‘Gnadestuhl’ - Wilhelm Mengelberg, 1905. Kölner Dom/ Painting on canvas in oil on the back of the altar of H. Clara 

Welcome to this website

The Roman Catholic emancipation in the nineteenth and twentieth century was cause for high production of churches and interior decoration in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. This site aims to catalogue, select and describe this heritage in word and image. In this field, the Mengelberg studios for religious art played a dominant role in the decoration of Roman Catholic churches in the Netherlands and Germany, esp. in the Rhineland for more than a century. This site dedicates its core to these workshops but will be extend with the works of other studios and individual artists. The founding father was Wilhelm Mengelberg (1837-1919) who was born in Cologne and grew up under the shadow of the gothic cathedral completed in 1880. The completion of the dome was not a unique event but occurred in the context of the 19th- century revival of the Catholic faith. A proof for this revival was the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 with the ‘medieval' compartment as an illustrative example. In this department, one could find a set of religious objects, that was copied all over Europe hereafter. More about 1837-1919...

The year 1837 saw the outbreak of the ‘Kölner Wirren’, a virulent battle between the Roman-Catholics in the Rhineland and the government of Prussia. This episode is now seen as a start-up phase for the ‘Kulturkampf’ (c. 1871-1887). Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, sought to subject the church to state controls and governance. There were also ‘Kulturkämpfe’ in Bayern and Baden-Würtenberg.

The year 1837 also showed the riots against Jews in the Rhineland. The first in these years after the 'Heb- Heb- Krawalle' in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Anti-semitism was vehement in the Rhineland since the official declaration of their rights in 1797, the growing economic welfare of this group, the difficult emancipation of the Catholics and their feeling of threat, the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe later on in the century. 

Not only in Germany the Roman Catholic Church was violated: also Italy and France were a battlefield for the Catholics for resp. the Italian freedom fighters with Garibaldi and the French Republicans and the Paris Commune after the victory of Germany in 1871. In the Netherlands with the ‘April-beweging’ as a reaction to the occupation of public space and presentation in the daily life of the Catholics after the renovation of the official hierarchy of the dioceses in 1853 led to tensions in the community.

Another thread for the Church was ‘Rationalism’: a collective for the political movements of Liberalism, Socialism and Communism and the cultural trends of Naturalism and Modernism.

The year 1919 was not only the year of death of Wilhelm but also the year after the end of the Great War. The flowering of Modernism in religious art from then on is a fact and can not be stopped by conservative Catholics anymore. Nevertheless, there was always a manifestation of traditional art produced by the members of the second and third generation of the Mengelberg -family; thus one can state that the production of the ateliers was always an exponent of the very conservative Catholic circle. 


Mengelberg converted at the age of nineteen to the Catholic faith, together with his younger brother Otto (1841-1891). and his mysterious elder brother Phillip, of whom we have no further details, only that he was an illegitimate child. Wilhelm felt very much connected with the ‘ultramontanist’ clergy and laymen of the time. It is under the protection of this papal ideology that his studios could flourish for more than a century. The machinery of the ultramontane church was the reborn interest in the philosophy of Thomas of Aquinas, the thirteenth -century Dominican monk. Neothomism became the official teaching of the church with the publication of 'Aeterni patris'. More about Ultramontanism and Neothomism...

Eduard Bendemann, 'Die trauernden Juden im Exil', 1834, Wallraf-Richartz museum.  Bendemann was director of the art-academy in Düsseldorf and a Jew himself. He underwent a lot of criticism after painting this artwork.


Ultramontanism is the clerical thinking in the Northern- and Western parts of Europe (Rome: ultra montes: ‘over the Alps’) with a strong emphasis on the power of the Pope in Rome. In this context, we deal with a virulent form of ultramontanism, after the Catholic reveille of the ‘liberal Catholics’ in the first half of the 19th century.’ In this phase, from 1870 onwards, ultramontanists searched for political influence by centralizing the organization of the church and consolidation of the role of the pope. The archbishops of Utrecht and Cologne and their inner circles became ultramontanists at the end, with the finding that the pope was the most powerful shepherd of the church indeed. At the end of the 19th century and during the turn to the 20th- century catholic conservatism changed into an ideology of Catholic emancipation of the working class, ‘Vereinskatholizismus’. In the running up to the Great War, ‘Integralism’, a traditionalist and conservative counterpoise against new, modern forms of liturgy, came in vogue. In the Netherlands, the (arch)bishops of Haarlem and Breda and in Germany the(arch)bishops of Cologne, Trier, and Mainz were key figures. On the background, the controversy and the struggle for power between the pope and the (arch) bishops (known as papalism contra episcopalism) are as important.

