Shortly after the University was founded in 1737, work began in an effort to establish a gallery that would exhibit portraits of various professors. In 1748 the painter F. Reibenstein, originally from Celle, was commissioned to create a series of portraits, a process that was later continued by other various painters. Fifteen of these paintings are back on display to the public eye for the first time since the 18th century.
BETWEEN CONFORMITY AND INDIVIDUALITY
The images are almost identical in aspect, frame format and style. Differences in the colours of the robes - now hard to discern - serve as indicators of the identity of the subjects and their related faculty. Due to the uniformity of the series, the individual facial features of the professors are accentuated. Depending on the perspective, the series either displays the academics as part of the university circle or, when viewed in isolation, draws attention to the characteristics of the person on display.
UNITED IN SPIRIT
The history of portrait series in German universities dates back to the 16th century. They display a growing sense of self-confidence amongst the academics. The archetypes of these types of portraits were the aristocratic ancestral galleries, which exhibited a dynastic sequence designed to justify reign through birthright. On the contrary, the scholars’ main interest was in staging a unity of spirit, albeit exclusively male. The homogeneity of the representation as well as the continuity of the series was meant to endow the university with its own tradition: an intellectual nobility taking its place beside the hereditary nobility.
FROM THE COUNCIL CHAMBER TO THE CELLAR
By the end of the 18th Century, the series of portraits of the Göttingen professors consisted of 40 paintings. In the beginning, they hung close together in the main conference hall (Konzilienhaus) of the University.
The building was the scene of important decisions and served as a meeting place for the Göttingen scholars as well as for the reception of their guests. Interest in this kind of representation waned in the 1800’s.
Representations of this kind were perceived as outdated, the paintings were removed from the council house and handed over to the painting collection whose director Johann Dominicus (1748- 1821) banished them to the storeroom.
In the 19th century, the collection was distributed among various buildings of the University.
Since 2006, the Arts Collection staff has been endeavouring to reassemble the portraits.
The various series of scholar portraits were commonly exhibited in representative halls of the University such as the library or, as is the example here in Marburg, in the auditorium.
They were intended to serve as role models for the students to emulate. Furthermore, it was supposed to express tradition and class consciousness of the University and its members, marking it a place of academic erudition.
„Im Geiste vereint. Kontext und Geschichte der Göttinger Professorengalerie“ a paper (in German language) written by Larissa Döring and Sonja E. Nökel (PDF)