Balthasar Denner

Balthasar Denner was a German painter, highly regarded as a portraitist.

Balthasar Denner Portrait Painter

German Painter

Balthasar Denner was a German portrait painter born in Hamburg Germany in the year 1685, and died on April 14, 1749  at the age of 63, in Rostock. One of the most Notable People to share the Surname Denner, Balthasar was highly regarded as one of the greatest portraitist of his time.  The artist painted mostly half-length and head and shoulders portraits of people along with a few group portraits of families in interiors. Denner’s paintings were in great demand throughout Germany and brought very high prices.

Hamburg Germany

Hamburg Germany

Balthasar Denner was born in the city of Altona, now incorporated into Hamburg Germany. At the time Altona was part of the Danish kingdom, its second largest city after Copenhagen and famous for its religious tolerance. His father Jacob Denner was a Mennonite minister and a dyer.  Balthasar had seven sisters and was the only son. In fact, Denner was eight years old he had an accident and for the rest of his life he walked with a limp.  His convalescence was slow and to cope with boredom Balthasar started to draw and copy paintings by Berchem and Bloemaert.  Later in the year 1696 the Denner family moved to Danzig, where Balthasar practiced oil painting before the family moved back to the Town of Hanseatic in 1701.

Charles Frederick, The Duke of Holstein-Gottorp

Charles Frederick, The Duke of Holstein-Gottorp

Balthasar began his career as a painter of miniatures and famously painted the nine-year-old Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp and his sister.  Denner was invited to Gottorp Castle and painted himself in the background of a group portrait of the ducal family. In 1712  Balthasar married before moving his family to Hamburg, Germany.   In 1720 Denner visited the court in Wolfenbüttel when he was invited to England, but first he met with Adriaen van der Werff, and showed him his painting of an old woman. Van der Werff was impressed and could only compare the painting with the Mona Lisa.  Also in London the painting caused great excitement and it was sent to Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor.  Balthasar received 5875 guilders and in 1725 he was ordered to paint an old man as a counterpiece for the same amount of money.

Portrait of an Old Woman

alte frau painting

Balthasar Denner’s portrait of an old woman also known as The Alte Frau Painting is highly regarded as one his greatest works.   Denner painted mostly half-length and head-and-shoulders portraits and a few group portraits of families in interiors.

Usually Balthasar concentrated on the face. In fact, clothes and paraphernalia were done by other painters or later by his daughter. His chief peculiarity consisted in the fineness of his mechanical finish, which extended to depicting even the almost invisible furze of hair growing on smooth skin. Denner is particularly noted for his heads of old men and women.

Children of Barthold Heinrich Brockes

The Children of Barthold Heinrich Brockes by Balthasar Denner

On April 14, 1749 Balthasar Denner died at the age of 63, in Rostock, Germany which is the home to one of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Rostock, founded in 1419. It was in Rostock  were 46 unfinished paintings were found in Denner’s design studio. Staatliches Museum Schwerin ownes 75 of the portraits by Denner. His portrait of Georg Frideric Handel (1733) is at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Denner also painted the children of Barthold Heinrich Brockes, a poet from Hamburg, who was the librettist of the Brockes Passion. Denner had become friends with Johan van Gool, and had sent him his biography.

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