In line with the strong taste for medievalism prevailant throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, the artist gained inspiration for a large number of his works from medieval tales, legends and saga's. Inspired by themes of love and death, such is found in the stories of for example Romeo and Juliette, Paolo and Francesca and Tristan and Isolde, the Romantic artist expressed the idea of love and faith only being attainable at the other side of the grave. Death was thus bestowed with a mystical aura and its image became more and more idealized as is perfectly illustrated by G. von Max's The Anatomist (Neue Pinakotheek, Munich).
Not only did a strong fascination for death pervade nineteenth century painting, sculpture, music, prose and poetry, Romanticism also revealed an unfolding interest in the nocturnal world of sleep, dreams, trances and para-normal phenomena. Von Max proved to be a child of his time and left behind a vast oeuvre in which classic literary themes are interlaced with new mystic ideas and contemporary theories regarding the subconscious.
The present lot is a perfect example of the dream-like quality in which the artist veiled his subject-matter. Von Max gained inspiration for the picture from Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) opera Tannhuser and the Song Contest on the Wartburg (Tannhuser und der Sngerkrieg auf Wartburg), which has been described as the composer's most medieval work.
The opera is staged in Thuriungia and the Wartburg at the beginning of the thirteenth century and tells the story of Tannhuser's and Elisabeth's doomed love. In order to win Elisabeth's love, Tannhuser competes in the song contest at the Wartburg, but scandalizes the gathering by conceiving love as a sensual experience. The young knight is expelled and ordered to go to Rome to seek Papal forgiveness.
The present lot depicts the Wartburg valley in autumn with mist enclosing the central figure of Elisabeth. Distraught at not finding Tannhuser among the pilgrims returning from Rome, the young Elisabeth falls to her knees and prays to the Virgin Mary to take her from this earth. Through Elisabeth's death Tannhuser finds salvation and is redeemed from his sins.
Von Max has chosen to depict a moment of great religious intensity with Elisabeth motionlessly kneeled in prayer. Not only does the martyr's pious gesture attribute to the painting's great mystical quality, the obscure setting with bare trees and distant contours of a medieval town also strongly enhance it's transcendental nature.