Muller, Johann-Jakob - portraits of a man and a lady

This pair of miniature portraits were acquired in late 2010 for a very modest sum, but have been sitting neglected on my desk. At first glance they are not very attractive, (perhaps also at second glance!) but are still an interesting pair.

Regrettably my knowledge of French and German is virtually non-existent, which is the main reason they have not been listed previously. They each have an inscription on the reverse, which is much more recent, as the backing appears to be from an old envelope with a postmark for Basle 29 November, 1944.

While I am not fully confident, I think they are by a well-regarded Swiss artist Johann-Jakob Muller (1762-1817). There is an extensive article about him (in French), by Vincent Lieber, in "100 Ans de Miniatures Suisses - 1780-1880). The article includes nearly 20 examples by Muller and they seem to be very similar in style to this pair.

It seems that most, if not all of his miniatures are on paper, a sign that he drew portraits of middle class citizens, rather than the wealthy. Thus, although not having the brilliance of ivory, these miniatures do show why there was such a preference for ivory as the base. The colours of these have faded, but there is good detail.

I have not taken them out of their frames, as I do not want to damage the inscriptions, so the images are not very good. In addition, the glasses show the pitting associated with rotting of the actual glass, due to a manufacturing deficiency, which does tend to affect a number of miniatures from the early 19C.

The inscriptions say that they are two small oval portraits from the estate of Hermann Burckhardt 18??-1942, maybe? his grandparents. The father of Hermann Burckhardt was Emanuel Burckhardt (I. Le Roche, II. Wilhelm) 1820-1892. Judging by the dates and the apparent age (about 50 years?) of the sitters, it therefore seems possible that the sitters are the parents, or even grandparents, of Emanuel Burckhardt. 1403a, 1403b.

In the IGI reference to Le Roche is revealed as the name of Emanuel's first wife, Margaretha Charlotte LaRoche (1825-1857), who he married in 1847, with his occupation between 1847 and 1892 recorded as "Aristorf Pastor", perhaps meaning he was a personal chaplain to an aristocratic family? Margaretha's parents being Simon Emanuel LaRoche, a pastor, and Anna Catharina Bernoulli. His second wife was thus named ... Wilhelm, but her first name has not yet been located.

Possibly related was a noted German ethnographer, Hermann Burckhardt, with a good knowledge of Arabic and Turkish, who in 1907 traveled to Yemen and submitted a detailed political report on the situation to Dr Moritz, the German director of the khedival library in Cairo. One of his recommendations was construct a railway line to help maintain Ottoman authority in Yemen.

Although not yet linked, it is possible that the Hermann Burckhardt who died in 1942, was the father of the Hermann Burckhardt who was involved in the design and construction of German battleships and battlecruisers of the World War II era.

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