The 4 Allegories of Karl von Blass and the century old story of his portrait of Laura Bernabo, the love he walked away from.

Self portrait (1884), Karl von Blass.

Born into a family of peasants living in Austria’s mountainous Tyrol region, Karl von Blass (1815-1894), went on to become a painter known for his portraits and religious compositions executed on canvas as well as in the form of huge frescoes in prominent churches.

Amongst all the religiousity and historical pomposity of much of his (technically brilliant) work, two of his works stand out in particular. Enigmatic and elusive, his four-picture Allegory series, as well as being incredibly powerful and beautifully executed are imbued with deeper, hidden wells of thought for us to ponder on.

To accompany the Portrait of Laura Bernabo, von Blass’s lost first love we now have, in his own words, written forty years later. the heartbraking story of his lost first love.

A feast for the eyes and mind. Enjoy.

allegory: (noun), a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

Allegory of Valor.
Draft for the frescoes in the Hall of Fame and the adjoining rooms in the Vienna Army History Museum (1859)
Allegory of Art.
Draft for the frescoes in the Hall of Fame and the adjoining rooms in the Vienna Army History Museum (1859)
Allegory of Power.
Draft for the frescoes in the Hall of Fame and the adjoining rooms in the Vienna Army History Museum (1859)
Allegory of self-restraint (moderation).
Draft for the frescoes in the Hall of Fame and the adjoining rooms in the Vienna Army History Museum (1859).
Portrait of Laura Bernabo (1839).

In 1839, the 24 year old Von Blass met Laura Bernabo in Italy and painted her portrait. 37 years later, he remembered her in his Autobiography (1876).

How could he forget?

Karl von Blaas, self-portrait. Unknown date
Detail: Portrait of Laura Bernabo (1839).

“One Sunday in the Perugia Cathedral I saw a beautiful young woman, who made me forget the Mass and the holy environment. Back at the guesthouse I sketched her from memory, and the landlord said right away, “That is the beautiful Bernabo girl!” She was like the noble Lina, and as a result I drew her with a lot of spirit. In the evening on the Promenade I saw her again, and she attracted me like some invisible power. And as she walked into a narrow street, I asked her mother if I could paint her beautiful daughter. I told her I was an itinerant artist, seeking beauty wherever I found it. The lady was not offended or unkind, and let me into her house.

For days I visited her and the portrait was painted. The beautiful Laura felt herself flattered, and although I wanted to be steadfast in my feelings, and to concern myself only with art and beautiful forms, she grabbed my heart. I soon had no other thoughts but those of Laura. As I often came to the house, she waited at the window and greeted me, and it was clear that she was glad to see me. Her mother, who was a widow and only had one daughter, also noted the mutual affection.

We agreed that we would meet each other daily, early at 5:00 AM, by a fresh well where a nice path went by, naturally to the accompaniment of her mother. This happened very often and we drank of the healthy water and chatted. These were marvelous, unforgettable morning hours. Her mother desired that her beautiful but poor daughter be well married, and so spoke one day, when I had completed the portrait, very earnestly with me, whereupon I described my circumstances, and had to express my regrets, because I could make no pledge, due to the fact that I was yet so young and I must establish a livelihood.

Laura could not be expected to wait for an indefinite period, when I had achieved that goal. The young woman wept and went sobbing into another room. Her mother praised my honesty and regretted likewise that I was not well-off. During this conversation I had come again to my senses and determined that I had to leave.”

Source: Karl von Blass “Autobiography” (1876)

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