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The Johannes Oertel Collection

 File — Box: 1
Identifier: MS86

Scope and Contents

Collection contains biographical material, correspondence, newspaper clippings, letters written by Oertel himself, museum exhibit materials, inventories, grant requests, conservation records, appraisal records, photographs of his art and their negatives.


  • Majority of material found within 1823 - 1909


Conditions Governing Use


Biographical / Historical

An ordained Episcopal priest, Johannes Oertel aspired to be a painter of powerful canvases illustrating the salvation of mankind. Born on November 3rd, 1823 in Furth, Bavaria, Oertel first studied engraving at the Nuremburg Polytechnic Institute before moving on to Munich. One of many German artists who fled their country during the diaspora caused by the revolutions of 1848, Oertel arrived in the US, living fin New Jersey, Washington DC, New York City and Westerly, Rhode Island.

A staunch abolitionist, enlisted with federal forces in the autumn of 1862 to fight for the North in the American Civil War. He was a member of the Sixth New York Cavalry under the command of General Ambrose Burnside. Even though he was a typical solider, he painted life behind the scenes.

Following the war, Oertel worked throughout the South, executing altar commissions, teaching and serving as a parish priest following ordination. The dream of creating inspirational art was finally realized in 1867 when his painting Rock of Ages was distributed as a chromolithograph. The dramatic depiction of a drowning woman clinging desperately to a stone cross in a storm-tossed sea became a cherished item in many homes and churches.

Oertel’s crowning personal achievement was the execution of four massive canvases depicting the central truths of Christianity. Begun in 1895 and completed six years later when the artist was 78 years old, these works-- rich in religious symbolism and meticulous detail-- were donated to Sewanee. In 1889, he began his final teaching assignment was at Washington University in St. Louis. He retired to Vienna, Virginia, outside Washington DC in 1891. He died on December 9th, 1909.


.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


The Johannes Oertel Collection
Kris Kallies
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Special Collections Repository

735 University Avenue
Sewanee TN 37383-1000