Neff's Bildnis der Gattin
Jaan Ross

CIM07's logo is a painting by Carl Timoleon von Neff entitled Bildnis der Gattin Louise von Neff (Portrait of the artist's wife, Louise von Neff).

Carl Timoleon von Neff is one of the best-known Estonian painters of the 19th century. Born in 1804 as the illegitimate child of a French gouverness employed by a landlord in the Eastern part of Virumaa (Wierland), Neff would become a member of the German-speaking ruling class, most of whom were landowners.

Neff first studied art in Estonia with Karl Ferdinand von Kügelgen (1772-1832). He then entered the Academy of Arts in Dresden, from which he graduated 1825. The next few years were shared between Estonia, Italy and St. Petersburg, where he was ordered to paint portraits of daughters of the emperor Nicholas I.

Neff subsequently acquired the status of painter of the emperor’s court and became one of Nicholas's closest advisors in arts and related issues. Neff combined his duties in St. Petersburg with regular and rather lengthy visits to Italy. In 1846 he was nominated an honorary member of the Academy of Florence and, as a consequence, his self-portrait was purchased for the collection of the Uffizi gallery. After finishing parts of the iconostasis for St. Isaac’s cathedral in St. Petersburg, he was offered nobility and nominated a member of the Russian Imperial Academy of Arts. Neff died in 1876.

Neff’s Bildnis der Gattin was completed in 1856 and now belongs to the Estonian Art Museum in Tallinn. The artist’s wife Louise von Neff is portrayed as sitting at a keyboard instrument, which probably is a piano. Careful inspection reveals that the score open on the piano, which is only partly visible, is the Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One might imagine that Mrs. Neff is either about to start playing the music or has just finished it. Perhaps she performed the orchestral parts on the instrument and the vocal parts with her voice. If so, that would link Neff’s portrait to the theme of the Third Conference of Interdisciplinary Musicology: singing.

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