‘A boy! A boy! My kingdom for a boy!’ On Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, his dilemma, and an over-the-top picture of eye-popping grandeur and allegory.

November 19, 2012 | Author: | Posted in Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s Article Archive

Before and After

by  Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

Author’s Program Note. No royal court in Europe was more musically inclined than the imperial Habsburgs who ruled their vast real estate from the most melodious of capitals, Wien. Or as you would say, Vienna. To be a prince of this dynasty (called archdukes) was an honorable thing of course, a matter of dignity and respect.

But to be an emperor or even an archduke who was an accomplished musician was marvelous… and when this valued being composed, too, why this was very heaven and deserving of every paean and veneration. For the Habsburgs were the most fortunate of princes; to rule over a people as cosmopolitan and sophisticated as they were, with taste refined, pure, cultivated to the highest degree.

Their subjects realized such accomplished and refined princes were rare, and so gave them a fidelity less humane sovereigns could only envy but never emulate. As it turned out the last male ruler in his line was the Emperor Charles VI (1685-1740). Today I tell his story… and unveil one of the most magnificent pictures of his reign… the great day he, God’s vicegerant on Earth, was crowned King of Bohemia, September 5, 1723.

For such an occasion, for such a man music, great music is required and what better than a brave little piece written by Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, two of whose musically inclined sons (Joseph I and Charles VI) became emperors, too. This piece is called “Lasset Ihr Stemen”, and you’ll find it in any search engine. Go now. You’ll need to practice your courtly leaps and gambols; the music will provide the necessary clues about just when to jump and with what elasticity and exquisite precision…

The problem, the tragedy of Charles VI’s life.

Charles VI was a man of taste, an aesthete, a connoisseur. He was also a prince of the first magnitude; a necessary cog in the complicated wheel of European statecraft.  At the time his childless cousin of Spain, Charles II, lay a long time dying Archduke Charles was not the next heir to Austria’s empire. That was his older brother Joseph I.

But to the inconvenience of all, Joseph died, thus making his archducal brother Holy Roman Emperor and, due to the carefully contrived marriages of his canny predecessors, plausible heir to even greater lands, specifically those of Spain where his sickly cousin Charles II still lingered, a man whose only remaining importance was his much desired death… and who would get the glittering inheritance, about one sixth of the globe.

Two princes claimed the riches of the dons; Philip of Anjou, the French candidate; and the man now called Emperor Charles VI. Should Spanish King Charles select his imperial cousin, the great empire of Charles V would be revived, to the unmitigated detriment of both England and France. That, the disadvantaged all agreed, would never do.

And so King Louis XIV of France reluctantly allowed Philip of Anjou to accept the throne of Spain (as Philip III) and so began the draining, interminable War of the Spanish Succession. From Austria’s standpoint it was not a “good” war. Along the way, their shrewd ally England, recreating their immemorial role as “Perfidious Albion”, deserted the imperial cause thus allowing Philip III to stay on the Spanish throne. The condition was that the crowns of Spain and France must never be linked.

The bone tossed to Charles VI was a goodly part of the Netherlands. For all that he didn’t triumph, France, victor, came out worse; desolate, bankrupt, exhausted. Such was the price of victory and the monarchical structure of Europe.  Things got better for Imperial Charles, and worse.

The real estate agents called Habsburg did what they always did: added properties, traded properties, bargained properties, married properties, ventured properties, lost properties. They were Europe’s realtors, and they consistently got more than they gave up; garnering the crown of Bohemia in 1711; that of restless Hungary in 1712; trading Spain in 1738 Sicily and Naples for the gracious duchies of Parma and Piacenza.

This is what being a Habsburg meant and Charles VI played the great game as well as any of his imperial brethren. But he had to finesse his one glaring problem, the succession; the first task of a dynast. Charles produced two daughters but a brigade of such princesses was not the equal of a single prince. He needed that prince and a spare, and his need was urgent.

Thus the head of House Habsburg, the very model of monarchical tradition, canvassed a radical solution to the matter; a solution that would keep the succession to his own kin, never mind they were female, and so avoid another of Europe’s debilitating wars of succession. It was called the Pragmatic Sanction and, bribe by bribe, concession by lucrative concession, the princes of Europe came on board with pledges of adherence hardly one had any intention of actually keeping. It was all part of the scheming that was sovereignty. Duplicity was the true droit de seigneur.

Revolutionary, unprecedented solution; ultra traditional presentation.

The Pragmatic Sanction was finalized in 1713. It was crucial to disguise just how unprecedented it was. And that’s where Johann George Bohm (1673-1746) and his exuberant, signed and imperially commissioned “Allegory of the Coronation of Emperor Charles VI as King of Bohemia in Prague on 5th September 1723” comes in.

It may well be the most significant and is certainly the most glorious representation of monarchical legitimacy ever painted, bold in its objective, audacious in its purpose, a picture offering the strongest possible support to the legitimist principle and its current representative and champion, Charles VI by the Grace of God…

An allegory, a declaration, an assertion, a conviction, a proof.

Every picture contains a message, but in few pictures is that message as abundantly clear, striking, fierce and even bombastic as this one, which seeks, indeed demands, nothing less than your total belief in and submission to the unquestioned doctrine that this man and his dynasty are the favored and elect of God. It goes about elucidating this fact in the following way: by picturing the Coronation in Prague as grand theater, operatic, uplifting, inspiring, an event of grace and apotheosis.

Thus, the work offers a plethora of signs, symbols, and images, each with its individual task of supporting and hammering home the essential message: that the Emperor specifically and the entire dynasty generally are of God, ordained by God, sustained by God, forever and ever and that submission to these God-sanctified Habsburgs is mandatory, unalterable, eternal. Amen.

Let us take a closer look at the symbolic richness of this picture where each item and every representation is there to carry the overriding message and in as many ways remind the viewer that here is perpetual truth, no cavil or reservation of any kind permitted.

And so we see the sovereigns, Charles VI and his consort Elisabeth Christine of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel under a soaring cloth of state, the double headed eagle picked out in gold and their imperial monograms. The imperial couple are surrounded by personifications of the virtues intended to characterize the reign of the new Bohemian king. Amongst them Charity, represented with the arms of the city of Prague, their new kingdom’s capital. Pheme floats above this group with the trumpet of fame. In the right foreground Chronos, father of Zeus, God of time, pulls back the curtain of history which cannot but bless this king, his dynasty, his reign which can only be happy ordained as it is by God Himself and His (Roman Catholic) church.

Now the question must be answered: who painted this magnificent declaration, this encyclical of color and splendor? Bohm. Johann George Bohm, Master, a man who knew his craft; the art of presenting royalty exactly as it wished to be seen by itself and all lesser folk. As such Bohm was welcomed wherever fastidious royalty needed his essential talent, amongst them the Courts of Saxony and Poland.

Lot 620, “Alte Meister”, Dorotheum, 18 April, 2012.

It would be wrong to say it was love at first sight; rather it was lust, desire, and anxiety. It was something so perfect for my collection it might have been commissioned by me. As such it threw all my good resolutions about thrift, planning and self-control right out the window. I could only hope my valued conservator of over 3 dozen pictures would find flaws so grave even his genius would not suffice. But this is the magic of Simon Gillespie, Cleveland Street, London. If the picture can be restored to its pristine allure, then his triumph and the picture’s future are assured even for objects as badly off as this daunting masterpiece, a skein of thousands of cracks, damages, imperfections, and assorted troubles on an imperial scale.

Surely this time even Simon might quail. But he did not quail. And so the master who painted this demanding masterpiece came to be admirably served by the master who saved the work from its pitiful downward spiral of distress, desolation, and despair.

Thus Gillespie and team went to work with a will, investing over 600 hours of their practised expertise, bringing the picture back one fraction of an inch after another, patience and a hand made sable hair brush the crucial tools. By such pains the picture and its splendid original frame with the Crown of Bohemia above all were restored, resplendent, a thing as proud as the sovereign who commissioned the work, and far more successful than he.

For you see, the great work of his reign, ensuring that the empire complete and indivisible was successfully passed to his daughter Archduchess Maria Theresa, crashed before his mortal remains were even cool; royal marauders, all sworn to support the Pragmatic Sanction, broke their solemn vows and grabbed what they could as fast as they could.

Now this picture, 117 x 89 cm, saved for the future, has come to its new home here in Cambridge, where I, the son of Puritans, carefully protect not just this imperial work… but a room full of Habsburgs, all in radiant condition. And so the present, in the persons of Simon Gillespie and me, has kept faith with a past we value, particularly in its artful manifestations. We have here worked to preserve; worked to maintain; and worked to secure… all tasks worth doing… all tasks done well.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.worldprofit.com

 

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