In one of his letters Anselm Feuerbach wrote, ‘Thank God! I have a pair of bright eyes in the head, leading directly to the heart, and so my impressions are as armed men directed by my heart…’. The leading classicist painter of 19th century Germany could not have been more honest. Feuerbach was born on September 12, 1829 in Speyer, one of the significant centres of culture and history on the Upper Rhine. He was the grandson of Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, a renowned legal scholar and reformer of penal code system in Bavaria, son of classical scholar, philosopher and archaeologist Joseph Anselm Feuerbach and nephew of noted mathematician Karl Wilhelm Feuerbach. Feuerbach lost his mother before his first birthday and was brought up by his sister Emily and step–mother Henriette Feuerbach. Henriette Feuerbach was a talented musician and perhaps more importantly a lifelong promoter of Anselm Feuerbach’s work. Through her, Feuerbach came in close contact with Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Feuerbach had the privilege of receiving art education from such artists as Wilhelm von Schadow, Carl Friedrich Lessing and Thomas Couture. His fondness of historical and mythical paintings also grew with his trips to Venice and Rome. Between 1860 and 1874, Feuerbach dedicated himself in painting several portraits following a classical style. The series titled Nanna, dedicated to his muse Anna Risi, was completed during this time.
The artist split last few years of his life between Venice, Nuremberg and Vienna. He became critically ill after contacting pneumonia. This and a general lack of understanding of his contemplative paintings with grey undertones made him miserable. Sometime before his death on January 4, 1880 in Venice he wrote in a despondent tone, ‘I have become wiser and can see through a lot of illusions I had before. Neither can I convince the world in this short lifetime, nor can I be subservient to it.’ Brahms composed Nänie, a piece dedicated to Feuerbach’s memory. Henriette Feuerbach’s efforts, particularly, her book based on his letters and autobiographical notes made sure his legacy remain intact in people’s memory.