Bartholomeus (Bartłomiej) Strobel, "Portrait of Nikolaus Hübner, a town councillor of Toruń", 1644; the Collection of the Regional Museum in Toruń; source: Andrzej R. Skowroński/RMT

Baroque painter. Born circa 1580 in Silesia, baptised in Wrocław, died in 1647 probably in Toruń or Silesia. 

Bartłomiej, or to be precise Bartholomeus, Strobel the Younger was born into a family of painters settled in Silesia. At that time, his family name was quite popular in German states, and was also transcribed as: Ströbel, Strubel, or Strobl. Bartłomiej’s grandfather, Simon Strobel, came from Schneeberg, a mining town situated in the Saxon part of the Ore Mountains, called Erzgebirge in German. His profession remains unknown but it is assumed that he might have been worked as an independent master craftsman.

His son, Bartholomeus Strobel the Elder, was recorded in Wrocław in 1586 as a son of Simon, who had passed away by that time. There is definitely more information available on the elder brother. He was born in 1547 or 1548, and during his artistic journey he reached Wrocław, where as early as in 1581 worked as a journeyman in the field of painting. In 1584, Strobel the Elder became a master craftsman, and two years later married Tabitha Ruhl, a daughter of a Wrocław painter, Andreas Ruhl the Elder (d. 1567). The Strobels had several children, including two daughters: Magdalena, who married Joachim Reckendorff, a painter from Lübeck, and Maria, a future wife of a journeyman Peter Schmid from Lichtenberg.

Beginning with October 18, 1602 a son of Bartholomeus the Elder, also Bartholomeus, completed a five-year-old apprenticeship in his father’s workshop as one of his nine apprentices. The family workshop was located in so-called "Zaułek Kapturowy", a backstreet between the Oława River and the external fortification ring where craftsmen used to settle down. The Strobels also owned a sort of stall in the low-rise buildings of the town square.
Bartholomeus Strobel the Elder died on July 19, 1612. He bequeathed most of his possessions to his wife, whereas his son inherited 20 thalers to pursue his education, a few keepsakes and paintings, including one painted by Bartholomeus Spranger featuring "The Sermon of Saint John". It was probably a model work used in the workshop, which would explain how Strobel the Younger came into contact with the art of Prague. Presumably, he visited the court of Rudolf II slightly earlier before receiving the painting, at the end of the first decade of 17th century. There, he might have met such painters as the already mentioned Spranger, Hans von Aachen, Joseph Heintz, Roelandt Savery or Pieter Stevens.

In 1611 Strobel the Younger was already mentioned as working with his father on a pulpit of the Augustinian Church in Wrocław. In addition, between 1610 and 1613 he signed miniatures of animals probably copied from the works of Hans Hoffmann and Joris Hoefnagel when the artist was still in Prague. At that time, Strobel bore the title of court painter and portrait painter of the Archduke Karol; he also went into service with the bishop court in Wrocław. Strobel’s works from this period are not known except from one miniature safekept in Copenhagen. It is believed that the artist used a painting style acquired in Prague and pursued themes popular among the Rudolphine circles.

In 1618 Bartholomeus Strobel visited Gdańsk (with Hieronymus Degen) and got familiar with the works of its painting circles. One of the main artists of that time was also another Silesian painter – Hermann Han. After his return to Wrocław, Strobel received so-called Freibrief from the Emperor, that is a permission to perform his work without the requirement to belong to any guild. The document raised the artist’s rank and prestige considerably; on the other hand, however, it might have also raised some reservations within the Protestant gentry of Lower Silesia. It also imposed some duties on the artist regarding the bishop.

At that time, Strobel’s former fellow-traveller to Gdańsk, Degen, caused him some problems. He was to submit accusing letters to the artist and his mother. The dispute ended up in court and was settled with a prison sentence for the slanderer.

In spite of the Freibrief, Strobel was defined as a "journeyman" in 1623 when he served as a witness at a baptising ceremony. This suggests that he was not appreciated by the local guild. A year later, the Emperor Ferdinand II granted a new Freibrief to the artist, thanks to which Strobel found his way to the circle of respected artists, and was also appreciated as a humanist. Johannes Goltmann dedicated a modest epithalamium to the painter (a classical genre of choir poetry, written specifically for the newlyweds), in which he compared Strobel to Apelles and praised his education.

The year of 1624 was groundbreaking for the future career of the artist as he first met the Prince Władysław IV Vasa on his trip around Europe. Strobel made a drawing for the future king. On August 19 of this year, the painter got married to Magdalena Mitwentz, a daughter of an affluent merchant. A special epithalamium was written on that occasion.

In the subsequent years, Bartholomeus Strobel was quite successful in terms of professional life. It is known that in 1625 he used to live on Oławska Street, one of the major streets of Wrocław, and in 1628 he portrayed Johann von Vogten, an official from Wrocław. Still, the artist wasn’t fortunate in his family life: his wife Magdalena gave birth to a stillborn child in 1625, and son left to undertake a course of treatment in Cieplice.

Then, Strobel befriended a well-known Silesian poet, Martin Opitz. Their friendship lasted as far as the friend’s death in 1639. A famous portrait of the poet was painted circa 1636 – 1637 when Opitz took the post of a royal historiographer of the Republic of Poland.

