A Heritage Grains Adventure Through Europe, Part 1

German Grain Fields and Academy Artists

 After completing my recent trek along California’s El Camino Real and previous Mid-Atlantic exploration of Colonial heritage grains and agrarian art (see blog series here), I turned my attention to Europe as opportunity had arisen through Journey Tours of Wenatchee, Washington, to lead a group on a ten-day Baltic cruise preceded by several days in Germany. A special benefit was that my wife, Lois, was able to join me and also enjoy the fellowship of several longtime friends who accompanied us on the tour that commenced in Frankfurt, a. M. where our group convened for a remarkable summertime adventure. One of our first destinations was the Hessenpark Open Air Museum north of the Frankfurt about twenty-five miles and where over 100 historic buildings, many of them timber-frame structures dating from the 1700s, had been relocated and restored since 1974 in a substantial park covering 160 acres.  Hessenpark is divided into several village sections representing the surrounding state’s several regions, and contains several small farmsteads where heritage grains and fruits are raised. We found Kaiser Wilhelm and King of Pippin apples but I was most interested in the park’s maturing stands of ancient emmer, einkorn, and spelt, grains that are the prehistoric precursors of all heritage grains.

Hessenpark Heritage Grain Plots (left to right): Einkorn, Spelt, Emmer

Hessenpark Heritage Grain Plots (left to right): Einkorn, Spelt, Emmer

The entrance to Hessenpark features a substantial art gallery that showcases paintings, etchings, and other works that depict agrarian experience in central Germany. We learned that Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, and other major German cities hosted art academies that became widely known for interpretations of nature and rural life through new approaches to subject, color, and composition. Peter von Cornelius (1784-1867) and Wilhelm von Schadow (1789-1862) served successively as influential directors of the Düsseldorf Academy spanning the decades from 1819 to 1859 when Kunstakademie artists painted finely detailed and often fanciful, allegorical landscapes that significantly influenced many prominent American Hudson River painters including George Caleb Bingham and William Morris Hunt.  Cornelius and van Schadow were among the earliest members of Lukasbund (Brothers of Luke), derisively called The Nazarenes for their close-cropped hair and pious lifestyle, who had banded together in Rome as young men in order to grow spiritually and rediscover the nearly lost techniques used by Renaissance Italian masters for monumental fresco painting.  The Nazarenes chose to paint Old and New Testament religious scenes with timeless messages and selected the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis for their first major commission which was installed as five sections in 1817 for the banqueting hall of Rome’s Palazzo Zuccari (present Bibliotheca Hertziana), residence of the Prussian Consul-General Jacob Bartholdy. Cornelius’s Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream features a shield of grain stalks to represent the young prophet’s explanation of the coming seasons of abundant harvests following by the lean years, and The Seven Years of Plenty by Philipp Veit (1793-1877) shows a seated maiden and children surrounded by fruit and golden sheaves of grain. Known later as the Casa Bartholdy Frescoes, the paintings and their creators became famous and in the 1880s were transferred to Berlin’s National Gallery. 

Casa Bartholdy Frescoes, Philipp Veit, The Seven Years of Plenty (1817), Peter von Cornelius, Joseph Interprets Pharoah’s Dream (1817), Old National Gallery, Berlin

Casa Bartholdy Frescoes, Philipp Veit, The Seven Years of Plenty (1817), Peter von Cornelius, Joseph Interprets Pharoah’s Dream (1817), Old National Gallery, Berlin