Joseph Heller and the Art of Collecting

A Legacy in the Heart of Bamberg

By Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Joseph Heller zwischen Original und Kopie (1848) by Lazarus Sichling nach einer Bleistiftzeichnung von Christian LehmannStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

A Bamberg burgher collects art

Almost half of the State Library's collection of prints and drawings, which today comprises about 90.000 items, goes back to the legacy of Joseph Heller (1798–1849), a gentleman of independent means from Bamberg.
Already during his lifetime, he maintained close ties with the local academic Library, created when Bamberg became part of the kingdom of Bavaria, and appointed the institution as his heir.
In 2017, the library launched a research project on Heller's collection with funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG). The aim was to digitally reproduce the historical order of the collection by using a selection of works.
On the basis of digital reproductions created and made freely accessible on the library's website, interested parties can now trace the history of 2,800 prints and drawings as well as the collection structure created by Heller himself.

We cordially invite you to visit our website and browse, admire and discover Heller's collection.
Additionally, the exhibition catalogue is available for browsing and downloading as an interactive e-book.

Büste von Albrecht Dürer (1829) by Gerald RaabStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Albrecht Dürer (1472–1528) was the focus of Heller's interest in collecting art. The life-size portrait bust in the reading room of the State Library is based on Dürer's famous Self-Portrait in a Fur Coat. The bust was created in the context of the festivities for the 300th anniversary of Albrecht Dürer's death in April 1828, in Bamberg on the initiative of the local art society, founded in 1823.
Joseph Heller was a founding member and temporarily chairman of the art society.
As an expert on Dürer, Heller was closely involved in the organisation of the Dürer-festivities in Bamberg.

Nürnberger Fleischbrücke (ca. 1599)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Stained Glas was actually not one of the main focuses of Joseph Heller's collection. Occasional scholarly works on glass painters, however, testify to the fact that his broad interest in art also touched upon this field. Heller's collection consisted of Swiss and German cabinet glass, the latter mostly from Nuremberg. Today, the stained glass windows are on permanent display in the entrance hall of the State Library.

Badeszene im Mai, aus einem Monatszyklus (nach 1530/1535) by Hirsvogel-WerkstattStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller's selection offers an insight into typical manifestations of this art form: coats of arms, biblical and mythological scenes, portraits and allegories. Single pictures such as the Month of May are relics of more extensive cycles.

Gründtlicher abriß der Statt Bamberg (sogenannter Zweidlerplan) (1602) by Peter Zweidler (Zeichnung)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller's great interest in the history of Bamberg is documented by the copper engraving by Petrus Zweidler which consists of four sheets. The plan shows Bamberg around 1602 in a bird's-eye view and was the basis for many 17th-century views of Bamberg. Today it is regarded as the most important source of information on the townscape of Bamberg before the far-reaching changes caused by urban development during the Baroque period.

Only a few copies of Zweidler's plan have survived, including one from Heller's collection. When the latter asked the Nuremberg collector Hans Albrecht von Derschau in 1819 to give him the ground plan of Bamberg [...] for cash or preferably in exchange, he probably referred to Zweidler's plan.

Joseph Hellers Geburtshaus (1898) by Andreas BlattnerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

A friendship, a journey, a collection

Joseph Heller (1798–1849) was born as the son of a merchant in Bamberg and was orphaned at an early age. As a rich heir, he discovered his passion for collecting in his youth. Not yet of age, he began to collect books and acquire prints and drawings. As an avid user of the Royal Library he came to know its director Joachim Heinrich Jäck (1777–1847). In the summer and autumn of 1821 both went on a journey together, which took them through culturally important cities in Germany, Italy and Austria. En route, they established the contacts that made it possible to build up such a multi-faceted collection in Bamberg.

Porträt von Joseph Heller, Hans Kundmüller, um 1890, From the collection of: Staatsbibliothek Bamberg
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The Bamberg art scholar Joseph Heller (1798–1849) and the director of the Royal Library, Joachim Heinrich Jäck (1777–1847), had a lifelong friendship.

