Sunday, November 8, 2015

Polish American Moravian Artist Johann Valentin Haidt 1700-1780


Johann Valentin Haidt, Christian Protten (1715-1769) ex slave Rebecca (1718-1780) w baby Anna Maria, Moravian Archives, Herrnhut, Germany.

Johann Valentin Haidt (Heydt) was born in Danzig (Gdańsk), Poland, on October 4, 1700. Haidt came from a long line of goldsmiths learning the trade from his father, Andreas Haidt, a jeweler & sculptor for Emperor Frederick I in the Prussian royal court. Between the ages of 10-13, Haidt studied drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts in Berlin, where his father was an instructor.

In 1713, Haidt's family relocated to the court at Dresden, after the death of Frederick I. At 16, Haidt moved to Prague by way of Ausburg, where his father's family still lived. By the age of 18, he was working as a journeyman goldsmith for his cousin in Venice. Next he traveled to Rome to work for 5 years; afterwhich he briefly worked for a cousin in Augsburg, before heading for England. Haidt settled in London; worked as a watchcase chaser; married the daughter of a Huguenot watchmaker, Catharina Compigny (1700-1782) in 1724; and raised a family of 5 with 2 daughters surviving to adulthood.

A traditional Lutheran, Haidt grew distainful of the growing secularism, rationalism, & deism in 18th century London. He was attracted to the more conservative & less ostentatious Moravian sect in 1838, and determined to join the religious community after participating in a lovefeast in London in 1740. He wrote of the moment he resolved to join, "After the lovefeast, when we kissed each other...I wept very loudly, and the Brethren with me...There was shame, amazement grief and joy, mixed together, in short, heaven on earth. Therefore I had no more question as to whether I should attach myself to the Brethren."

With his family, he journeyed to the Moravian community in Herrnhut, Germany, in 1740, where he began to paint both portraits & religious history works. Some earlier Moravian families fleeing persecution had found refuge there on a local nobleman's estate in 1722, & built the community of Herrnhut. In 1415, a Bohemian priest had been burned at the stake for challenging the Catholic Church. His followers, the Unitas Fratrum or United Bretheren, fled to Moravia & Poland; before settling in Herrnhut.

The Moravians of that area, known as the Herrenhutter for their settlement in that location, were thriving in Saxony, where the group's bishop, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf (1700-1760), ruled.

Haidt's motivation for devoting himself entirely to painting emerged, because the Moravian church was going through a period of internal crisis known as the Sichtungszeit or “Sifting Time” from about 1738-1753. Haidt, who was emotionally drawn to the anti-intellectual, earlier Moravian emphasis on the blood & wounds of Jesus, felt that the Moravians were straying from strongest impact of the gospel story.

Actually, few areas of early American Moravian colonial life were not colored by reference to Christ’s martyrdom. The Bethlehem Moravian community diarist frequently used wound imagery to make note of a good day. He noted in November of 1744, "Everything was very bloody and heart warming." And in April of 1748, he wrote "Our Morning Blessing was especially bloody and juicy."

Haidt wrote Zinzendorf asking to be allowed to paint rather than preach, saying,"For, I thought, if they will not preach the martyrdom of God anymore, l will paint it all the more vigorously."

Haidt moved back to London in 1752, to create religious history paintings for the new British Moravian headquarters, which Zinzedorf had purchased in Chelsea in 1750. Lindsey House was decorated with 38 religious paintings on its staircase alone.


John Valentine Haidt (1700-1780).  In London, a group associated with the Moravian Church.  The gentleman on the far right is Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf (1700-1760).

In 1754, Haidt left England to become the assistant pastor of a church in Philadelphia, where he continued to paint & teach painting. By the fall of 1755, he was living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, then the center of the Moravian church in this country. There his painting became part of the Moravian communal economic system.

Haidt's religious paintings were used as a vital part of church services, in order to make worshippers feel the presence of Christ with them, as well as see the pain of his suffering for them. He explained, One must utilize all of one's powers to portray the suffering body of the Savior as truly wretched, so that at the first sight everyone is moved to feel astounding pity."

In order to paint accurate historical compositions Haidt wrote, "it is primarily necessary to become correctly informed about the event and all its circumstances ...What sort of books should a painter read? The Bible, Homer, Virgil, Plutarch, Roman and Greek hissory, the Lives of Painters, the Antiquities of the Jews, Ovid."

