A man of both art and religion, Johannes Oertel was born in Furth, Bavaria, near Nuremberg. He attended the Polytechnic Institute of Nuremberg and studied in Munich with J. M. Enzing-Muller, a noted engraver. In 1848, Oertel immigrated to America, settling in Newark, New Jersey, where he established himself as a painter, portraitist, engraver, and carver. He found success with religious and Civil War themes. In 1857, he became involved in the ceiling decoration of the Capitol and moved to Washington, D.C.
Oertel became an ordained Episcopal priest in 1871 and thereafter served as a rector in a number of Episcopal parishes in North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. He taught art at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee and at Washington University in St. Louis, painting for churches in both places. He retired to Vienna, Virginia in 1895 and continued to paint religious subjects until his death.
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