Frankfurt am Main
Height 21 cm
At the age of seventeen, Susette Gontard (1769–1802) married the Frankfurt textile merchant Jakob Friedrich Gontard. Her appearance is known from four busts by the sculptor Landolin Ohmacht. Ohmacht, who is nowadays chiefly prized for his small-scale busts, executed portrait sculptures of such personages as Angelika Kauffmann and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. In Frankfurt he not only portrayed Susette Gontard, but also the anatomist Samuel Thomas Sömmering and his wife Margarethe Elisabeth Grunelius, the banker Johann Jakob Willemer, members of the Bethmann-Hollweg family, and others.
The bust now displayed in the Liebieghaus was bequeathed to the museum by descendants of the Gontard family. With its smooth modelling, the regular features, the hair drawn back into a bun, the classically styled dress decorated with an acanthus pattern, and the serene pose as well as the use of white alabaster, this small bust is reminiscent of classical images of goddesses.
The portrait is a part of German cultural history, since Susette Gontard was the woman whom Friedrich Hölderlin (1770– 1843) immortalized in the figure of “Diotima” in his epistolary novel Hyperion, or the Hermit in Greece. They had fallen in love with each other while Hölderlin was living in the Gontards’ house as tutor to their son Henry from 1795 to 1798. In a letter Hölderlin wrote: “Majesty and tenderness, and cheerfulness and seriousness, and sweet playfulness and august sorrow, and life and spirit, all are united in her and about her to form a single, divine whole.” Whether that description of her “Madonna-like head” and “delicate, spiritual, divinely appealing face”, as the poet puts it in the same letter, was inspired by one of Ohmacht’s portraits is not known.