Rietschel was born in Pulsnitz, Saxony. At an early age he became an art student at Dresden, and subsequently a pupil of Rauch in Berlin. He there gained an art studentship, and studied in Rome in 1827-28. After returning to Saxony, he soon brought himself into notice by a colossal statue of Frederick Augustus, King of Saxony; was elected a member of the academy of Dresden, and became one of the chief sculptors of his country. In 1832 he was elected to the Dresden professorship of sculpture, and had many foreign orders of merit conferred on him by the governments of different countries. He died in Dresden in 1861.
Rietschel's style was very varied; he produced works imbued with much religious feeling, and to some extent he occupied the same place as a sculptor that Overbeck did in painting. Other important works by him were purely classical in style. He was specially famed for his portrait figures of eminent men, treated with much idealism and dramatic vigour; among the latter class his chief works were colossal statues of Goethe and Schiller for the a monument in Weimar, of Weber for Dresden and of Lessing for Braunschweig cast by Georg Howaldt. He also designed the memorial statue of Luther for Worms, but died before he could carry it out.
The principal among Rietschel's religious pieces of sculpture are the well-known Christ-Angel, and a life-sized Piet, executed for the king of Prussia. He also worked a great deal in rilievo, and produced many graceful pieces, especially a fine series of bas-reliefs representing "Night and Morning," "Noon and Twilight," designed with much poetical feeling and imagination.