Haidt felt that a painter's"company must consist of learned people, which can be very beneficial to him and make things easy for him. From them he can become informed about the antiquities of the heathen, how they clothed themselves from Caesar on down to the jailer who does the executions, how the priests clothed themselves for sacrifice, what sort of tools they used, and what was involved in their soothsaying and the interpretations of the sacrifices."

As an ordained deacon of the church, he began to preach at Bethlehem, while continuing to paint. In 1761, Hannah Callender visiting Bethlehem, "went to meeting" with "Sister Miller, Becky and Polly." The minister discoursed in English. His name was "Heyde" (Haidt) was also "their limner who executed all the paintings."

Part of his church assignment included traveling evangelism. He was charged with carrying the gospel to Native Americans, & his missionary work took him from New England to Maryland. Moravians established settlement congregations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, which were considered frontier mission centers for the spreading the gospel to Native Americans.

It is likely that Haidt was sketching the countryside as he traveled. He wrote that a painter should, "always carry with him, wherever he goes, a small portfolio with paper and red chalk or good lead so that, when he comes upon something special, he can immediately sketch it, be it an unusual face or a landscape or a pretty garden house or a fountain, a special tree, a nice sheep, etc."

The church Oeconomy of communal living supported Haidt's artistic endeavors, providing him with supplies & a painting room (initially in the Horsefield House) from 1756 to 1774. As official church painter, he needed no commissions from congregations or the elite. He was the first colonial American painter who could concentrate on painting historical & religious subjects, while most other painters could only survive financially by painting portraits of local gentry. He called the welcoming community at Bethlehem his home, until his death in 1780.

As the church & the town's Gemeinmaler (chief painter), he also taught painting while producing his own portraits, religious paintings, & landscapes. While in Philadelphia from June, 1754 to September, 1755, Haidt taught Benjamin West (1738-1820). West told a friend that a "Mr. Hide (Haidt), a German," gave him instruction. West so longed to earn a living selling his history paintings, that he left the colonies for England, where he would become official history painter for George III & president of the British Royal Academy of Arts.

Haidt took his tutoring duties seriously and was intensley interested in young artists with natural God-given talent, but he warned that they must be surrounded with attentive moderation. "...if only he is directed correctly at the beginning so that his talent is not struck down or praised too highly. The former makes him give up everything and the latter can push him into a wild existence, so that his work, although somewhat brilliant, will however have in it little that is correct and still less that is solid."

Haidt recorded his ideas about painters and their proceeses in an early colonial American Treatise on the history of art written in the traditional Moravain German language. Portraitist John Smibert (1688-1751) arrived in the colonies before Haidt, and also had written a Notebook on art, primarily listing his paintings.

Haidt's 39-page manuscript offers detailed instructions on painting the human form, proportion, perspective, & painting basics. During Haidt's years in Italy as a young man, he seemed to value Greek sculpture above all. The art history section praises Italian Renaissance works. A contemporary transcription of Haidt's manuscript is preserved at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Although Benjamin West was influenced by Haidt's history & religious allegories, Haidt felt that portrait painting also was important in order to express the spirit within the person. He wrote in his treatise, "One applies all energy to the face, so that it predominates above all...Each figure must immediately depict why is has been drawn...A portrait is beautiful when it is an accurate likeness and when one can see the essence of the person's face and spirit. Therefore, painters who want to paint all faces happy and make the mouths smile make a mistake. The painter must look accurately at the person he wants to paint. If he gets the opportunity to know the subject well, it is a great help to him."

Many of Haidt's paintings chronicled the history of the Moravian church and were spread throughout the sect's churches in colonial America. His multi-figural allegories celebrate the accomplishments of Zinzendorf & the sect. In 1767, he wrote,"I hardly need to mention that I have painted, because almost all the congregations have some of my work, which the dear Savior has also let be a blessing to many a heart."

In 1774, when the Bethlehem community celebrated the Haidt's 50th wedding anniversary, one congregant wrote, and when the preacher's mouth will remain quiet, the painter's hand will still preach."

John Adams visited Bethlehem in 1777, noting John Valentive Haidt, the Painter who is still living in Bethlehem, but very old." Haidt would die in 1780.

18th Century Moravians

1747 John Valentine Haidt (1700-1780). Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf (1700-1760) as the Teacher of the Peoples. Moravian Unity Archives, Herrnhut, Germany. Here Zinzendorf is receiving the light of God from the wounds of Jesus, as many converts from around the globe, including Native Americans, witness & benefit from his leadership.