In 1632, Strobel was mentioned in the Wrocław records for the last time. That year the army of a Danish Prince Ulrik entered the Ostrów Tumski, or the oldest part of Wrocław located on an island between the branches of the Oder River. The prince posed for a portrait by Strobel – he was even to paint the curls of his hair in person. Yet, Prince Ulrik did not manage to buy the work as he was murder the next year. With regard to growing armed conflicts in the province of Silesia and increasing problems with maintaining the religious neutrality of Wrocław, the painter decided to leave Silesia for the Republic of Poland, specifically to Gdańsk where he was first recorded in June 1634.

The same year Strobel received several commissions in Toruń, including such paintings as "Adoracja Chrystusa Ukrzyżowanego" / "Adoration of the Crucified Christ" at Saint Jacob’s Church; "Matka Boska z Dzieciątkiem i św. Stanisławem Kostką" / "Our Lady with Child and Saint Stanislaus Kostka" for the Jesuits and "Madonna Różańcowa ze śś. Dominikiem i Mikołajem" / "The Madonna of the Rosary with Saint Dominic and Saint Nicolas" for the Dominicans. At the same time the mayor of Gdańsk, Valentin Bodecker, commissioned three paintings to a recently constructed church in Koźliny, for which the artist received merely 300 zlotys. In 1635, a group of French envoys paid a visit to Strobel in Gdańsk and, on this occasion, a painting by Albrecht Dürer owned by the artist was mentioned.

King Władysław IV Vasa quickly reacted to Bartholomeus Strobel’s arrival to the Republic of Poland. Circa 1636 the King commissioned him to ornament the Saint Casmir Chapel at the Cathedral in Vilnius. In the mid-1630s the artist painted a series of portraits for the Polish and Lithuanian aristocracy, including "Portret Jerzego Ossolińskiego" / "Portrait of Jerzy Ossoliński", "Portret Władysława Dominika księcia Zasławsko-Ostrogskiego" / "Portrait of Prince Władysław Dominik Zasławski-Ostrogski" and "Portret Janusza Radziwiłła" / "Portrait of Janusz Radziwiłł". In 1636 he appeared in Wrocław for his mother’s funeral. A year later, Strobel was mentioned as a participant in the meeting with a painter Aegidius Schagen from Alkmaar. In the following year, he made a drawing for a Silesian poet Christian Hoffmann.

At the end of 1639 King Władysław IV Vasa granted the artist the title of a royal painter. For the next few years up to 1642, Strobel might have worked on a large format painting (280 x 952 cm) commissioned by the King and entitled "Uczta u Heroda i ścięcie św. Jana Chrzciciela" / "The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist", currently part of the collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid. In 1640, the artist also created a painting for the Saint Jacob’s altar at the church in Pelplin.

As a result of a serious disease, in 1643 the painter converted to Catholicism at the Jesuits in Toruń. At that time, he created paintings for the main altar of the church in Radzyń Chełmiński. A year later two portraits were painted: "Portret rajcy toruńskiego Nikolausa Hübnera" / "Portrait of Nikolaus Hübner, a town councillor of Toruń" and "Portret Wilhelma Orsettiego" / "Portrait of Wilhelm Orsetti". In the final years of his artistic career as confirmed by archives or the artist’s signatures, that is between 1645 and 1647, Strobel painted works for the Cistercians in Koprzywnica and Koronowo as well as one painting in Pakość.

After 1647 there is no mention of the artist’s name any more. He may have died as he was already 65 years old at that time, or returned to Silesia, which following the end of the Thirty Years’ War became a much more peaceful province.

The most important preserved works by Bartholomeus (Bartłomiej) Strobel include:

"Ukamienowanie św. Szczepana" / "The Stoning of Saint Stephen", the Castle Museum in Gołuchów, 1618 (signed)
"Portret Johanna von Vogten" / "Portrait of Johann von Vogten", the Silesian Art Gallery in Brzeg, 1628
"Portret Władysława Dominika księcia Zasławskiego-Ostrogskiego" / "Portrait of Prince Władysław Dominik Zasławski-Ostrogski", the Wilanów Palace Museum, 1635 (signed)
"Daniel i król Cyrus przed posągiem Baala" / "Daniel and King Cyrus in front of the Baal Monument", the National Museum in Warsaw, 1636-1637 (signed)
"Portret Martina Opitza" / "Portrait of Martin Opitz", the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences, 1636-1637
• The series of altar paintings at the Cathedral in Frombork, 1639 (signed)
• The series of altar paintings at the Cathedral in Włocławek, 1639 (signed)
• "Uczta u Heroda i ścięcie św. Jana Chrzciciela" / "The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist", Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1639-1642
• The series of altar paintings in Pelplin, 1640 (signed)
"Koronacja Marii" / "The Coronation of Mary" at the church in Radzyń Chełmiński, 1643 (signed)
"Portret rajcy toruńskiego Nikolausa Hübnera" / "Portrait of Nikolaus Hübner, a town councillor of Toruń", 1644 (signed)
"Portret Wilhelma Orsettiego" / "Portrait of Wilhelm Orsetti", the National Museum in Warsaw, 1644 (signed)
• The series of altar paintings in Koprzywnica, 1645 (signed)
• The series of altar paintings in Koronowo, 1647 (signed)
"Matka Boska z Dzieciątkiem, śś. Bonawenturą i Ludwikiem" / "Our Lady with the Child, Saint Bonaventura and Ludwig" at the post-Franciscan church in Pakość, 1647 (signed)

Author: Jakub Jagiełło, March 2011