Porträt von Joachim Heinrich Jäck, Hans Kundmüller, um 1890, From the collection of: Staatsbibliothek Bamberg
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Joseph Hellers Geburtshaus (1898) by Andreas BlattnerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The artist Andreas Blattner (1867–1933) drew Heller's birthplace. Known to all inhabitants and visitors of Bamberg, it is located on the Lower Bridge directly above the river Regnitz, right across the well-known tourist attraction named Little Venice.

Behind these windows, Joseph Heller kept his growing collection.

The elderly gentleman in a frock coat, who lifts his hat in greeting, may be the collector himself.

Hellers Stammbuch (1812–1826 und 1843) by Joseph HellerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In his album amicorum Heller, like many of his contemporaries, collected personal expressions of friendship.

Hellers Stammbuch (1812–1826 und 1843) by Joseph HellerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The earliest entries date back to Heller's youth. During his apprenticeship in Nuremberg he began to establish contacts with artists and publishers, who added inscriptions to the album. Among them were the Zurich engraver Johann Jacob Lips (1791–1833) and the Bamberg bookseller Carl Friedrich Kunz (1785–1849) .

Frequently, the texts and pictures refer to Heller's appreciation of art. A friend from Nördlingen wrote to him on New Year's Day 1826:
Three times happy is the mortal who chooses wisdom as his guide and art as his companion. One gives dignity to life, the other gives joy, one secures the step, the the other embellishes the path.

Brief des Kunsthändlers Joseph von Grünling an Joseph Heller (1821)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Already in 1821, Heller exchanged letters about matters that were of joint interest to collectors and dealers. The Viennese art dealer Joseph Grünling (1785–1845) asked Heller on October 17, 1821, to have a stamp cut in wood for him.

Stempelentwürfe auf Brief (1821)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

On a letter from the merchant, who dealt with Dürer drawings (today at the Kunsthalle Bremen), Heller sketched several stamp designs.

Stempel mit Joseph Hellers Bücherzeichen und Titelblatt seines Frühwerks zu Lucas Cranach d. Ä. (1821)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

While Heller marked the books in his library with his bookmark "Sibi et amicis" (in English: For himself and his friends), he only occasionally marked his collection of prints and drawings with stamps bearing his initials or his name.

Brief-Konzeptbuch Joseph Hellers (1818-1821) by Gerald RaabStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In the years 1818 to 1821, Heller kept a record of his extensive correspondence. He drafted letters which his secretary then wrote and posted. In his letters Heller turned to publishers, art collectors and dealers with enquiries and orders. Between 1816 and Heller's death in 1849 he received countless replies, which he carefully archived.

With the Innsbruck Rentmeister and collector Augustin A. Pfaundler (1757–1822), Heller first made contact in spring 1821. During summer of the same year, he even visited him personally. Both collectors shared an interest in Dürer and his art.

Traumgesicht nach Dürer (1821) by Augustin A. PfaundlerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Several months before a trip through Germany, Austria and Italy, Heller contacted Pfaundler. By post he asked him for a reprint, if possible even to sell a watercolour by Dürer, known as Traumgesicht, which Pfaundler kept in his private collection.

Pfaundler did not sell the original, but he made a copy, sent it to Bamberg and ...

Brief von Pfaundler an Heller (17.4.1821)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

... explained in the accompanying letter of April 17, 1821: I tried to produce the same as the original in colour, but not in the same size as the original.

Bildnis des Ulrich Varnbüler (1522) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

This woodcut by Dürer shows the Swiss lawyer Ulrich Varnbüler (1474–1544). The artist transferred a chalk drawing which he had made in 1522 to the woodblock.

An inscription draws attention to Dürer as Varnbüler's friend and portraitist.

As early as 1827, Heller mentioned in his Dürer monograph that the printing block had come into the possession of the Dutch artist Hendrik Hondius (1573–1650), who produced Clair-obscur-prints from 1620 onwards. In this process, surface tones are printed from several printing plates.
Heller noted 2 Jan 1822 as the date of arrival of the multi-plate print in Bamberg which he could buy in addition to the "normal" print.