In the mid 1700s, Count Zinzendorf had rejuvenated the Moravian Church dispatching "Sea Congregations" to the West Indies, North & South America, & South Africa. Moravians became the most active Protestant missionaries of the 18th-century.

1747 Johann Valentin Hadit (1700-1780). The original Erstlingsbild in Zeist, Netherlands. In March of 1747, Haidt began work on a painting that would become one his best known pieces, First Fruits or Erstlingsbild. This enormous painting depicts 21 people standing around the throne of Christ in heaven. These were the first Moravian converts from a variety of locations around the globe to have died & gone to heaven the “the first fruits” of Moravian missionary work.

1755-60 Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780). The painting of First Fruits now shows 25 baptized individuals who have died and gone to heaven from different ethnic backgrounds of people converted by Moravian missionaries. This painting is on display at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Lord, seated on a cloud surrouned by angels, vividly displays wounds on his side, hands, & feet. Haidt painted several versions of this depiction of the 1st person converted and reaching heaven from each nation.

Colonial American Moravian communities existed in New York at the Moravian mission for Native Americans at Shekomeko in Dutchess County; in Pennsylvania at Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus, & Litiz; and in North Carolina at Wachovia, Bethabara, Bethania, & old Salem. Bethlehem became the headquarters for the northern Moravian church, and old Salem emerged as the hub of the southern Moravian congregations. Some missionary work recruiting Native Americans was successful as far south as Georgia during Haidt's lifetime.

By the time of Zinzendorf's death in 1760, the Moravians had sent out 226 missionaries & baptized more than 3000 converts, only 38 years from the founding of the Herrnhut community & just 28 years since their first missionaries.

18th Century Moravian Women

Haidt's portraits of women seem to portray them as spiritual, happy, & content with their roles in Moravian community life under Zinzendorf's leadership.

The artist in Haidt did worry about the lack of color choices for his portraits of his plain-clothed congregation. "The clothes should be chosen by the painter according to the complexion of the person, as well as the background, but one will not find it easy to put this rule into practice in the congregation, so a good portrait can never or at least very seldom be painted" of fellow Moravians.

The women wore the traditional Mittel-European two-layer headdress or Haube. The only colorful aspect of their clothing were the ribbons they wore: red for young girls, pink for eligible maidens, blue for wives, and white for widows.

One Pennsylvania reader writes of the costumes, especially the tightly-fitted jackets, "Look at the lacing, the weasel waists, the odd little notch in the sleeve and the way the kerchief is arranged. 'Curiouser and curiouser,' said Alice, quite forgetting her grammar."

Miss Anna Nitschmann. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Anna Maria Lawatsch. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Miss Anna Rosina Anders. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.



Mrs. C. Theodora Neissen. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Widow Catharina Huber. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Mrs. Elizabeth Boehler. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Mrs. Gertraut Graff. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Johann and Susanna Nitschmann. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Young Moravian Girl. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Married Moravian Woman. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Married Moravian Woman. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Married Moravian Woman. Johann Valentin Haidt (1700-1780) Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


1754 John Valentine Haidt (1700-1780), Johannetta Maria Kymbel (1725-1789) Mrs John Ettwein. Moravian Historica Society, Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Many of Haidt's American paintings recording this period, its religion, & its people are located at the Moravian Archives & College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; the Moravian Historical Society in Nazareth, Pennsylvania; the Moravian Congregation, Lititz, Pennsylvania, and at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Further Reading

To learn about the lives of 18th century Moravian women see:

Faull, Katharine. Moravian Women's Memoirs: Their Related Lives, 1750-1820. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

Smaby, Beverly Prior. "Female Piety Among 18th-Century Moravians." Pennsylvania History 64 (1997): 151-167.

Wachovia Historical Society, Winston-Salem, North Carolina< Old Salem, Inc., Winston-Salem, North Carolina 1750 Johann Valentine Haidt (1700-1780). Women portrayed as separate but sharing power at the Moravian Synod at Herrnhut.</ "Forming the Single Sisters' Choir in Bethlehem." The Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society 28 (1994): 1-14

Sommer, Elisabeth W. Serving Two Masters: Moravian Brethren in Germany & North Carolina, 1727-1801. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

Vogt, Peter. "A Voice for Themselves: Women as Participants in Congregational Discourse in the 18th-Century Moravian Movement." In Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity, edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker, 227-247. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.



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