Gent (1710 - ca. 1728)
The foundations for the eventual artistic tenure of the Fleming Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, born 300 years ago on the 8th May 1710, were laid early on through his exposure to his grandfather Pieter de Sutter's sculpture workshop (1647 - 1723). It was also under his aegis, that the first instructions in sculpting took place. Following the death of his grandfather, the workshop was then run by his son. Under the leadership of his uncle, Pieter de Sutter the Younger, together with Jan Broeksent, Verschaffelt participated in the realisation of the four large half figures of the Evangelists for the church Onze Lieve Vrouwe in Gent.
Paris (ca. 1728 - 1738)
At the end of the 1720's, Verschaffelt left Gent, and after a short sojourn in Brussels, continued his schooling in the early 30's of the 18th Century in Paris. He initially worked for the famous stone sculptor Jacob Verberckt (Antwerp 1704 - 1771 Paris). Verberckt (or Verbeeckt) was one of the most sought after ornament sculptors of the French court, and participated in the configuration of many royal palaces and their parks, such as Versailles, the Louvre and the Tuileries, as well as the Palais du Luxembourg. At the same time, Verschaffelt acquired knowledge of art history at the Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. In 1734 he was taken on in the workshop of the famous sculptor Edmé Bouchardon. His artistic perception, with focus on the ancient world, played a large influence on the sculptural style of the young artist.
Rom (1738 - 1751)
After Verschaffelt successfully completed his trade apprenticeship years in receiving the 1st prize medal of the year 1736, he left Paris in 1737 in order to perfect his knowledge in Rome. There he took up contact to the Académie de France. Verscheffelt's reputation grew and grew. Amongst others, he worked for Pope Benedict XIV, for whom he completed numerous sculptural adornments for new and conversion building works in Rome and the surrounding areas, together with a group of well-known artists such as Giambattista Maini, Pietro Bracci and Giuseppe Lironi. It was thus that he received the honourable commission to replace the weather-damaged colossal statue of the Archangel Michael at the Castle of St. Angel with a new creation. Alongside his artistic works, he also dedicated himself to art historical studies and in 1745 he was accepted at the Accademia di San Luca.
London (1751 - early 1752)
In 1751 there followed a sojourn in London on the invitation of Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales. After the Prince's sudden death, he was recommended to Lord Dodington by Cardinal Alessandro Albani, for whom he then produced copies of antique sculptures. Verschaffelt was well aware of his capabilities and felt unchallenged. After just a few months he then left London. Lord Dodington classified Verschaffelt as an artist who understood his handiwork, as well as being someone who through his wealth of experience had a great deal to say about art. Verschaffelt's sojourn was subsequently acknowledged in an exhibition in 1765 by the "Free Society London".
Mannheim (1752 - 1793)
Early in the year 1752, Verschaffelt received the appointment as the successor to the deceased court sculptor Paul Egell, at the court of the elector Carl Theodor in Mannheim. The most pressing job for the new court sculptor was the finishing of the non-completed sculptural features of the Jesuit-church of Mannheim. Verschaffelt continued with Egell's predefined designs, and orientated himself stylistically on contemporary Italian sculptural tradition, then modifying them for the implementation. The Jesuit-church celebrated its 250th inauguration in the year 2010.
Numerous further projects followed, some of which he completed in collaboration with the palatine court architect, Nicolas de Pigage - such as the plans for the Castle Benrath near Düsseldorf, as widows residence for the electress Elisabeth Auguste. He often undertook trips to Italy, France and England at the behest of Carl Theodor. Most often occupied with several extensive projects at one time, Verschaffelt only managed to master his jobs with the aide of well-trained staff. In order to achieve this, in 1756 the artist founded one of the first painting academies in Europe, which in 1769 the elector elevated to the "Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture". It was equipped with its own hall of ancient works of art for viewing and study purposes. Verschaffelt remained director of the academy until his death, and in this role formed a whole generation of artists to his method.
A particular status within Verschaffelt complete works is held by the configuration of the castle garden of Schwetzingen. Up until around 1777 Verschaffelt completed a large number of animal figures, statues and busts based on antique role models, as well as fountain figures. This period also coincides with the commencement of the new construction for the armoury of Mannheim, which Verschaffelt completed just one year later. In 1781, Carl Theodor commissioned the artist with the sculptural configuration of the Bretzenheim Palace (later Rheinische Hypothekenbank) in Mannheim, which served as accommodation for the illegitimate offspring of the electorate and the dancer Josefa Seyffert. Up until his death in the year 1793, he dedicated himself to various projects, amongst these the conversion of the Loreto-chapel in Oggersheim to the castle and pilgrim church Mariä Himmelfahrt on the commission of the electress Elisabeth Auguste. His last and at the same time his greatest construction was the Deutschorden-church in Nürnberg.
Verschaffelt's works of art were initially influenced by the formation with Edmé Bouchardon, as well as through dealings with the world of Italian art sculpture in the succession of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The appointment as court sculptor by the elector Carl Theodor von der Pfalz saw a stylistic advancement in the artist, moving towards becoming the creator of complete works of art. This was brought about by the diversity of his projects, working not only as a sculptor, but also increasingly as an architect. Significant is the clear orientation towards classicism, without however neglecting the late Baroque. Verschaffelt was highly appreciated by his contemporaries, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe reported enthusiastic in 1769 in "Dichtung und Wahrheit" when visiting the Mannheim painting academy, where Verschaffelt showed him around the hall of ancient works of art. The significant contribution that the artist had on the development of early classicism in the palatine is still evident today as seen in numerous buildings in Mannheim and Schwetzingen. Typical for Verschaffelt's manner of work is the preparation of the definitive draft of his sculptures and architectural works through numerous idea sketches and designs. These studies, rarely using life drawings, are defined by a corporeal firmly established figure composition with steady contours. The sketches, described in the catalogue, document this and show in their entirety a marvellous overview of Verschaffelt's drawing capabilities.
For his artistic efforts he was elevated to the peerage by the elector Carl Theodor and was made a knight of the Order of Christ by Pope Pius VI.
Verschaffelt's substantial estate of drawings was divided up after his death. A large part of it, some 400 sheets, can be found in the Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg. These were donated to the museum in Heidelberg by the personal physician of the electress Elisabeth Auguste, Prof. Dr. Anton Mai (1742 - 1814). Another part of around 450 sheets can be found in the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim, placed there as a permanent loan from the State of Baden-Württemberg, acquired from the collection Dr. Georg Sigmund Graf Adelmann zu Adelmannsfelden, Ludwigsburg.
In commemoration of the tricentenary of Verschaffelt's birth, his drawing works are receiving renewed attention.