Karl Wilhelm Freiherr von Heideck Lithography of the 19nth century


Karl Wilhelm Freiherr von Heideck, also known as Heidegger (not to be confused with the famous philosopher of the 20th century), is associated with the fate of the foundation of the new Greek state, with his dual military and artistic identity.

He was an experienced soldier and officer, who took part in the Greek war of Independence during the period 1826 – 1829, while in the years 1833 – 1835 he served as one of the three advisers to King Otto, until he reached his maturity. He was an educated and charismatic painter, who created impressive war compositions, drawing inspiration from the Greek revolutionaries in combination with the Greek landscape. His work added a heroic dimension to the struggle of the Greeks for their independence. Forged on the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars, he was regarded as a capable military man who, among other things, possessed important administrative skills. It was this fine combination that led the first Governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, to entrust him with the demanding task of reorganizing the army. The creation of the first military school, which later evolved into the Military School of Evelpidon, is largely attributed to Heideck.

He was born on December 6, 1788 in Sarralbe (Lothringen, Département Moselle) and was the son of the Swiss-French officer and amateur painter Hartmann Heidegger. He received his first education at the Zurich School of Fine Arts, and in 1801 he moved to Munich, where he enrolled at the Military Academy, without interrupting his painting studies. In 1805, after being naturalized Bavarian, he enlisted in the Bavarian army and took part as an artillery lieutenant in the campaigns of 1805, 1806 and 1809 against Austria, Prussia and Tyrol. In 1810 he found himself a volunteer lieutenant in the French army in Spain, against Napoleon, and was promoted there to a captain. The first experiences on the battlefields gave him material for some of his paintings, which, however, were created later. One of them isconcerns the Bridge of Cuenca (Die Brücke von Cuenca, 1825) from the area of ​​Castilla-La Mancha. His work Scene from the Massacre at Hanau on October 30, 1813 (Szene aus der Schlacht von Hanau am 30 Oktober 1813, 1840) is related to his participation in the so-called German Liberation Wars (Befreiungskriege). In 1814 he accompanied to England, with the rank of major, the then still Prince, Ludwig I of Bavaria (Ludwig I), father of the later King Othon of Greece. He also participated in the Congress of Vienna (September 18, 1814 – June 9, 1815).

Ludwig I of Bavaria, on whose side Heideck served for many years, was possessed, as a fervent Hellenist, by sincere philhellenic sentiments, which he manifested openly from the moment the Greek Revolution broke out. Indicative of his attitude is the historical report that when he was informed of the victory of Karaiskakis in the battle of Arachova (November 18-24, 1826), he exclaimed with enthusiasm: “My Greece has been resurrected!”.

Heideck was influenced, being a confidant of Ludwig I, by his philhellenic feelings. The Bavarian monarch himself in a letter to Kapodistrias (August 12, 1826), mentioned Heideck’s desire to come to Greece in person, and with him the most valuable officers of his army, in their Bavarian uniform and salary to be paid by the monarchy. “Thirsty only to serve the interest of humanity, they are only valued to serve you, providing their skill, knowledge and manliness“, he wrote and asked the members of the Greek government to accept them. The Bavarian philhellenic mission to Greece finally took place in the autumn of 1826 and was coordinated by the leader of the European philhellenic movement, the banker of Geneva, Jean Gabriel Eynard.

When Colonel Heideck met with a total of fourteen of his officers in December 1826 in Greece, he found himself in the vortex of war, and faced the new conditions after the tragic Fall of Messolonghi in April of the same year. The commander of the enemy forces, Mehmet Reshit Pasha or Kioutachis, had directed his army to central Greece with its final target being Athens. He had gathered 10,000 cavalry, infantry and artillery. The besieged Greeks in the Acropolis of Athens, who numbered only 1,400, drew moral strength from the example of the “Free Besieged” Messolonghi. When Athens was occupied by Turkish troops in August of the same year, the Athenians fortified themselves on the Acropolis led by head of the guard of the city, Giannis Gouras, and expected help from Karaiskakis and from the French philhellene general Fabvier.

