Albert Christoph Dies

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Illustration from Collection de vues pittoresques de l'Italie Btv1b8553014n-p041.jpg
Illustration from Collection de vues pittoresques de l'Italie

Albert Christoph Dies (1755 28 December 1822) was a German painter, engraver, and biographer most noted for his biography of Joseph Haydn, although it is now considered sentimental and not entirely accurate. As an artist, he is also not very well-regarded.

Joseph Haydn Austrian composer

(Franz) Joseph Haydn was an Austrian composer of the Classical period. He was instrumental in the development of chamber music such as the piano trio. His contributions to musical form have earned him the epithets "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet".


As painter

Dies was born in Hanover (baptized 11 February 1755), [1] and began his studies there. For one year he studied in the academy of Düsseldorf, and then he started at the age of twenty with thirty ducats in his pocket for Rome, [2] studying briefly on the way in Mannheim and Basel. [3] In Rome he lived a frugal life till 1796; his son Johannes (Giovanni) was born there in 1776. [3] Copying pictures, chiefly by Salvator Rosa, for a livelihood, his taste led him to draw and paint from nature in Tivoli, Albano and other picturesque places in the vicinity of Rome. Naples, the birthplace of his favorite master, he visited more than once for the same reasons. [2]

Hanover Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Hanover or Hannover is the capital and largest city of the German state of Lower Saxony. Its 535,061 (2017) inhabitants make it the thirteenth-largest city of Germany, as well as the third-largest city of Northern Germany after Hamburg and Bremen. The city lies at the confluence of the River Leine and its tributary Ihme, in the south of the North German Plain, and is the largest city of the Hannover–Braunschweig–Göttingen–Wolfsburg Metropolitan Region. It is the fifth-largest city in the Low German dialect area after Hamburg, Dortmund, Essen, and Bremen.

Düsseldorf Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Düsseldorf is the capital and second-largest city of the most populous German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia after Cologne, as well as the seventh-largest city in Germany. with a population of 617,280. At the confluence of the Rhine and its tributary Düssel, the city lies in the centre of both the Rhine-Ruhr and the Rhineland Metropolitan Regions with the Cologne Bonn region to its south and the Ruhr to its north. Most of the city lies on the right bank of the Rhine. The city is the largest in the German Low Franconian dialect area. "Dorf" meaning "village" in German, the "-dorf" suffix is unusual in the German-speaking area for a settlement of Düsseldorf's size.

Ducat gold or silver coin used as a trade coin in Europe

The ducat was a gold or silver coin used as a trade coin in Europe from the later Middle Ages until as late as the 20th century. Many types of ducats had various metallic content and purchasing power throughout the period. The gold ducat of Venice gained wide international acceptance, like the medieval Byzantine hyperpyron and the Florentine florin, or the modern British Pound sterling and the United States dollar.

Goethe visited him in 1787. The poet, interested in the theory of color, reported in his Zweiter römischer Aufenthalt ("Second stay in Rome"), "At the moment I am engaged in something from which I learn a great deal; I have found and sketched a landscape that a clever artist, Dies, colored in my presence; thus eyes and mind grow ever more accustomed to color and harmony." [4]

During the Rome visit, Dies also composed music, though later on he apparently destroyed all that he had written, and none of it survives today. [1]

At one point, Jacques-Louis David, then composing his Oath of the Horatii (1784) at Rome, wished to take him to Paris. But Dies had reasons for not accepting the offer. He was courting a young Roman whom he subsequently married. Meanwhile, he had made the acquaintance of the engraver Giovanni Volpato, for whom he executed numerous drawings, and this no doubt suggested the plan, which he afterwards carried out, of publishing, in partnership with Jacob Wilhelm Mechau, Johann Christian Reinhart and Johann Friedrich Frauenholz, [5] the series of plates known as the Collection de vues pittoresques de l'Italie, published in seventy-two sheets at Nuremberg in 1799. [2]

Jacques-Louis David French Neoclassical painter

Jacques-Louis David was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward classical austerity and severity and heightened feeling, harmonizing with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime.

<i>Oath of the Horatii</i> painting by Jacques-Louis David

Oath of the Horatii, is a large painting by the French artist Jacques-Louis David painted in 1784 and now on display in the Louvre in Paris. The painting immediately became a huge success with critics and the public, and remains one of the best known paintings in the Neoclassical style.

Giovanni Volpato engraver, dealer in antiquities

Giovanni Volpato (1735–1803) was an Italian engraver. He was also an excavator, dealer in antiquities and manufacturer of biscuit porcelain figurines.