With the publication of 'Aeterni patris' by Pope Leo XIII in 1879, the clergy accepted the 'new' theological philosophy based on the learnings of Thomas of Aquinas (1225-1274). It can be stated that the ultramontanist Catholics became Thomists in due course, esp. after the declaration of Thomas as the saint of Catholic education and the patron of the Radboud-university in Nijmegen. His opinion was efficiently used against the ideology of Liberalism and Socialism, esp. his hierarchical analysis of biblical and theological writings in which the texts of the most important writers were truer than those of 'minor' writers. In the context of his writings 'Summa contra gentiles' (c. 1260) and 'de Regimine Judaeorum' (c. 1262) he advocated the wearing of special signs on the clothes of Jews. 

In historical research, the religious anti-semitic feelings under the Ultramontanists and Neothomists have not been a subject yet. But this research shows that it would be an enrichment of the knowledge of the ways of the thinking about and the threating of within the Catholic church of Jews, their conversion to the 'real' faith and the vision of converted Jews. The nineteenth century shows a development of anti-Judaïsme at the beginning of the century, towards a vehement anti-religious Anti-semitism, over a social and political form of Anti-semitsm (in the context of Zionism) ending in the racial Anti-semitism during the period 1933-1945. 



We denominate three generations of the Mengelberg-family, who worked closely together on commissions for the church for nearly a century in two countries, the Netherlands and Germany. The founding father was Wilhelm (1837-1919) who, with his two brothers Otto (1841-1891) and Edmund (1850-1921) formed the first generation. The second generation consists of two sons of Wilhelm, Otto (1867-1924) and Hans (1885-1945). The third generation is the eldest son of Otto, Willem (1896-1969). The studios of Wilhelm consisted of two departments: one in Cologne till 1894 and in Brühl till 1921, in Aix-la-Chapelle from 1865 till 1869 and in Utrecht from 1869 till 1924. Two of Wilhelm’s sons continued as church artists and one grandson as glass painter; a craft that was carried out by all the members of the Mengelberg-family.
The ideology of the cloth dominated the styles in which the artists worked: the first and second generations applied the historistic styles of neo-Gothicism or neo-Romanism, with neo-Renaissance, Beuronesk and even Moorish elements. These styles dominated the output of the ateliers shortly after the end of World War 1. More about Historism...

Historism, Historicism or ‘Historismus’ is the original German concept that artistic styles draw their inspiration from interpreting historic artefacts of p.e. the Roman, Gothic or Renaissance period, esp. in architecture. Thus neo-Gothicism and neo-Romanism became the leading church styles in the 19th and first decades of the 20th century. The aim was not bluntly copying the examples, but adding new elements, words, and texts or poorly imitating luxurious techniques. We call this ‘Stilpluralismus’, style pluralism. The School of Beuron was somewhat different from origin because it did not choose for the visual language of Europe, but for the more ‘Orientalist or Egyptian’ way of depiction. 


Memorycard Wilhelm, priv.coll. utrecht 2016
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Photo of the family of Wilhelm Mengelberg c. 1895, private collection Utrecht, 2016

In the regions looked at on this site, where ultramontanism was vehement, esp. around Utrecht and Haarlem in the Netherlands and in Germany Münster, Cologne and Düsseldorf, the activities for the mission in the colonies of the nation states flourished. In this perspective, I studied the mission and the historistic religious art, esp. neo-Gothicism, the favourite style of the Mengelberg-studios of the first and partly second generations. Another characteristic of this movement was a clear religious anti-semitic ideology that appears in the iconographical programme of the interior decoration of the churches.

On this site, you can find three departments of objects:

  • The Works in The Netherlands
  • The Works in Germany
  • Profane Objects in both Countries


We hope you enjoy this site and feel free to contribute to complete the catalogue. You can use the contact button for your input.

The Mengelberg Research Team

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