Druckplatte für die Medaille mit dem Bildnis der Agnes Dürer (spätestens 1764) by Sebastian LeitnerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

For Georg Andreas Wills (1727-1798) book from 1764 about Nuremberg coins with the title Der Nürnbergischen Münz-Belustigungen. Erster Theil , the copper engraver Sebastian Leitner (1709-1795) produced numerous printing plates in order to illustrate the medals mentioned in the text.

Der Nürnbergischen Münz-Belustigungen. Erster Theil (1764) by Georg Andreas WillStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

This ideal type of a female bust goes back to a preliminary study made by Dürer in 1508 for the painting Death of Lucretia (see Vienna, Albertina, Inv. No. 17533).

The person portrayed has been traditionally identified as Agnes Dürer (1475-1539), the wife of the artist.

Medaille mit dem Bildnis der Agnes Dürer by Dürer-NachahmerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In his book about Dürer, Heller sought to shed comprehensive light on the artist and his reception. Thus, he acquired a lead copy of the medal, Will's early numismatic work and even the plate edited by Leitner.

Menschen-Spiegel (Bamberger Abschrift) (1821/27) by Heinrich Sebastian HüsgenStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In 1798, the Frankfurt art writerHeinrich Sebastian Hüsgen (1745–1807) worked on an improved edition of his catalogue of Dürer's copper and iron engravings, which had been published 20 years earlier. One of the new components he added were narrative titles given to the works of art.

Die Hexe (ca. 1500) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Thus Dürer's copper engraving, made around 1500, which shows a naked old woman riding on a goat ...

Menschen-Spiegel (Bamberger Abschrift) (1821/27) by Heinrich Sebastian HüsgenStaatsbibliothek Bamberg listed as Agnes Dürer or The Witch.

In 1821, Heller borrowed the original manuscript, which had never been published, from the Frankfurt lawyer Johann Friedrich Heinrich Schlosser (1780-1851) for transcription. Schlosser had been able to purchase it from Hüsgen's papers and supported Heller's research on Dürer by lending it to him.

Nürnberg: Schöner Brunnen, Hauptmarkt Nürnberg, FrauenkircheStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

A joint trip, on which the library director Joachim Heinrich Jäck (1777–1847) and Heller set out in June 1821, took them to culturally important cities in Germany ...

Innsbruck von Seite der Schiehstadt by G. SchedlerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

... Austria ...

Venedig in der VogelschauStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

... and Italy.

Die St. Stephans Kirche zu WienStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Frequently, publications were stimulated by the attractions they visited - such as the funeral monument of Konrad Celtis (1459–1508) at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.

Grabmal des Conrad Celtis (22. August 1821) by Georg Christoph WilderStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller was so shocked about the poor condition of the tomb that he wrote an essay expressing his wish to preserve it.

For the documentation, Jäck commissioned the artist Georg Christoph Wilder (1797–1855) with a pencil drawing.

Grabdenkmal für Conrad Celtis (1821/1822) by Georg Christoph WilderStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller wanted to add an illustration to the written appreciation of Celtis' life's work and the vehement request to preserve the funerary monument. He therefore commissioned and paid for a copper engraving.

Christus am Ölberg (1515) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In September 1821, the two travellers stayed in Innsbruck. Heller had already inquired about Dürer's Plate of Christ on the Mount of Olives in a letter some months before. He learned that the Innsbruck artist Johann Georg Schedler (1777–1866) made prints of this plate and sold them for a profit.

Dürer had created the motif as an etching in 1515 – a technique that he used only six times in his oeuvre.

Abzug Dürers Christus am Ölberg (Alternative), Gerald Raab, 1515, From the collection of: Staatsbibliothek Bamberg
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Heller was able to acquire the plate during the journey.

Abzug Dürers Christus am Ölberg (Alternative), Gerald Raab, 1515, From the collection of: Staatsbibliothek Bamberg
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The 138 copies of the etching which, together with the plate, were given to the Bamberg State Library after his death, proof that Heller, too, used the plate for reprints.

Abzug Dürers Christus am Ölberg (Alternative), Albrecht Dürer, 1515, From the collection of: Staatsbibliothek Bamberg
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He probably intended them for exchange with other collectors.