Heideck had arrived with money and ammunition, and his clear plan was to organize a regular army composed by Greeks and his Philhellenes. He was, in fact, willing to fight under the orders of Greek commanders, to succeed in his mission, while it is stated that he had no narrow personal ambitions to satisfy. However, his willingness and enthusiasm to serve his philhellenic purpose in practice did not find initially find suitable ground among the members of the Greek government. In fact, the French philhellene Dr. Bailly in turn prevented him, explaining to him how difficult it was for the Greek revolutionaries to join a corps in line with foreign standards. One possibility was that those who would have agreed to fight wearing the uniform of the regular army, at the critical moment of the battle, would withdraw to join the forces of the Greek irregular fighters. Realizing these objective difficulties, Heideck rightly chose to remain discreetly on the side of the Greek fighters, following their advice.

Watercolor by George E. Opiz (1775-1841). It shows the leader of the Bavarian Philhellenic Corps, Karl Wilhelm von Heideck.

Thus, he put himself in the service of the Struggle, initially following the deployment of the Greek troops in Piraeus and Faliro under the leadership of Karaiskakis. The urgent need to end the siege of the Acropolis (if it fell, the whole of Central Greece would submit), led to military initiatives in the sea. During this period, the state-of-the-art frigate Hellas arrived in Greece from the USA, while a little earlier the first steamship warship Karteria had also arrived, commanded by the famous English Philhellene, Frank Abney Hastings. The two emblematic ships had been purchased with the first loans received by Greece, and were assigned the task to serve as a distraction for the supply of the Greek forces on land, in order to alleviate the siege of the Acropolis. The frigate Hellas would block the north coast of Attica and Karteria would provide artillery support from Piraeus. At the same time, two corpses would land south of Athens to advance towards the city. Heideck agreed to serve under the command of the operation’s coordinator, Colonel Gordon. One unit of men would land in Elefsina and another in Faliro. Unfortunately, the plan did not go as originally scheduled, as the Turks immediately realized their moves. Faliro’s failure disappointed Gordon, who resigned and suggested to the Greek government to give a chance to Heideck to cut off the Turkish supply line to the north, launching an attack on the fortress of Oropos. Indeed, on February 26, Heideck assigned the frigate Hellas under the command of Miaoulis, the Karteria, under the command of Hastings, and a third ship, the Nelson viper, to reach Oropos.

Karteria and Hellas. Lithography of Karl Krazeisen (SHP collection)

The Greek forces landed in Oropos, suffered some losses, however they caused significant damage to the Turks and managed to cut off for a while the lines of supply and communication of Kioutachis who was besieging the fort of the Acropolis.

Heideck had met Ioannis Kapodistrias at the Congress of Vienna, and had decided to enlist in the Greek cause. At the same time, he may have had a thirst for adventure and action. In any case, he had envisioned assisting the Greeks in their painstaking effort to build the new Greek state. A perspective that was warmly supported by the Philhellene king Ludwig I. His offer was gratefully accepted by Kapodistrias, who was eagerly looking for capable companions for his vision. His office, his relationship with the philhellenic committees, the fact that he was a man of his age with equivalent experiences, multilingual and with a humanistic education, created in Kapodistrias a feeling of mutual respect and trust in Heideck, which gradually developed into a political and personal friendship between the two men. Both men attached great importance to the idea of ​​a modern European state and to the need to create a regular army, which would function as a central force to support the independence of the newly created state.

In the summer of 1827 Kapodistrias appointed Heideck governor of his capital (Nafplio). From this position Heideck immediately tried to stop the hostilities within the city walls and ordered the fighting groups to gather in camps outside its gates. In order to protect Palamidi from possible riots, he ordered the transfer of ammunition to the lower city, which could be better controlled thanks to its high fortifications, and established an arms depot. Because Kapodistrias considered him a man who could not be manipulated by personal passions, he assigned him the role of commander of the regular army, a position previously held by Fabvier. Heideck organized a unit for the supply of the army and took care of the repair of the ruined fortresses. On his initiative, the castle of Heideck or Bourtzi was erected in the same year, in order to protect the port of Poros and Neorio.

Castle Boutzi or Heideck in Nafplio. Lithography of Karl Krazeisen (SHP collection)

He painted this castle very faithfully in his oil painting in 1837. According to the testimony of the architect Leo von Klenze, he maintained a painting studio in Nafplio, although he always stressed that the purpose of his presence in Greece was his contribution to the organization of the state and not painting.

