CHRISTIAN WILHELM ERNST DIETRICH
(Weimar 1712 – 1774 Dresden)
Holy Family in a Carpenter's Shop
Oil on panel, 17 3/4 x 12 7/8 in
Sale, Christie’s, New York, May 25, 1999, lot 70.
The German artist Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich was born in the town of Weimar in 1712. He received his early training from his father Johann Georg Dietrich, a court painter in his native town. At the age of thirteen, Dietrich entered the studio of the landscape painter Johann Alexander Thiele – an experience that would have a profound impact on his future career. Three years later, the pupil accompanied his teacher to Arnstadt to paint landscapes for stage sets. In 1730, Thiele introduced Dietrich to Frederick-Augustus I, Elector of Saxony, as a prodigy. Evidently, Frederick-Augustus was also impressed by the young artist, as he appointed him court painter and enlisted him to produce decorative paintings for his minister.
In the mid-1730s, Dietrich traveled extensively throughout Germany and possibly to the Netherlands. When the artist returned to Dresden in 1741, he was appointed court painter to Frederick-Augustus II who sent him to Rome and Venice to study. It was on this journey that Dietrich encountered the works of Sebastiano Ricci and Salvator Rosa, among other Italian artists from the previous century. After the Seven Years War (1756-63), Dietrich was appointed Inspector of the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. He later became the professor of landscape painting at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in 1763, and the Director of the Kunstschule at the porcelain manufactory in Meissen shortly thereafter.
A diverse and eclectic artist, Dietrich was highly skilled in imitating painters from a variety of different schools and time periods with great facility and technical knowledge. His most notable reproductions were inspired by the works of artists such as Adriaen van Ostade, Sebastiano Ricci, Rembrandt, Allart van Everdingen, Titian and Salvator Rosa. Our painting reflects the influence of Sebastiano Ricci, whose works Dietrich likely encountered on his trip to Italy in 1743. The figures’ physical attributes may be compared to Ricci’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt from the early 1690s.
Dietrich produced a nearly identical version of the present work (sale, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, May 5, 2009, lot 98), signed and dated Dietricy 1746 (from 1732 onward the artist signed his name ‘Dietricy’).
 Annalisa Scarpa, Sebastiano Ricci, Milan, 2006, p. 149, pl. 111.