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Frederic Leighton, by means of his long-standing presidency of the Royal Academy of Arts, was doubtless one of the most esteemed and commercially successful artists of the Victorian age. His artistic training was exceptional from his contemporaries in so far as it was entirely spent abroad.
The four years spent in Frankfurt at the Städel were in his own words the formative ones, especially the second phase after the revolutionary upheavals spent under the supervision of Edward Jakob von Steinle, who had been appointed professor for history painting in 1850, from 1850 to 1852 were of immense importance to Leighton.
The attachment between teacher and pupil, which lasted a lifetime ending only in Steinle’s death in 1886, is proven not only by their correspondence but stated also by Leighton in the later stage of his career towards journalists and early biographers.
However, on taking a closer look at the oeuvres of both artists the lasting influence of Steinle on Leighton seems more than arguable. The questions resulting thereof are what remains from the artistic training under Steinle in Leighton’s later works and why does Leighton still refer persistently in later days to Steinle as the decisive influence in his artistic career.
Steinle, who was the son of a well-off Viennese engraver, studied a few years at the local Academy. However, he received his formative aspects of his artistic training in Rome where he came under the influence of the leading Nazarene artist, Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Steinle, unlike Overbeck born into a Catholic family, found in Nazarene art the suitable means to express his faith, in which he fervently believed, through his art and to relate it to the spectator. Although in the 1830s he departed gradually from the hard-edged drawing style of the Nazarenes, some of their distinctive hallmarks are still obvious in Steinle’s later oeuvre, the most obvious being his religious subjects.
In comparison Leighton’s artistic training and successive development was much more diverse. After his departure from Frankfurt, Leighton lived for three years in Rome, travelling Italy widely to study the art of the Renaissance. Another four years where spent in Paris, exploring the contemporary French art world and trying to adapt some of their devices to his art, before settling in London in 1859. With his election as President of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1878 he held the most prestigious post within the contemporary English art world and continued to do so until his death in 1896.
Apart from the Italian Renaissance, especially the work of Michelangelo, Greek classicism was from the 1870s onwards the decisive and obvious influence in Leighton’s major works. The artistic influence of Steinle which he still claims to be present at that time at least in matter of style and subject is no longer detectable.
The present thesis examines for the first time the relationship between Steinle and Leighton in detail and questions Leighton’s statements about Steinle being the decisive influence of his artistic career by analyzing and comparing a selection of works of the two artists.