Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, industrialist and collector

Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky (21 November 1710 – 9 August 1775) was a Prussian merchant with a successful trade in trinkets, silktaft and porcelain. Moreover he acted as a diplomat and art dealer. Gotzkowsky traded in paintings till 1775, but it is said he died impoverished with leaving an autobiography: Geschichte eines patriotischen Kaufmanns, which had a French translation and three reprints in the 18th century.



Born in Konitz (Chojnice) in Royal Prussia, Gotzkowsky descended from an Adam Gotzkowsky from an impoverished family of Polish nobility. Both his parents died when he was five years as a result of the plague, which broke out after the Great Northern War. Gotzkowsky grew up with relatives in Dresden, who neglected his education. As a 14-year-old he went to Berlin to live with his brother and to apprentise in business. He established him in his jewel and trinket shop and he quickly acquired customers in the highest circles, when he met Frederick the Great. (A relief on Meissen porcelain introduced in 1740s was named after him.) In 1745, he married the daughter of a rich lace maker. Gotzkowsky persuaded his father-in-law to start a velvet factory, which he inherited some years later.

King Frederick II of Prussia commissioned Gotzkowsky to promote the silk trade to compete with France; Gotzkowsky ran a silk factory employing 1,500 persons. Frederick also followed his recommendations in the field of toll levies and import restrictions. Moreover, Gotzkowsky supplied the Prussian army and entered into consultation with Russian and Austrian army leaders, especially after the Prussian defeat at Kunersdorf. On 9 October 1760 Berlin’s City Council decided to surrender the city formally to the Russians rather than the Austrians, as Austria was Prussia’s bitterest enemy. The Russians immediately made a demand for 4 million Thalers in exchange for the protection of private property. Gotzkowsky took over the negotiations on behalf of the city, and was able to persuade Heinrich von Tottleben to reduce the levy to 1.5 million Thalers.[1] Gotzkowsky travelled to Königsberg in Prussia as a guarantor for the redemption money.

In 1761, Gotzkowsky took over the porcelain factory of Wilhelm Caspar Wegely, which had struggled because of the Seven Years’ War. Gotzkowsky attracted competent staff from Meissen, which was occupied in 1760 by the Prussian army. Already in 1763, he had difficulty paying as a result of buying up Russian grain of bad quality and too high prices, causing the infamous Amsterdam company De Neufville to go broke. As a result bankruptcies in Hamburg (90), Frankfurt (30), and Amsterdam (25) followed, leading to an international financial crisis.[2] He died in Berlin.

Ahasverus and Haman at the feast of Esther, Rembrandt (1660), 73x94cm, Pushkin museum. The painting is rather dark, because of the varnish that once has been used

Gotzkowsky provided 317 paintings, including 90 not precisely known, to the Russian crown c.q. Catherine the Great, to satisfy to his obligations. Flemish and Dutch masters such as Rembrandt (13 paintings), Rubens (11 paintings),Jacob Jordaens (7 paintings), Anthony van Dyck (5 paintings), Paolo Veronese (5 paintings), Frans Hals (3 paintings), Raphael (2 paintings),Holbein (2 paintings), Titian (1 painting), Jan SteenHendrick GoltziusDirck van BaburenHendrick van Balen en Gerrit van Honthorst formed the basis and the beginning of the collection in the Hermitage.[3] One of the Rembrandts in the possession of Gotzkowsky was Ahasuerus and Haman at the feast of Esther. This last painting came from the possession of the Amsterdam clothdealer and artcollector Jan J. Hinlopen.

A focal point of Berlin society during the war years was the residence of Gotzkowsky, whose gardens and paintings were admired both by the old nobility and new bourgeoisie.[4] In 1764 James Boswell came to him on a visit and called him: a gallant German, stupid, comely, cordial.[5] In 1767 Gotzkowsky went bankrupt for the second time.[6]


Frederick the Great, who supported Gotzkowsky from 1740, and had him buy Dutch and Italian paintings, took over the factory. The company is still known as the Royal Porcelain Manufacture (KPM). The manufacture was located in the Leipziger Strasse, not far fromPotsdamer Platz where now the Bundesrat of Germany has lodging. The factory had twelve furnaces and 400 men in service. Frederick demanded of the Jewish traders to take his porcelain in their assortment.[7] The former silk and porcelain factory was from 1825 up to 1851 in the possession of Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who had built a very representative mansion on the property. From 1871 there the Reichstag stood, during the German Empire.

A street, a bridge and a school in Berlin are named in honor of Gotzkowsky.


  1. Jump up^ Franz Szabo, The Seven Years War in Europe, 1756-1763, Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2008, p. 293. ISBN 978-0-582-29272-7.
  2. Jump up^ Henderson, W.O. (1962) The Berlin Commercial Crisis of 1763. In:The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 89-102.
  3. Jump up^ Christoph Frank (2002) Die Gemäldesammlungen Gotzkowsky, Eimbke und Stein: Zur Berliner Sammlungsgeschichte während des Siebenjährigen Krieges. In: Michael North (Hg.): Kunstsammeln und Geschmack im 18. Jahrhundert. Berlin, p. 117-194.
  4. Jump up^ Henderson, W.O. (1962) The Berlin Commercial Crisis of 1763. In:The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 15, No. 1, p. 92.
  5. Jump up^ Boswell, J. (1764) On the Grand Tour. Germany and Switzerland. Frederick A. Pottle, New York/London (1953), p. 97-9, 119-20.
  6. Jump up^ Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (1879).
  7. Jump up^ MacDonogh, G. (1999) Frederick the Great. A life in deed and letters, p. 140, 180, 294, 299-300, 317, 331, 354.




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