Tuesday, April 16, 2013

UNIFORMOLOGY 101 "A special treat from Guy Dempsey"!

With gracious thanks to my good friend and mentor Guy Dempsey for sending to me and allowing me to post the following article (The links and photo's were added by myself);

Guy Dempsey
December 5, 2003
Soldats Napoleoniens No. 3


            My first two columns on primary sources have emphasized how difficult it can be to get to the bottom of the history of a particular source and, consequently, how difficult it can be to assess source reliability.  By way of contrast, a relatively large amount of information is readily available about the famous Hamburg Manuscript discussed in this column but that information still needs to be carefully scrutinized.  In this case, such scrutiny calls into question some of the most popular conceptions concerning the Manuscript, but ultimately provides a basis for re-affirming its’ status as one of the best first-hand sources for Napoleonic uniform information.


NAME OF SOURCE:           
           Although the Hamburg Manuscript is German in origin, it has been traditionally referred to in Napoleonic uniform circles by its French title “Manuscrit [ou Album] du Bourgeois de Hambourg.”


            Other than as discussed below, there is unanimous agreement that the so-called “Bourgeois de Hambourg” responsible for the Hamburg Manuscript was the eldest of three artistic brothers in the Suhr family.  There is, however, considerably less agreement about his first name, which is variously reported as Christian, Christoffer; Christof and Christoph(e) (with and without an “e” at the end).  “Christoph” is the variant used by Richard Knötel in his description of the Manuscript beginning in Mitteilungen zur Geschichte der Militärischen Tracht No. 9 (1902), p. 34, 

by René Colas in his Bibliographie Générale du Costume et de la Mode (2 vols., Paris 1933) 

and by Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker in the Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler (Leipzig nd), 

but Commissaire-General Stiot of La Sabretache has asserted that the artist was named “Christian, et non Christofer comme on a coutume de le prenommer.”  (Stiot, “Monographie des Éditions de l’Album du Bourgeois de Hambourg”, Carnet de la Sabretache No. 19 (NS) (1973), pp. 94-96 at 94.)    

      The only primary information available, which comes from some engravings in the Musée de l’Armée that were produced by the Suhr brothers but that are not part of the Hamburg Manuscript, indicates that Stiot’s views are wrong even if those of the other experts are just short of being exactly right.  Four of these engravings bear the legend “Christof Suhr del -- Cornelius Suhr Sculpsit” (emphasis added).   (This information is reported in a short article about the prints in Carnet de la Sabretache No. 417 (1958), pp. 435-436 at 435.)

            Whatever his first name may have been, Suhr was born in 1771 and (according to the Künstler Lexikon) became a Professor of an art academy in Berlin in 1796.  He eventually returned to Hamburg, where he became renowned for his portraits and his scenes of Hamburg life and history.  The Künstler Lexikon devotes a respectable column and a half to the life and work of this artist, but does not mention the Hamburg Manuscript.  Professor Suhr died in 1842.

      The other brothers who probably collaborated in producing the Manuscript were Cornelius (1781-157) and Peter (1788-1857), both of whom merit their own entries in the Künstler Lexikon.  Cornelius was an artist, engraver and lithographer who also worked with Christof on other projects including most notably in this context a beautiful set of 18 colored engravings of the Spanish troops serving in Napoleon’s army.  This set (sometimes called the “Little Suhr Manuscript”) is formally entitled “Sammlung Verscheidener Spanischer Nationaltrachten und Uniformen der Division des Marquis de la Romana, 1807 und 1808 in Hamburg” and the prints bear the notation: “[G]ezeichnet von Christ. Suhr, Prof.  Radirt und geätzt von Corn. Suhr.”  (Colas No. 2833, p. 1010.)    Peter is listed as a lithographer and watercolorist.                             


             The Hamburg Manuscript is, despite its name, is not a manuscript at all.  It is rather a bound collection of colored lithographs depicting types of Napoleonic soldiers that served in Hamburg during the period of the French occupation of that city that was published sometime between 1815 and 1820 under the following title:

"Abbildung Der Uniformen Aller in Hamburg Seit den Jahren 1806 bis 1815 Einquartirt Gewesener Truppen"

[“Représentation des Uniformes de Toutes les Troupes qui ont été Casernées à Hambourg, de l’Année 1806 à l’Année 1815”]

      Each page in the bound sets is approximately 20 cm by 28 cm.  With two exceptions noted below, each page bears a single scene containing one or more figures and has a caption in German script at the bottom describing the unit or types of soldiers depicted. 