Der kleine Kalvarienberg Der kleine Kalvarienberg (ca. 1503/04) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In his depiction of the crucifixion from 1503/04, Dürer combined numerous plot lines.

The crucified Christ is placed on the central axis.

Mary Magdalene embraces the trunk of the cross in mourning.

To the right of the Saviour stands a soldier with a club on a ladder to break the thief's legs.

The armed man talks to Longinus, who is on horseback and is holding a lance with which he will pierce Christ's side.

In the foreground, dice are thrown over the skirt of the crucified Christ, while St John and the mourning women hold Mary, who is unconscious.

Der kleine Kalvarienberg Der kleine Kalvarienberg (ca. 1503/04) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The pencilled note Venice 21/9 21 on the reverse of the sheet shows that Heller acquired the woodcut in the Italian city. During his journey with Jäck, Heller often noted the place and date of purchase on the sheets.

Stempel mit Joseph Hellers Bücherzeichen und Titelblatt seines Frühwerks zu Lucas Cranach d. Ä. (1821)Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

A legacy in the heart of Bamberg

What makes the collection of Joseph Heller unusual is the involvement of library director Joachim Heinrich Jäck in its genesis and the appointment of the Royal Library as heiress early on. The library made great efforts over many years to hold Heller's diverse legacy together, thus showing its appreciation of his collection. When the legacy was handed over in August 1851, Jäck, Heller's friend and mentor throughout his life, had already passed away. The subsequent library directors, Michael Stenglein (1810–1879) and Friedrich Leitschuh (1837–1898), maintained the original arrangement of Heller's collection. They used his classification also for the holdings of the library. The Bamberg State Library will continue to regard it as its task to make its collection of prints and drawings accessible according to modern standards of scholarship.

Testament Testament (14. Juni 1821) by Joseph HellerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

When Heller died on 4 June 1849 at the age of only 50, his complete assets had been invested into his collection.

Testament Testament (14. Juni 1821) by Joseph HellerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In his last will he had appointed the Royal Library as heir to his art and book collection in order to preserve it for public use.

At the time of his death, however, Heller had substantial debts. Jäck's successor, library director Michael Stenglein (1810–1879), therefore sold 28 manuscript antiphonaries from the library's holdings. The proceeds of 2300 guilders were used to pay off Heller's creditors, who still had claims after the possessions of the deceased had been sold.

Schedel’sche Weltchronik (1493) by Hartmann SchedelStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

It was only through this unusual measure that the unique legacy could be preserved together. Famous pieces, such as Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, thus became part of the library collections.

Der ungläubige Thomas (ca. 1510) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Around 1510, Dürer created the woodcut Der ungläubige Thomas as part of his Small Passion, first published in 1511.

The twelve apostles are gathered around Christ who has appeared to them.

Since Thomas cannot believe in the resurrection of the Lord, Christ takes his hand and lets him touch the side wound.

Der ungläubige Thomas - Fünf gleichseitige Kopien (zweite Hälfte 16. bis 17. Jh.) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The wide reception of the woodcut shows how highly its artistic quality was appreciated. Heller added several copies to the originals in his collection.

He was able to acquire five copies of the motif Der ungläubige Thomas, but he knew far more.

Das Leben und die Werke Albrecht Dürer's (1827) by Joseph HellerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Between 1827 and 1831 Heller published the second volume of his book about Dürer, which was originally planned to comprise three volumes.

All art works by Dürer which Heller listed were given a number and a description. A printed asterisk next to the number indicates that Heller was already in possession of at least one copy of the work at the time of publication.

The absence of the asterisk next to the Heller number 1582 reveals that the collector did not yet own the sheet in 1827.

Passional (1572) by Caspar FranckStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Later, however, Heller was able to include the woodcut in his collection of copies after Dürer and the printed edition of the Passional, for which the woodcut had been intended, in his reference library.

Studienblatt mit stehendem Schmerzensmann und Gewand (spätestens 1509) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

In his publication of 1827, Heller praises this pen and ink drawing by Dürer as displaying much insight and great spirit.

The Nuremberg master sketched the Man of Sorrows crowned with thorns and with his arms crossed in front of the body. His wounds are visual signs of the Passion.

