CARSTENS, ASMUS JACOB, a distinguished German artist, was born at St. Giirgen, near Schleswig, May 10th, 1754. His father was a miller, but his mother, who was the daughter of an advocate at Schleswig, had been exceedingly well-educated, and was therefore able to bring up her three sons in a manner very superior to what the circumstances of the family would otherwise have allowed. After his father's death, which happened when he was about nine years old, Asmus was sent to the public school at Schleswig, where he made little or no progress ; but the pictures in the cathedral there by Juriau Ovens, a pupil of Rembrandt, which seemed to him miracles of the pencil, determined him to become himself a painter. His mother readily seconded his inclination, and on his quitting school at the ago of sixteen, applied to two painters to take him as a pupil ; but the sum demanded was much greater than could prudently be afforded.
His mother soon after died, and his guardians refusing to listen to his earnest entreaties, placed him with a wine-merchant at Eckern forde. After the first feeling of despondency had passed over, he employed the whole of his leisure time, and frequently a considerable portion of the night, in drawing, and the reading of whatever books he could procure relative to art ; and he about this time renewed his acquaintance with Ipsen, a young painter whom be had known at Schleswig, from whose instructions he obtained some insight into the management of colours and other technical matters. Having served five years, he purchased the remaining two of his apprenticeship, and proceeded to Copenhagen, where he again met with Ipsen, who pro cnred for him free access to the Royal Gallery of Paintings, and to the collection of casts and antiques at the academy. Whilst prosecuting his studies here he endeavoured to support himself by taking liknessea in red chalk, and was so fortunate as to be thus enabled to continue his usual studies for two years longer, during which he produced his Balder's Death ' and .rEolus and Ulysses,' compositions that excited much notice, and would have obtained for him admittance into the academy, had he not given offence on a particular occasion. But having thus closed against himself the road to favour, he determined upon leaving Copenhagen and going to Rome along with his youngest brother (who had also been studying painting at Schleswig) and the sculptor Busch. Accordingly, they set out iu the spring of 1783, and
Carstens and his brother travelled on foot es far as Mantua, their companion having parted from them at Nurembeig. After passing an entire month at Mantua, chiefly occupied in examining the works of Giulio Romano, Carstens found that they must abandon their plan and return homewards. They accordingly set out again northward, passing through Switzerland to Lubeck, where Carstens was glad to take up with his former occupation of portrait painting, which he pursued for nearly five years ; but he employed all the time not so occupied in making historical and poetical compositions. He also now began for the first time bo read diligently ; and the fruits of his studies shortly began to manifest themselves in a number of compositions from Homer, the Greek tragedians, and other great masters of poetry, both ancient and modern. But he felt that he was here in a great measure cut off from the hope of being able to produce any works of magnitude ; and he therefore gratefully accepted the generous offer of Rodde, a wealthy amateur, who furnished him with the means of visiting Berlin.
In that capital he at first had to contend with pecuniary difficulties, and was obliged to make designs for book-prints. At length, his Fall of the Angels,' a large composition containing upwards of 200 figures, obtained for him an appointment as one of the professors at the academy, and the following year a considerable gratuity was added to his salary. His chief object however in accepting this post was as a means of obtaining a travelling pension to Rome, which he was now more than ever desirous of visiting. He had become acquainted with the architect Genelli, who was just returned from Italy, and on his recommendation was employed to decorate the walls of a saloon in the Dorville palace with a series of mythological subjects. This work procured for him an introduction to the king, who granted him a travelling pension, and in the summer of 1792 he again set out for Rome. He travelled through Dresden and Nuremberg, making some stay at the first place for the purpose of visiting the Gallery of Antiques and that of pictures; and at the latter, in order to become acquainted with the works of Albert Diirer, whom, after Michel Angelo and Raffaelle, he held to be one of the greatest masters in his art.