(b. 1785, Dessau, d. 1841, München)
German painter, draughtsman and lithographer, brother of Heinrich Olivier. The brothers' mother was a court opera singer in Dessau, and Ferdinand's later interest in the German medieval and Nazarene styles owed much to the intellectual climate at the Anhalt-Dessau court, where Leopold III Frederick Francis, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, had been the first German prince to introduce the Gothic Revival style. Olivier took up drawing in 1801-02 under the tuition of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe and the engraver Johann Christian Haldenwang. In 1802-03 he accompanied his father to Berlin, where he studied woodcut techniques under Johann Friedrich Gottlieb Unger and may have attended August Wilhelm Schlegel's lectures on belles-lettres and art. It was here, at the latest, that he discovered Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (Berlin, 1797) by Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder and Ludwig Tieck, and the latter's Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (Berlin, 1798), two books of vital significance for the painting of the Romantic era.
Having decided to make art their career, Ferdinand and his brother Heinrich spent two years (1804-06) in Dresden, where they copied the works of Ruisdael and Claude Lorrain in the art gallery during the summer months. Ferdinand also took lessons from Jacob Wilhelm Mechau and Carl Ludwig Kaaz, both painters of idealized landscapes, and he was probably introduced to the work of Philipp Otto Runge and Caspar David Friedrich by Friedrich August von Klinkowström, a friend of Runge. In June 1807 Ferdinand's excellent knowledge of French led to his appointment as embassy secretary in Paris, where Heinrich soon joined him. However, after just a few weeks he gave up his diplomatic career in order to devote himself to a study of the Musée Napoléon, which at that time housed art treasures pillaged from all parts of Europe.
Ferdinand and Heinrich jointly produced three paintings for Leopold III Frederick Francis of Anhalt-Dessau: a portrait of Napoleon on Horseback (c. 1809; Wörlitz, Schloss), and a Last Supper and Baptism (1809-10; Wörlitz, Evangelical Church) for the Gothic Revival church in Wörlitz. Although these last two were supposed to be copies after the 'old German school', the Olivier brothers in fact used 15th- and 16th-century Dutch and Flemish models to create original compositions. At the end of 1809 they returned to Dessau. In 1810, on a tour of the Harz with his younger brother Friedrich Olivier, Ferdinand produced a number of markedly naturalistic sketches that testify to the break with his schooling in Dresden, for example Cliffs on the Brocken (1810; Dessau, Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie). In 1811 he travelled with Friedrich via Dresden to Vienna where the Lukasbrüder had been formed shortly before. Although the group had since moved to Rome, the Olivier brothers soon became acquainted with its ideals through Philipp Veit, Friedrich von Schlegel's stepson, whose home they frequented, and Joseph Sutter. In 1817, with Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, they were accepted - from afar - into the Lukasbrüder.
Starting 1830 Olivier lived in Munich where he became secretary-general of the Akademie der Künste (Art Academy), which was followed by a post as professor for art history. Olivier, who personally never visited Rome, is nevertheless one of the most important Nazarenes, having devoted himself to spiritually inspired works executed in the style of the German Renaissance masters. After relocating to Munich he painted in the idealized landscape manner of Dughet and Poussin.