The study of a garment above Christ is not related to the scene.

Der Schmerzensmann an der Säule (1509) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The drawing of Christ is regarded as Dürer's preparatory work for the Man of Sorrows at the Column, which is generally regarded as the title page of the copperplate Passion, a work created over a period of many years.

The year 1509 and Dürer's monogram are inserted into the round arch, which opens the view on the three crosses on the hill of Golgotha.

Entwurf zu einem Siegesdenkmal (ca. 1525) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Around 1525, Dürer designed a victory monument. His inscriptions explain the individual components of the column, which stands on a multi-level base and powder kegs.

The shaft of the column is decorated ...

... and knightly helmets and feather bushes crown the column.

The monogram and dating were added later by an unknown hand.

Vnderweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel vnd Richtscheyt (1538) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The drawing is Dürer's study of the monument column, which was printed in the third book of his main geometrical work Vnderweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheyt, first published in 1525.

Heller was able to acquire one copy of the first edition as well as two copies of the second edition, which Dürer's widow had published in 1538. One of them is bound together with one of only two surviving handwritten copies of Dürer's diary of the journey to the Netherlands.

Heilige Dorothea (bis 1520) by Hans SpringinkleeStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller acquired also a changeable woodcut by Hans Springinklee (1495–1540). In this one, the saint depicted, here Dorothy, can be turned into a different person by exchanging the outer border of the woodblock with the attributes.

Dürer's Monogram was stamped on the sheet somewhat later. Because of this practice, Heller warned in 1823: The blind veneration of names also greatly facilitates fraud.

Geburt Christi (1776) by Maria Katharina PrestelStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

The huge demand for items by Dürer can be seen, for example, in the Birth of Christ by Maria Katharina Prestel (1747–1794). Her etching reproduces a drawing formerly attributed to Dürer, which was in the art cabinet of the Praun family in Nuremberg, and thus made it accessible to a large number of enthusiasts.

Der Opfertod des Marcus Curtius by Lucas Cranach d. Ä.Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

The reverse side of many of Heller's prints and drawings contains information that is still visible today because Heller only attached the sheets to one edge.

Der Opfertod des Marcus Curtius (Rückseite) by Lucas Cranach d. Ä.Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

The woodcut of Lucas Cranach the Elder showing the sacrificial death of Marcus Curtius not only bears the purchase note Vienna 1821 on the reverse ...

...but also a copy in reverse. This reproduction came about when the sheet with the woodcut was placed on top of another fresh print.

Fries mit zwei männlichen Halbfiguren (1500-1550) by Sebald BehamStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller included the frieze, which is ascribed to Sebald Beham (1500–1550) today, in his Dürer publication under the heading "Doubtful items".

Fries mit zwei männlichen Halbfiguren (Rückseite) (1500-1550) by Sebald BehamStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

On the back, above the price of two guilders, the note "frhlz. 295" can be seem; evidence that the sheet was acquired from the Nuremberg art dealer Frauenholz.

Bildnis einer Unbekannten (1518) by Hans SchwarzStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

Heller received the drawing entitled Jungfraw Suten on the underlay sheet as part of a set from the collection of the Nuremberg artist Hans Albrecht von Derschau (1755–1824). The bust of a young woman was considered as a work by Dürer at the time.

Heller reported that the sheet was cut out at the beginning of the 17th century [...] and pasted onto white paper. Probably at the same time, the name of the sitter was added in handwriting ...

Abschrift von Dürers Tagebuch der niederländischen Reise (1620 [?]) by Albrecht DürerStaatsbibliothek Bamberg

... referring to a woman whom Dürer had portrayed in Antwerp in August 1520, according to his diary of the trip to the Netherlands. Thus, with the help of Hans Schwarz's portraits, a fictitious album of Dürer's journey was constructed.

Credits: Story

Joseph Heller and the Art of Collecting

Exhibition of the Bamberg State Library 2020/1

Virtual Exhibition Catalogue

Texts: Franziska Deuter (after submission of Franziska Ehrl)
Photos: Gerald Raab
Layout: Franziska Deuter
English translation: Simone Linz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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