Joseph Mathias Grassi: self portrait
On 11 June 1754 the goldsmith Ottilio Grassi ("Gebürtig zu Utini in Welschland aus den[!] Venitianischen Gebieth") married Antonia Winterhalter (1737-1817), the daughter of the goldsmith Mathias Winterhalter:
The 1754 marriage entry of Joseph Grassi's parents at the Schottenkirche (Pfarre Schotten, Tom. 30, fol. 58r)
The entry concerning the baptism of Joseph Grassi's mother Antonia Winterhalter on 18 January 1737 (A-Wd, Tom. 70, fol. 83v)
Ottilio Valentino Grassi had been born on 10 May 1723 in Udine, son of Valentino Grassi (1680-1762) and his wife Livia. In 1742 Ottilio Grassi began his six-year apprenticeship in Vienna. In 1760 he was appointed master goldsmith and in 1761 he took the oath as "Wiener Bürger" (Viennese Citizen). His first son Anton Mathias was born on 26 June 1755 in the "Blumenthalisches Haus" am Hof (Stadt No. 310, today Am Hof 6a) and baptized in the Schottenkirche with his maternal grandparents officiating as godparents:
The baptismal entry of the sculptor Anton Mathias Grassi (1755-1807)
(Pfarre Schotten, Tom. 34, fol. 247v)
(Pfarre Schotten, Tom. 34, fol. 247v)
Auf dem Hof in 1773 with Anton and Joseph Grassi's birthplace ("Zur kleinen Weintraube" No. 310) on the right
Ottilio Grassi's next child, Joseph Mathias, was born on 22 April 1757 and like his older brother he got his middle name from his grandfather (and godfather), the goldsmith Mathias Winterhalter (1696-1763):
The 1757 baptismal entry of the painter Joseph Mathias Grassi (with his godfather misnamed "Winterhauer"). Note the f in "auf dem Hof" which looks like a double f, but isn't. (Pfarre Schotten, Tom. 34, fol. 334v)
Consequently Ottilio Grassi's two daughters got their middle name from their maternal grandmother Margaretha Winterhalter, née Poser (1715-1775): Elisabetha Margaretha Grassi was born on 29 October 1759 and Eleonora Margaretha on 24 September 1761. The next child of the Grassi family was Johann Gottfried Grassi, born on 12 January 1766, who was named after his godfather, the K.K. Hof Cammer Registraturs Adjunct Johann Gottfried Anhalt (who in 1754 had been Ottilio Grassi's best man). The last child of the Grassi family was born on 7 April 1769 and christened Johann Christoph after his godfather, the K.K. Hofkammer Concipist Christoph von Keßler. Keßler was a legendary freemason who in 1782 seems to have been responsible for Joseph and Anton Grassi joining the Viennese Masonic lodge "Zur Beständigkeit".
The seal of the Masonic lodge "Zur Beständigkeit" (which was disbanded in 1785) with its motto "STAT TIRMITER"
Joseph Mathias Grassi left Vienna after he was denied a travel grant which was given to Heinrich Füger. But since Füger already went to Rome in 1776, while Grassi still remained in Vienna, something seems to be amiss in this chronology of events. Either Grassi went to Poland much earlier, or his departure had nothing to do with Füger. Grassi did not leave Vienna in 1790 – as is stated in the literature – but already in 1785. The earliest source for Grassi's stay abroad is a letter he wrote on 3 January 1786 from Annopol to his close friend and fellow mason Franz Xaver Brabbée (1758-1831). From this letter (A-Wb, I.N. 68608) we not only learn that Grassi had just fallen in love with a blue-eyed girl, but also that at that time he had already been in Poland for at least four months. Being a fervent freemason Grassi in his letters frequently used the masonic date "ab anno lucis":
The date "30 April 1787", written in masonic code by Grassi. (A-Wb, I.N. 51693)
It seems that by leaving Vienna Grassi fared much better than most Austrian painters of his time. In addition to his income as a freelance portraitist by 1805 he already drew an annual income of 2,400 Thaler (that the Neuer Nekrolog der Deutschen in 1840 was to call "Westengeld") from Augustus, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg whose poetry Grassi also used as subjects for a number of paintings. The villa in the Plauenscher Grund in Dresden that Grassi bought at that time was unfortunately destroyed in 1857.
The "Villa Grassi" near Dresden (which had to make way for the now defunct Felsenkeller Brauerei)