Portrait of Wilhelm Urban (1795-1833), 1829 [Part II]

June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

028b 29 Urban print

Portrait of Wilhelm Urban (1795-1833), 1829 [Part II]

Winterhalter depicts Wilhelm Urban wearing a plaid scarf, which looks rather Scottish. The reasons for this might be found in the sitter’s biography.

Wilhelm Urban (Munich 6.01.1795 – Munich 28.02.1833), Bavarian actor and playwright, was considered to be one of the finest performers to grace the stage of the Munich’s Hoftheater. He debuted around 1812 at the Bamberg Theatre, but returned the following year to Munich to perform at the Isartortheater. His debut as Fridolin, in an eponymous play by Holbein, at the Munich Hoftheater the same year landed him a contract with the court troupe, with which he would remain for the next twenty years. He was described by his contemporaries as being small of stature, but having the ability to charm everyone with his good looks, dark eyes, and melodic voice.

Urban favoured plays by the great masters, delivered both tragic and comedic roles with a great aplomb, and his performances were distinguished by the serious approach of his acting methodology, depth of emotional feeling, and great conviction in the overall delivery of his lines. His greatest acting roles were in the plays of Goethe and Shakespeare, and his appearances on the stages of Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, and Vienna extended his fame beyond Bavarian borders. Urban also tried his hand in writing and poetry, as well as stage direction.

Urban died after a long illness at the age of 38, survived by his widow and eight children.

Every biographer, and every contemporary, mentions without fail that his performance in the title of role of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and his delivery of the celebrated soliloquy “Sein oder Nichtsein” remained unequalled on the Munich stage. It is therefore possible that the ‘Scottish touch’ in Winterhalter’s portrait of Wilhelm Urban refers to the celebrated ‘Scottish Play’ in which Urban so universally excelled.


© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 2013.


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