Kapodistrias was particularly pleased with these services of Heideck, and sent a letter to Ludwig I (February 26, 1828), in which he asked for his trusted collaborator to remain in Greece for another year. At the same time, he asked him to send to Greece “officers similar to K. Heideck and K. Snitslain for the artillery, the brigade, and the infantry”. On July 1, 1828, Kapodistrias founded the Evelpidon Military School (Central War School), in the operation and organization of which Heideck contributed, together with the French officer Pauzie.

The health of the trusted collaborator of the Greek Governor’s was particularly dire. Nevertheless, Kapodistrias assigned him at the beginning of 1829 the supervision of all the Greek fortresses. Heideck also assumed the prominent position of senior guard of Argolis and Corinth, assisted in his work by Colonel Pissa.

Due to his shaky health, he was forced to return to his homeland on August 23, 1829, despite Kapodistrias’ appeals to stay longer in Greece.

Throughout his military career, he kept notes of all the political and military events and wrote reports to Ludwig I to inform him. He was also interested and recorded the manners and customs of the areas which he visited. Finally, he recorded all his experiences from the Bavarian mission during the years 1826-1829 in Greece, which were published in Munich in 1897 under the title: “Die bayerische Philhellenen-Fahrt 1826-1829 aus dem Randschriftlichen Rucklass des RB Generallieutenants Karl Freiherrn von Heideck” (“The Bavarian, Philhellenic Mission of 1826-1829 from the Notes of General Baron Charles von Heideck”). His impressions were republished in Greek in the magazine Armonia in 1900. He had also handed over to the young historian Leopold Ranke various documents and notes that he had collected during his presence in Greece, with the aim of perhaps writing the History of the Greek Revolution. Heideck considered that he had participated in a world class historic achievement. It was this belief that shaped his thinking about his future plans in Greece.

In the period between his return to Munich and his new travel to Greece, in 1833, as a member of Othon’s Regency, he devoted himself to painting, including the difficult art of mural painting. After his involvement in Greek affairs, Ludwig I considered him not just a favorite military man, but also a member of his closest circle, and the bond that developed between them was crucial for the developments in Greece, but also in Bavaria and at the House of Wittelsbach. He was the first person chosen by Ludwig I as a member of Othon’s three-member Regency, as he saw in him a capable guarantor for the consolidation of the monarchy in Greece. In addition, the good relationship that he had with Othon made him a good mentor to the king in a foreign and special country. Heideck’s philhellenism and faith in his vision for Greece, but also for his monarch, led him once again to the newly formed Greek state, where he remained from July 1832 to June 1835. He took command as commander-in-chief of the military and naval affairs, accompanied by the leader of the Bavarian Constitutional Party, Count Joseph von Armansberg and the former Bavarian Minister of Justice, Professor Ludwig von Maurer.

His work as a writer, which referred exclusively to events in which he took part or of which he was an eyewitness, was supported by his work as a painter, in which he depicts places and persons with whom he came in direct contact. Together with the Bavarian philhellene Karl Krazeisen, who also participated in the Struggle and painted portraits of Greek fighters, they were the only ones to depict the events at the time they took place, relying on their experiences and not after narrations by others. An exception to the rule is Heideck’s composition “Moscho and Lambros Tzavelas”, which depicts Tzavelas’ injury at the Battle of Kiafa (July 1792), which took place before the Greek revolution.

Karl von Heideck, Moscho and Lambros Tzavelas, 1831 (SHP collection)


The painter Heideck

Heideck’s approach as a painter was to create watercolors and preliminary sketches on the scene, keeping precise notes on the location and colors of the natural environment, so that he could later complete them as oil paintings in his homeland. He created over forty works that refer to Greece, depicting battle scenes, famous warriors, archeological sites and landscapes. Scenes with human types and animals, capturing details of everyday life, e.g. of the glamorous Greek costumes or the occupations of the locals, reflect his interest on the folklore and ethnography. His idealized, heroic compositions are remarkable, and attracted the interest of the art-loving public of his time, among which were nobles, bourgeois, but also the Bavarian king himself.