LOCATION OF SOURCE:              

      There are four known full sets of the Hamburg Manuscript lithographs.  Two are in Hamburg (one in the Commerzbibliothek and one in the State Archives), one is in the Anne Brown Collection and one is in the Lipperheide Kostumbibliothek.  There is no evidence that any other set were ever made, nor is there any evidence that plates were sold individually, so the four full sets make the Hamburg Manuscript an extremely limited edition publication.

HISTORY OF SOURCE:                                                                 

      Although all experts agree that the Manuscript was created sometime after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, I have not found any primary source information that confirms the dates that the lithographs were actually produced.   The Manuscript was apparently known to certain specialist military artists and researchers during the 19th Century, but it did not become the subject of wide-spread attention from uniformologists until 1899, when twelve facsimiles of the copy of the Manuscript owned by the Commerzbibliothek in Hamburg were made on the initiative of Edouard Detaille, then president of La Sabretache, and A. Raffet, then curator of the Cabinet d’Estampes of the Bibliotheque Nationale (and the son of Denis Marie Auguste Raffet, another famous French artist specializing in military subjects).  It has subsequently been the object of study by many experts, but none of them has contributed any specific information about the provenance of this source.


      There is a slight controversy about the exact count of lithographs in the Manuscript.  Glasser’s Catalogue, which provides French translations of the original German captions for the plates, lists 158 plates.  Rigo, however, reports that the copy in the Commerz Bibliothek in Hamburg has 159 plates.  (Rigo, “Les Hollandais du Roi Louis”, Uniformes No. 69 (Septembre-Octobre1982), pp. 13-17 at 14.)  

      Finally, the catalogue of the Lipperheide Kostumbibliothek refers to 157 pictures.  The reason for these differences in numbering is probably the fact that there are two places in the Manuscript in which a single scene extends across two pages of individual plates.  The first is a picture of the Heads of Column for the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Regiment of the Line of the Kingdom of Holland, which is identified in Glasser as Plates 112 and 113.   

Tambour-Major, Füsilier-Pfeiffer und Grenadier-Pfeiffer des 6. Infanterie-Regiments (2. Bataillon), Plate 112.

Musiker des 7. Infanterie-Regiment, Plate 113.

      The second is a picture of the 2nd Westphalian Regiment of Chevaulegers with three distinct elements – a line a mounted trumpeters, a duo of mounted Chevaulegers with lances and a single mounted officer in between.  This picture is listed in Glasser as Plates 135 and 136.  
Trompeter und Offizier des 2. Chevauleger-Regiments, Plate 135.

Soldaten des 2. Chevauleger-Regiments, Plate 136.

      If each of these scenes is counted as a single plate, the correct number of plates is 156.  If they are both counted as two plates, the correct count is 158.  If the Westphalian picture is rated as three separate pictures, the correct number is 159.  

      The breakdown of plates by nationality (using a base of 158) is as follows:

58 French                                 
35 Dutch                                              
33 Spanish
7 Westphalian                          
7 Russian                                              
4 Italians
3 Danes                                   
2 Hanover                                           
2 Berg
1 English                                  
1 Swedish                                            
1 Mecklembourg-Schwerin
1 Saxon                                    
1 Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt                  
1 Frankfurt
1 Brunswick

      Although they do not appear on a plate of their own, the Manuscript also depicts three soldiers of the City Guard of Hamburg, which was dressed in red uniform jackets with blue facings.  Two of these figures appear with a Spanish Soldier in Plate No. 33.
City Guard of Hamburg, Plate 33.

      The third, who is wearing a red cloak and a red grenadier miter cap, is in Plate No. 100.

Grenadier of the city guard, Plate 100.

      Twenty-one of the plates depict a single military figure, but the rest all depict at least two soldiers, with eight being the largest number of individually-detailed figures on a single plate.  Focusing only on figures whose uniforms are visible enough for detailed analysis, the Manuscript depicts approximately 440 different Napoleonic soldiers. 


