L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Princess Victoria as a cherub, a miniature by Sir William Ross, 1841

This miniature is less than two and a half inches in diameter.

Sir William Charles Ross (June 3, 1794, London – Jan 20, 1860, London), English portrait and portrait miniature painter.  Early in his career, he was known for historical paintings, but is now best remembered as a miniaturist, much patronized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1842.  His brother, Hugh, and sister, Magdalene, were also successful miniaturists.

Princess Victoria (November 21, 1840, London – August 5, 1901, Kronberg), born Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, known in the family as Vicky, eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Made Princess Royal in 1841, she was later German Empress and Queen of Prussia by way of her marriage to German Emperor Friedrich III.  After her husband's death, she was most often referred to as the Empress Frederick.

Adored by both her parents and highly intelligent, she was given an excellent education, far in advance of what was usual for girls at the time.  Although it was a love match, her 1858 marriage at the age of seventeen to the future Crown Prince of Prussia, was also an important dynastic union, fully encouraged by her parents, who hoped it would support the emergence of a more liberal, unified Germany.  She went to Prussia inculcated by Prince Albert with a modernizing, liberalizing zeal, that was fully shared by her new husband.  The reality of stubborn Prussian conservatism was a great shock to her, and in her strong desire to bring about positive change at court and in society, she was met with active resistance and resentment; from the time of her arrival in Berlin, her life was often marked by disappointment and frustration.

In 1888 her father-in-law, Emperor Wilhelm I, died.  Thirty years after their marriage, she and her husband were finally in a position to implement the many reforms they had long dreamed of making but, tragically, the new emperor was already ill with the cancer that would kill him; his was a reign of only ninety-nine days.  His successor was their neurotic, alienated son, the infamous Wilhelm II, who was often perversely unkind to his mother, and who reacted strongly against the progressive political beliefs of his parents  The Empress Frederick had a long battle with cancer, herself, before she died in 1901 - six months after her mother, and thirteen years before her son, "Kaiser Bill", led the world into World War I.


This miniature was painted by Ross when Princess Victoria was just eleven months old.

Ross' technique and draftsmanship is remarkable.  And his sense of color, delicious:  the vivid blues, the fresh, bright flesh tones, the washes of pink on the wings and in the sky and the faintest tinge of blue around the eyes.  It was certainly unusual at the time to make a portrait of a small child in the guise of a cherub; an angelically themed representation of a child would most often signify that the child had died.  This little girl most certainly had not, and would go on to live an eventful, sometimes difficult, life.

(Interesting, if you look closely, it appears that Ross may have painted a halo over the child's head, then decided to
paint it out; did he think that was taking things just too far?)

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