'...gaden, det er mit Vatican' - maleren Ernst Meyer i Rom
”… the street is my Vatican” – Painter Ernst Meyer in Rome
Painter Ernst Meyer (1797-1861) belongs to a group of Danish artists commonly known as ’the Golden Age Painters’. Their painting techniques differ, but most of them spent periods of varying length in Rome, mostly during the 1830s and 1840s where they experienced and rendered the people and scenery of Italy. Ernst Meyer was born in the Holsteinian city of Altona and came from a Jewish family. He trained as an artist in Copenhagen with the help of his cousin, the well-known merchant Mendel Levin Nathanson, who was the driving force behind the Jewish emancipation in Denmark. After a number of years in the artistic milieu of Munich, Meyer arrived in Rome in 1824, at a time when sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen had achieved his fame and was now the centre of attention in the German and Danish artistic groups.
Thanks to his Danish-German background, Ernst Meyer was on good terms with both nationalities, but he also acquired good contacts with the Italian population of the small mountain villages around Rome. Among Ernst Meyer’s works, he is especially remembered for his genre paintings depicting life in the streets of Rome. In addition, he produced a large number of drawings and watercolours of landscapes and monuments. Ernst Meyer’s Jewish descent had little influence on his art and his life. Only one of his paintings contains a ’Jewish’ element, being painted outside the ghetto of Rome. Writers such as H.C. Andersen and Aron Meïr Goldschmidt, on the other hand, were significantly affected by their meeting with the ghetto Jews of Rome. Although Ernst Meyer, too, reflected on his Jewish ancestry, his thoughts did not manifest themselves in his artwork, which remained influenced more by his Italian impressions than by his Danish-Jewish background. Despite being seriously ill, Ernst Meyer was a lively encounter for the group of travelers to Rome all his life, but he was prone to depression at times. Ernst Meyer seems to have found spiritual refuge in Italy, which he sometimes considered leaving, but never did. Apart from occasional journeys to Denmark and other European countries, Ernst Meyer remained in Italy until his death in 1861.