His painting is distinguished by special softness on the surface, intense brightness, emphasis on the use of colour and a very good perspective in the organization of the space. Thanks to the faithful rendering of the morphology and the details in his compositions, we can retrieve historical information from his time. For example, his work titled “Ascent to the Acropolis” (Αufgang zur Akropolis, 1835), preserves the image of the medieval walls of the Propylaea, which were demolished in 1835.

Karl von Heideck, Aufgang zur Akropolis, 1835, 74,0 x 88,5 cm

Moreover, his painting with subject the Monastiraki, faithfully renders scenes of everyday life in Athens of the early 1830s.

Karl von Heideck, Monastiraki in Athens (SHP collection)

His interest in the antiquities of Greece and Italy is evident in many of his works. Antiquity does not play a leading role in his compositions. However, it is used in the background to offer a historical frame to the figures of the fighters, to capture and offer the historical basis of the Liberation Struggle. We refer for example to the oil painting of “Pallikaren vor dem Tempel von Korinth” (1829).

Karl von Heideck, Palikaren vor dem Tempel von Corinth, 1829, 46 x 59,8 cm

The composition “Camp of the Greeks during the Liberation Struggle” offers an artistic presumption for the cooperation of Greeks and Philhellenes during the Greek Revolution. There are no scenes of hostilities between Greeks and Turks, but the moments when the fighters recover in their camp, emphasizing details of ethnographic interest, e.g. their costumes or occupations.

Karl von Heideck, Philhellenenlager während des Unabhängigkeitskrieges, 1835, oil, 65x 84 cm

Theodoros Vryzakis painting “The camp of Karaiskakis” (1855) was based on the above mentioned work by Heideck. Vryzakis was one of the first Greeks to enroll at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In this work he depicted Greek and Philhellene fighters who had encamped at Faliro during the Siege of the Acropolis. Based on the portraits by Krazeisen, he depicted Karaiskakis, Tzavelas, Makrygiannis, Notaras, Gordon, Hastings and Karl von Heideck, to whom he pays tribute.

Theodore Vryzakis, «Karaiskakis’ camp in Pireas in 1827», 1855, 145 x 178 cm

Greece expressed its own gratitude to the Philhellene Heideck for his contribution during the years 1826-1829, granting him Greek political rights. Upon his final return to his homeland, he was awarded the title of Baron (Freiherr), Lieutenant General, and served as an adviser to the Ministry of War. He passed away on February 21, 1861.

Karl von Heideck’s grave

Sources – Bibliography:

  • Berthold Seewald, Karl Wilhelm Von Heideck: Ein Bayerischer General Im Befreiten Griechenland (1826-1835) (Beiträge Zur Militärgeschichte), Walter de Gruyter 1994
  • Vereinigung der deutsch-griechischen Gesellschaften (Hg.), Hellenika. Jahrbuch für griechische Kultur und deutsch-griechische Beziehungen. Neue Folge 9. LIT Verlag, Münster 2014
  • William St Clair, That Greece might still be free. The Philhellenes in the War of Independence, Open Book Publishers 2008
  • deutsche-biographie.de
  • Ιωάννης Καποδίστριας, Επιστολαί Ι.Α. Καποδίστρια, Κυβερνήτου της Ελλάδος, διπλωματικαί, διοικητικαί και ιδιωτικαί, γραφείσαι από 8 Απριλίου 1827 μέχρις 26 Σεπτεμβρίου 1831, Τόμοι 1-2, Τύποις Κ. Ράλλη, 1841
  • Κωνσταντίνος Παπρρηγόπουλος, Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους, τόμος ΙΒ, Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση (1821- 1832)
  • Douglas Dakin, Η ενοποίηση της Ελλάδας, 1770-1923, Μορφωτικό Ίδρυμα Εθνικής Τραπέζης, Αθήνα 2005
  • Διονύσιος Κόκκινος, Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση, εκδόσεις Μέλισσα 1974
  • Μιλτιάδης Παπανικολάου, Γερμανοί ζωγράφοι εικονογραφούν το 1821, 7 Ημέρες, εφημερίδα Καθημερινή
  • nationalgallery.gr
  • pinakothek.de