyed stepping into.

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