      The Hamburg Manuscript is so well known and so well - respected as a source information about Napoleonic military dress that it has been reproduced more times than almost any other similar source.  Unfortunately, the quality of these copies varies from very reliable to woeful, with many variations in between.  Examples of very good reproductions are the facsimile copies of the Manuscript that were initiated by Detaille and Raffet.  That copying project was managed by Henri Bouchot and the facsimiles themselves were prepared by the French artist, Jacques Onfroy de Breville (JOB).  (Stiot, “Monographie”, at p. 95; the project is also mentioned in the text accompanying Plate No. 15 in JOB’s Tenues des Troupe de France, Vol. 6 (1902).)

      Even though these copies are generally reputed to be quite accurate in terms of detail, they are (based on review of a single plate from an alleged JOB copy that came up for auction on E-Bay in July of 2001) noticeably less attractive than the originals.  On the other hand, a limited edition published “reprint” of the plates of the Manuscript produced in 1902 by M. Terrel de Chenes is one of the worst reproductions of any source ever published -- almost none of the copies are accurate in terms of design, detail or color.  Fortunately for current uniformologists, however, Tradition Magazine has eliminated the problem of finding a reliable copy by publishing color photographs of the plates of the Manuscript in the Lipperheide Collection as Hors Série No. 5.    


      Although the Hamburg Manuscript is not in any technical sense a primary source of uniform information because it consists of lithographs published a few years after the Napoleonic era, that detail has traditionally been overlooked because of the key fact that the Suhr brothers definitely lived in Hamburg during the years covered in the scope of the Manuscript, so it is certain that they would have been able to observe first-hand the soldiers and uniforms depicted.  If any specific proof of this fundamental aspect of the Manuscript is needed, it is provided by a December 14, 1813 report of a French officer besieged in Hamburg who was called upon to consider a case involving suspicious activity by a citizen of the town:

Le Génie a fait arrêter hier un nommé Suhr qui s’amusait à dessiner un point de vue en dehors du Brokthor.  J’ai pris des renseignements sur la moralité de cet homme et d’après les bons rapports qui m’ont été faits, j’ai ordonné son élargissement.

      The report does not specify which brother was involved in this incident, but the Anne Brown Collection has a lithograph of “Das Brokthur in Hamburg Wahrend das Belagerungszeit 1813-14” that has a caption that names Peter Suhr as the artist responsible for the print.  (This report from the Archives du Service Historique de l’Armée is reproduced in a short note in Carnet de la Sabretache No. 19 (NS) (1973), p. 96.)

Das Brokthur in Hamburg Wahrend das Belagerungszeit 1813-14

      On the whole, then, one can be quite confident that the Manuscript is the product of direct observation, but that confidence cannot be absolute because two plates seem to be copies of other contemporary pictures.  (See Pierre Bretegnier, “A Propos de Bourgeois de Hamburg”, Carnet de la Sabretache N.S. 124 (1995).)

      In the first case, the French Marshal in Hamburg Plate No. 38 

Marschall Generalstabsoffizier, Plate 38.

is an exact copy of the same type of figure (“Maréchal de l’Empire”) as depicted in Print No. 248 of the Troupes Françaises series published by Aaron Martinet in Paris between 1807 and 1814.  

“Maréchal de France” as depicted in Print No. 248

      In the second case, the Saxon figures in Hamburg Plate No. 142 
Sachsen : Tambourmajor der Leib-Grenadier-Garde und Tambour vom Infanterie-Regiment Prinz Friedrich, Plate 142

strongly resemble similar figures in a series of prints concerning the Saxon Army created by an artist named Alexander Sauerweid in 1810.  

Saxon Army created by an artist named Alexander Sauerweid, c 1810.

      Both the Sauerweid and the Martinet prints are, however, themselves excellent sources of information about Napoleonic uniforms, so the inclusion of these copies does not in itself materially detract from the reliability of the Manuscript.

            Against this backdrop, there are two other measures that must be considered in judging the accuracy of the uniforms depicted in the Manuscript.  The first measure has to do with the exact methodology used to produce the lithographs, and there are two primary theories in this regard.

      The first theory, which is presented by Knötel, is that the artist who saw the soldiers depicted was also the person who drew the pictures directly on the stone surfaces used to produce the lithographs.  If that was the case, then, giving the dating of the lithographs, the plates would be the product of an artist working from memory several years after the subjects were actually observed, a situation that would not be conducive to the depiction of accurate detail.  

      The second theory, mentioned by Stiot and others, is that the artist responsible for the Manuscript executed contemporaneous watercolor drawings whenever he observed an interesting soldier, uniform or military scene in Hamburg during the Napoleonic period and that these watercolors were later used as the basis for the lithographs.  If that was the case, then the only concern about accuracy of the lithographs would be the extent to which the lithographer (assumed for these purposes to be a person other than the artist) departed, if at all, from the original artwork in preparing the plates.

      Since there is no documentary evidence to support either theory and since there are no original drawings associated with the Manuscript currently in Hamburg, the choice between these two theories turns solely on one’s view of the authenticity of ten paintings existing today in specialist libraries that are thought to be the last remnants of the now lost collection of originals.  Five of these watercolors are in the Brunon Collection, two are in the Lipperheide Kostumbibliothek in Berlin and three are in the Anne Brown Collection in the Hay Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.  Close examination of the latter examples strongly suggests that the second theory is the right one.

            The watercolors in the Anne Brown Collection depict the following subjects:  

1) the elite chasseur of the 23rd Regiment that appears on the left side of Plate No. 53 (using Glasser’s numbering), 

Original held at BROWN.

Hamburg Plate 53.

2) the two Train officers that appear along with an officer of the 10th Hussars in Plate No. 67 and 

Original held at BROWN.

Hamburg Plate 67.

3) the four customs officers from Plate No. 94. 

Original held at BROWN

Hamburg Plate 67.

      The watercolors appear old enough to be from the relevant period, but they bear no dates or signatures that would provide definite proof that they are the original artwork on which the lithographs are based rather than free hand copies made from the lithographs.  Such proof could also have been provided by some stylistic evidence linking the watercolors directly to Professor Suhr, but if anything the naïve quality of the drawings (and of the lithographs as well) suggests that they are unlikely to have been works produced an art professor whose works appear in many German museums.   

      (Curiously, the two Manuscript-linked drawings in the Lipperheide Kostumbibliothek bear the words “Corn. Suhr”, although it is not clear whether these words constitute a signature or merely an attribution.  This might mean that the Manuscript was really the work of Cornelius Suhr and not his older brother.)  In the end, it seems most reasonable to conclude that the watercolors pre-date the Manuscript (and that the second theory is the right one) because the differences between the uniforms depicted in the watercolors and those in the Hamburg plates are most easily explained only if the watercolors are originals rather than copies.  

      For instance, there are at least sixteen specific details of the dress and appearance of the Customs Officers in Plate No. 94 that differ from the corresponding details in the watercolor of the same scene.  The most significant of these in the watercolor (such as the mustache on the left-hand figure and the black cross belts of the right hand figure) are so obvious that they are unlikely to be mistakes made from someone taking the trouble to make a direct copy from the lithographs, whereas they might not have been features considered very important by a lithographer copying from the watercolor.

            The second and final measure relating to the reliability of the Hamburg Manuscript has to do with the credibility of the subjects covered in the plates, and the Manuscript’s good reputation rests principally on the high marks it scores in this regard.  It is well verified, for instance, that almost all of the units depicted in the Manuscript did in fact visit Hamburg at one time or another during the years it purports to cover.  It is also well-known that some of the more unusual uniforms depicted in the Manuscript can be verified from other sources in ways that cannot be explained by mere coincidence, such as the white uniforms worn by the figures in Plate No. 80, 

Hamburg Plate 80.

all of which belong to some of the few regiments that participated in Napoleon’s experiment with white uniforms in 1806.  

      Ironically, the accuracy of the uniform information is even clearer in some cases where the captions of the plates are actually wrong.  For instance, Plate 55 has a caption about the “Französische Polnische Legion” [“Franco-Polish Legion”]. 

Hamburg Plate 55.

      There is no such unit, but the uniforms happen to match the description of some unusual uniforms worn by the remnants of the 17th Lithuanian Lancers when they served in Marshal Davout’s corps in 1813.  The best explanation for these may simply be that whichever Suhr brother actually painted the watercolors often failed to make a contemporaneous note of the unit title.

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Peter Harrington, the curator of the Anne Brown Collection, Yves Martin, Alfred Umhey, and other experts concerning primary iconographic sources for the study of Napoleonic uniforms, for their assistance in the preparation of this column.

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