Friedrich Mortiz von Brabeck’s Enlistment of Local Craftsman in Outfitting Söder Chateau.
S. C. [?] Horstig, “Ueber Söder, den Landsitz des Hrn. von Brabek im Hildesheimischen,” Der Neue Teutsche Merkur (1799) 1:175–80.
Söder, the estate of Herr von Brabeck near Hildesheim
(Excerpt from a letter)
Please do not expect a description of Söder, my friend. A foreigner has already provided such for the French, or rather: the French-reading public, and soon it will be introduced to the Germans as well in the translation of Herr Konsistorialrath Horstig in Bückeburg. (The title of this piece, which our readers probably already know from several literary reviews, is Söder, par S. S. Roland [Herr von Sannes is the real author] Göttingen 1797. 216 pages in 8vo.
Even if one cannot agree with everything the author, who is certainly knowledgeable with respect to art, says in some of the episodic parts of this work, one will doubtless find his descriptions for the most part quite instructive and completely satisfactory, and the work does indeed deserve to be adapted for Germans by a connoisseur and published by the Voss company in Leipzig in a tastefully appropriate edition.) I will be glad to relate to you observations which you will, however, not find in this work and which I myself had the opportunity to make during a four-week stay at this beautiful locale.
The owner of the paradise Söder is a genuine patriot in the sense that he presumes his own countrymen, namely, the Germans, to be capable of everything which our wealthy and great were accustomed to attributing only to the French or English. Everything one admires at his residence represents a mature, charming fruit of domestic handiwork; the plasterwork on his chateau is the only ornamentation prepared by Italian hands. [Francesco Antonio] Tadei worked here with tastefulness one rarely encounters in so pure and unadulterated a form, because the owner himself guided him thus, whereby all tasteless ostentation through which ornamentations evoke the approval of the common masses had to be completely banned here.
Our artists are often spoiled and misguided by the false taste of those for whom they work. Both the noble well as the common rabble gape in wonderment at grotesque and convoluted ornamentation. But a person must have learned to see in order to admire noble, pure simplicity. Most artists too often work not as they themselves would like, but rather often in a way they hope will prompt the masses to admire and gape at their work in wonderment. Our artists think less about the correctness of a drawing than about brilliant coloring and a mannered effect. Gölner in Kassel provides yet another demonstration of this tendency.
How striking is the difference between several of his paintings I saw in Kassel, and the Venus he painted for Brabeck! Fired up by the idea of working for a connoisseur, one who would not fail to reward his every effort, his zealousness for the painting soared during his work on it. The Venus with which he commenced his work was no doubt begun with an anxious, timid brush; soon, however, his own satisfaction with his painting fired him up, and in this fire Amor was born.
What a shame the artist did not have more to paint while in this mood! It was Brabeck’s own inspirational fire that prompted this mood from afar. One can only imagine the result had the artist been able to persuade the landgrave to allow him to paint this picture in Söder itself, under Brabeck’s very eyes! —
All the pieces of art in wood were done by Brabeck’s own woodworkers. Through guidance and practice, he trained his rural workers such that they acquired the grandest artistic skill, producing thereby not only all the parquets in the most precious woods, mahogany, satinwood, etc. according to the desseins [designs] of the plasterwork of the upper ceiling, but also all writing desks, bedframes, etc. in precisely this harmonious taste throughout the entire chateau. The shapes of the tables and chairs are different in every room, and in this particular craft Söder can more than compete with any and all English wares of this kind.
[Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Der Tischler mit seinen Gesellen (the cabinet-maker and his journeymen), Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI (Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774), plate 21:]
[Joiner, carpenter, and wood turner (“Schreiner”, “Zimmermann,” “Drechsler,” in Christoff Weigel, Abbildung Der Gemein-Nützlichen Haupt-Stände Von denen Regenten Und ihren So in Friedens- als Kriegs-Zeiten zugeordneten Bedienten an biß auf alle Künstler und Handwercker Nach Jede Ambts- und Beruffs-Verrichtungen meist nach dem Leben gezeichnet und in Kupfer gebracht etc. [Regenspurg 1698], illustrations following p. 430, 434, 440):]
In this sense, Brabeck deserves the most exquisite appreciation from all true Germans, and — to be imitated by all estate owners who have the proper sensibility. His own considerable knowledge notwithstanding, however, he did not always trust solely his own eyes to be capable of true and impartial judgment of what might constitute the most favorable effects. Here he came up with a source of help available to anyone in a similar situation, one that merits being called a true appeal to common sense.
Among the people surrounding Brabeck, several possess both pure sensibility and a naturally good and unspoiled eye. Whenever a piece of furniture has been finished, he places it before them and is keen to note its effect on them. Much has already been ennobled and perfected through precisely this procedure. Such is also approximately how Rubens was accustomed to engage his maid. If something in his painting did not please her, he was quite prepared to believe it should be altered. —
In Söder I also had the opportunity to admire an extremely cost-effective way of producing what is otherwise the quite costly wood carvings around the frames of paintings and mirrors. The French have long been familiar with this procedure (the English have similarly long perfected the method. Indeed, the Wedgwood factory Etruria delivers such by the carton full.
But in Germany, too, attempts have been made, among which we might mention the local court sculptor, Herr Klauer), and we ourselves have become better acquainted with it through several French emigré artists. The woodworker produces a wooden frame quite straightforwardly and simply, and then all the ornamentation in pearls, rosettes, etc. are applied with a claylike material that is poured into pure forms.
[“Spiegler,” in Weigel, Abbildung Der Gemein-Nützlichen Haupt-Stände, following p. 402:]
I can recommend Manier, an artist who is currently working in silver, to all enthusiasts. He takes care of all ornamentation and gilding in the best possible fashion. A frame whose carvings might cost several Thaler costs but an equal number of Groschen in this method.
I must also point out that Herr von Brabeck has utterly banned arabesque stylistic elements from his decorations, and the variety that does indeed reign throughout the decorations in his castle demonstrates that one must by no means view this particular decorative element as unavoidable. Every plafond, every piece of door molding, every plaster ledge is different.
How desirable it would be for a discriminating art dealer — out of a patriotic zeal rather than mere commercial speculation — to publish an exhaustive book on this tasteful estate Söder so that rich estate owners who perhaps do not possess the leisure or talent of Herr von Brabeck might possess a guide by which to train their own workers according to this model.
Every decoration, however, would need to be reproduced on a grand scale to make it truly useful for imitation, and all ceiling pieces, door pieces, the tasteful and various forms of the meubles [furniture], the paneled floors and eyelets — everything would have to be united. (The famous and tasteful eccentric Horace Walpole has implemented something of this sort in Strawberry Hill, not far from London, of which one of our most popular garden calendars for 1800 will provide an instructive suite of reduced pages in illustrations).
[To open a gallery of both exterior and interior views of Walpole’s estate Strawberry Hill, click on the image below; given Horstig’s remarks here, these illustrations presumably resemble what Caroline experienced at Chateau Söder:]
Such an undertaking could easily cost 30 to 40,000 Thaler, but were it perfectly executed, the editor could doubtless anticipate appropriate compensation. Admittedly one cannot really contemplate such an undertaking just now. Perhaps the olive branch of peace gives occasion for more proximate hope in this regard.