Born in Düsseldorf, he joined the group of Philipp Veit, Friedrich Schadow and Johann Overbeck in Rome in 1811, and assisted in the decoration of the Casa Bartoldi. From Rome he went to Düsseldorf, where he became director of the academy; in 1819 he was called to Munich by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later Ludwig I). Here he remained until 1841, and executed the large frescoes of Greek mythological scenes in the Glyptothek and the New Testament frescoes in the Ludwigskirche, which was built to give scope for his art. In 1841 he was appointed director of the Berlin Academy. Among his productions in Berlin are the frescoes for the Campo Santo, or royal burial place, the finest being his Four Riders of the Apocalypse.