According to Gotwals, "In May, 1796, Dies apparently eloped with a young girl to Salzburg." [6] The following year he moved to Vienna, and lived there on the produce of his brush as a landscape painter, and on that of his pencil or graver as a draughtsman and etcher. [2] He also taught landscape painting at the Imperial and Royal Academy, and later, in his final post, was gallery director to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II. [7] During this time his physical condition grew worse, and he even lost the use of one of his hands. [2]

Salzburg Place in Austria

Salzburg, literally "salt castle", is the fourth-largest city in Austria and the capital of Federal State of Salzburg.

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital and largest city of Austria, and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Nikolaus II, Prince Esterházy Hungarian prince

Nicholas II, Prince Esterházy was a wealthy Hungarian prince. He served the Austrian Empire and was a member of the famous Esterházy family. He is especially remembered for his art collection and for his role as the last patron of Joseph Haydn.

As biographer

Dies was a great admirer of the music of Joseph Haydn and during his Vienna years he undertook to meet the composer and write his biography. [6] He obtained an introduction from his fellow artist Anton Grassi, who had made a number of busts of Haydn. Over the course of three years during Haydn's old age (starting 15 April 1805, ending 8 August 1808), Dies made a series of 30 visits to the frail and ailing composer, even though Haydn was convinced no one would be interested in his life story. [8] On a number of occasions Haydn was unable to see him, but frequently Dies was admitted and was able to interview him. In 1810, one year after Haydn's death, Dies published a biography based on what he learned in his visits (see References below). This work is organized around the sequence of visits, reporting each in turn. It continues to serve as a substantial source of information on the composer's life.

Compared with another biography written at the same time by Georg August Griesinger, Dies's work is almost certainly less accurate and is more likely to have been sentimentalized and embellished, which he himself alludes to in the introduction of his book:

In order not to leave out of the picture the most interesting phase of Haydn's life, I meanwhile made unhesitating use of several articles from the Leipzig Musikalische Zeitung, without entirely suppressing my own untutored opinions. [9] [lower-alpha 1]

For instances of probable embellishment, see Mathias Haydn and Haydn and Mozart; for an apparent outright blunder, see Rebecca Schroeter. Dies's translator Vernon Gotwals, comparing Dies to Griesinger, concludes:

It is now clear that for facts about Haydn one will turn first to the Biographische Notizen of Griesinger, but that reliance upon that source alone would deprive Haydn's portrait of many authentic details, mixed inescapably with some imaginary ones. Dies's Biographische Nachrichten is the work of a sentimental artist who fancied himself a "universal man" but whose approach to the problem of biography was that of his time and place. [11]


In 1787, he accidentally swallowed three-quarters of an ounce (20 g) of lead acetate. He never recovered from the ensuing lead poisoning, which caused the loss of one of his hands, and eventually died in Vienna on 28 December 1822. [2] [6]


Dies is perhaps better known today from his acquaintanceship (e.g. Goethe, Haydn) than from his own merits as an artist or writer.

The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition gives harsh opinions of Dies's work as an artist: [2]

Gotwals writes, "Friedrich Noack in his article in the Thieme and Becker Allgemeines Lexicon der bildenden Künstler ["General lexicon of graphic artists"], describes Dies's work as clumsy, mediocre, and prosaic. [6]

Gotwals adds, concerning Dies's writing, that "his literary style is hardly better." [6]

See also


  1. This passage was quoted by Giuseppe Carpani as evidence that his own biography of Haydn was more accurate. [10]
  2. The Roman Forum was unexcavated at the time Dies portrayed it.
  3. This view of the gardens to the rear of the Esterházy Palace still exists today, though the hills are more thickly wooded. Oil on canvas, possession of the Esterházy family, Burgenland, Austria.
  4. This is a planned garden facade of the Esterházy Palace, which would have converted the rear of the building (facing the view seen above) to a new front entrance. The profligate Prince Nicolaus, who planned the addition, ran out of money and only the central series of columns was ever built. Oil on canvas, possession of the Esterházy family, Burgenland, Austria.

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  1. 1 2 New Grove, "Dies"
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dies, Christoph Albert"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 211.
  3. 1 2 Gotwals 1968, p. xii.
  4. Gotwals 1968, pp. xii-xiii.
  5. Prange (2007)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Gotwals 1968, p. xiii.
  7. Jones 2017, pp. 45.
  8. Jones 2017, pp. 46–47.
  9. Dies 1810 , pp. ix–x, quoted in Jones 2017 , p. 46
  10. Jones 2017, p. 47
  11. Gotwals 1959, pp. 458-459.