Jacob Maentel


Maentel was a German immigrant who painted more than two hundred portraits throughout German communities in southeastern Pennsylvania and Indiana. Rendered inwatercolor and gouache over graphite underdrawings, these portraits capture minute details of the landscape of German life in America. Attempts to elucidate the factsof Maentel’s own life have been less successful, although certain landmark events are known. Johann Adam Bernhard Jacob Maentel was born in Germany toFrederich Ludwig Maentel and Elizabeth Krügerin. Tradition maintains that Maëntel served under Napoléon Bonaparte, and immigrated to Baltimore sometime between his father’s death in 1805 and the appearance of a Jacob Maentel “Portrait painter” in the Baltimore Directory of 1807. About 1821, Maentel marriedCatherine Weaver of Baltimore. Based on portrait subjects in Dauphin, Lebanon, and York Counties, he may have already been living in Pennsylvania by 1810. A“Jacob Mantell” of Lancaster served in the Pennsylvania militia from September 1, 1814, to March 1, 1815, and was naturalized in York County a short time later.In 1816 Lewis Miller (1796–1862) sketched two gentlemen in York County, both named Jacob Maentel, leading to some confusion about the identity of the artist.It appears that he was living in Schaeffers-town, Lebanon County, in 1830, where his name appears in the parish register of the St. Luke’s Evan-gelical LutheranChurch, along with many of his subjects (Zimmerman, Bucher, Haak) suggesting that they were personally known to the artist. In Schaefferstown, his name alsoappears in the Zimmerman ledger books for purchases of paint and confectionery supplies. By 1838 Maentel was listed in the Indiana tax rolls for New HarmonyTownship, where he continued to portray members of the tight-knit German community.Based on dated works, Maentel was active from 1807 to 1846, with only four signed examples. The watercolors fall into several stylistic modes, but all are defined by fine and distinct ink strokes delineating brows and lashes, while heavy washes in watercolor and gouache are used to indicate landscape and drapery. Theearliest works include full-length figures in the foreground standing in profile against sparse backgrounds with active cloud formations. A tree often appears on one sideof these early works, and blades of grass often spring from the ground. The empty backgrounds yield to architectural structures, fences, and other narrative elements asthe artist matures. From about 1816 to 1820, Maentel developed a format of pendant portraits of frontal figures set into colorful interiors. Portraits John Bickel and Caterina Bickel are notable early examples of this format, and illuminate interior details of period furnishings and decorative arts. Portraits Dr. Christian Bucher and Mary Valentine Bucher represent a rare deviation from this formula, with Dr. Bucher shown in his professional environment and Mrs. Bucher in her domestic one. Bythe mid-1820s, however, symmetrical companion portraits such as Peter Zimmerman and Maria Rex Zimmerman had become Maëntel’s typical forms of presentation, and he continued to reuse these established conventions in Indiana. Jacob Maentel is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in New Harmony, where hisheadstone bears only the initials “J.M.”