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Moravian Church Illumination

Ferber, Phillip Jacob
Place Made:
Herrnhut Germany Germany
Date Made:
watercolor and ink on paper
WOA 35 1/4 HOA 25 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Watercolor and ink image on paper depicting a thriving grapevine with leaves of different colors with different shaped centers. At the base of the vine is Christ crucified.

HISTORY: Friedrich Von Watteville commissioned this watercolor to present to Frederick William Marshall, the administrator of Wachovia. The image depicts all of the Moravian congregations around the world founded by 1775 as leaves on the branches of a grapevine nourished by the blood from Christ’s wounds as he hangs from a cross at the base of the vine. The leaves that are dark in color represent congregations or missions in which the majority of the members are of African descent. The Wachovia congregations are on a branch on the far lower left. The title, “Ihr Deid Reben Ich Bin Der Weinstock” translates to “You are the branches; I am the vine.”

The shapes within the leaves indicate what each leaf represents. The leaves with heart-shaped centers represent congregations, the leaves with oval centers represent renewal “societies” of the Moravian Diaspora, and the leaves with rectangular centers represent important events (sometimes represented by the place and date the event took place). The yellow leaves represent abandoned towns or difficult events.

One leaf of the vine is particularly colorful and depicts a sunrise and the date 16 Sept. 1741. On that day in 1741, during a synodical conference in London, leading Moravians became convinced that it was their Lord’s will for them no longer to fill the office of Chief Elder of their denomination but to let their Saviour Himself be the Chief Elder. The decision was announced on November 14, 1741, in order to give time for the preparation of hymns and a liturgy for the announcement. This day is still a day of celebration in the Moravian Church.

The watercolor and ink image was created by Philipp Jacob Ferber. Philipp Jacob Ferber was born August 11, 1705 near Strasburg in the Alsace. He was trained as an embroiderer of gold ornaments. He is known to have practiced his profession in St. Petersburg where his wife (née Fickard) died ca. 1767. Ferber then settled in Herrnhut with his children. He died in Herrnhut 15 February 1788. ( Biographical information provided by Del Moyer, a private researcher).

This watercolor was done by P.J. Ferber at the commission of Br. Friedrich von Watteville as a gift to Br. F.W. von Marshall, 1775. At this time Marshall was in Barby attending the Synod. The donor is a direct decendant of Christian Ludwig Benzien, Marshall’s successor in Salem. This document was pasted inside an 18th century round-top trunk and was patched on the backside with a letter addressed to Benzien, indicating the probability that Marshall gave the document to Benzien, who patched it and that Benzien or some later owner affixed the paper inside the trunk.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: “One elaborate and intricate example is the large fraktur painted in Herrnhut that records the world-wide Unity of the Brethren(5-9). It documents the many Moravian communities that had been established by 1775 and was commissioned by Friedrich von Watteville in 1775 as a gift to Frederic William Marshall, Administrator of Wachovia. The artist was P.J. Ferber. This fraktur in the form of a healthy tree, is significant for the information that it contains. The tree itself is symbolic of the strength of the eighteenth-century Moravian Church and of the common roots, strengths, and benefits which the Moravian communities shared.” MORAVIAN DECORATIVE ARTS IN NORTH CAROLINA, Page 91.
RELATED NAME: Benzien, Christian L. (owner)

PROVENANCE: The objects in the 506 group were given to Old Salem by Emma Ormsby Griffith (Mrs. Charles Griffith). They probably descended as follows:
Christian Thomas Benzien (1715-1757) and Dorothea Benzien to their son Wilhelm Ludwig Benzien (dates 1797- ca. 1840–married Christina Schneider1799-1863) to his daughter Francisca Louisa Benzien (1827-1891–married James Fischer 1818-1874) to her daughter Harriet Elfreda Fisher 1857-1940–married William Ormsby 1844-1918) to their daughter Emma Ormsby Griffith.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Charles Griffith