Garbiel von Max was the son of the sculptors Josef Max and Anna Schuman, and showed a precocious talent for art, winning a place at the prestigious Prague Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 15. From Prague, Max continued studies at the Munich Academy of Art, where artists like James McNiel Whistler, Emmanuel Leutze, Albert Bierstadt, and Eastman Johnson were also drawn to learn from some of the best figural painters in Europe. Throughout his career Max was drawn to spiritual subjects, often working with archeologists to depict the stories of early Christian martyrs and saints in the context of new archeological discoveries, such as the catacombs of Rome. After distinguishing himself with gold medals from the World Fairs in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna — along with dozens of other contests such as the Paris Salon — Max was made Professor of Historical Painting at the Munich Academy.
His painting Licht (1873) was shown at the Vienna World’s Fair (aka Universal Exposition) of 1873, where it was highly regarded and widely reproduced in photogravures, lithographs and publications — both religious and historical — on the plight of early Christians throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
About this work:
A blind beggar girl sits quietly at the entrance to the catacombs, dispensing oil lamps to Christians hiding from Roman authorities. This girl is known as Cæcelia from the 1854 novel “Fabiola” by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman. She inevitably sacrifices herself to protect the other Christians inside. On the left, a woman of high birth risks her life by worshiping secretly with the lower classes. The artist Gabriel von Max painted this work, simply titled Light (1873), for the Vienna International Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair.