Bernhard Plockhorst: Painter of Jesus, Children, Sheep, and Angels

The name Bernhard Plockhorst may not be familiar to most people, but his artwork might be. Born in 1825 in Brunswick, Germany, he learned his artistic technique in Munich and in Paris. In 1857, he painted a portrait of Franz Liszt, the great Hungarian composer and pianist. But Plockhorst is best represented by his religious artwork which, with the half tone images of Heinrich Hoffman’s Life of Christ, was printed in Bibles of the 1890’s. Plockhorst became a professor at the Weimar Art School before it became the Bauhaus, a school of design. In 1907, well before the 1919 birth of the Weimar Republic and the start of World War I, Plockhorst died.

I have seen at least nine reprints of Plockhorst works, and his ‘The Nativity’ was recreated in stained glass at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Three enduring works which seem to be a part of every art seller’s gallery are Plockhorst’s ‘Schutzengel’ or ‘Guardian Angel’, ‘The Good Shepherd’, and ‘Jesus Blessing the Children’.

In ‘Guardian Angel’, we see two children dangerously close to a cliff edge. The little blond boy reaches for a pale butterfly with his right hand. With the other hand he clasps the wrist of a dark-haired girl, perhaps his sister. The girl holds a bouquet of flowers in her hand and reaches for more wildflowers at the edge of the precipice. Both seem blissfully unaware of their danger. But for the angel behind them the children would perish. Her eyes intent upon them, the angel stretches out her hands to each of the children lest they stray too far.

‘The Good Shepherd’ carries a shepherd’s crook in his left hand and a young lamb in his right arm. Plockhorst, like many earlier artists, painted Jesus with light hair and a fair complexion, very northern European, and this rendition is an example. Above his head and almost blending with the light of the sky is a nimbus, a halo, that symbolizes holiness. Jesus leads a flock of sheep along rocky and rugged ground. In the foreground, we see the lamb’s mother close by Jesus’ left side. She gazes anxiously up at her offspring. Her lamb looks up into Jesus’ face and He looks down at the lamb. Walking behind and to the right of Jesus is a ram and behind him is a black sheep, symbol of one who has wandered from the faith and has returned, a type of prodigal.

In ‘Jesus Blessing the Children’, we see a crowd of women and children surrounding Jesus as He sits at the side of a well. One blond-haired youth sprawls in His lap. With His right hand, Jesus blesses another child who gazes up at Him. Other children and their mothers stand or sit about Him. One child holds a small bouquet of flowers, another a palm frond, symbol of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Behind Jesus, a flock of sheep drink from the cistern, their shepherd watching Him as He interacts with the assembled group. Here again we find a black sheep drinking with the others. Behind the shepherd and his flock are the obscure figures of three women, two of whom have water jugs. All of the people in this painting have fair skin.
Bernhard Plockhorst may not have achieved the lasting popularity of artists like his contemporary, Frenchman Gustave Dore, but a few of his religious paintings are recognized and sold today.

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