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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Empress Maria Theresia, by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1747

Maria Theresia Walburga Amalia Christina (13 May 1717, Vienna 29 November 1780, Vienna), the only female ruler of the Habsburg empire, she was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and Holy Roman Empress.

Unlike most of his best known work, this portrait is painted in enamel on copper.

Her 40-year reign began at the death of her father, Emperor Charles VI, in 1740. Charles VI had paved the way for her accession with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and spent his entire reign securing it. (Upon his death, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and France all repudiated the sanction they had recognized during his lifetime, and Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking a nine-year conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession.) Though she had been expected to cede power to her husband Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, and, later, to her eldest son Joseph, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresia was the absolute sovereign who ruled with the counsel of her advisers. She instituted financial and educational reforms, spurred business and agricultural development, and reorganized the military, all of which greatly strengthened Austria's international standing. The Empress also understood the importance of her public persona and was able to simultaneously evoke both esteem and affection from her subjects.

She and her husband had sixteen children. Among the thirteen who survived infancy were Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Duchess Maria Amalia of Parma, and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II; the marriages of her all children would be carefully calculated to ensure the most political gain for Austria. Though her own marriage had also been an arranged one, the Empress was very much in love with her husband and was devastated at his death in 1765; for the remaining fifteen years of her life she wore mourning and completely withdrew from court and public life. Her health was severely compromised by an attack of smallpox in 1767, but she remained resolutely in command until her death at the age of sixty-three.


Jean-Étienne Liotard (22 December 1702, Geneva – 12 June 1789, Geneva), Swiss-French artist of great versatility, though his fame depends largely on his cool and sharp-focused pastel drawings; after Maurice Quentin de La Tour, he is probably the greatest of the great eighteenth-century French pastelists. After studying with masters in his home town of Geneva, he went to Paris in 1725 and, later, he was resident in Naples, Rome, and Constantinople. His time spent in the latter proved to be very influential on his art -- and on his personal appearance; he painted many genre scenes and portraits in which the European subjects are dressed in a version of Turkish attire, and his own very eccentric adoption of Oriental dress and a long beard earned him the nickname le peintre turc, the Turkish painter. He went on to work in Vienna, London, and the Netherlands, before returning to Geneva in 1776. He devoted his last years to writing a treatise on painting, and working at still lifes and landscapes. He died at the age of eighty-six.


  1. There seems to be no end to the charming surprises found here.
    Unusual to see what appears to be an oil portrait rather than the more expected pastel by Liotard, or have I got that wrong?

    On a personal note, one of my grandmothers, born in Croatia at the end of the 19th century, always referred to any piece of furniture that looked old or antique, as "Maria Theresia"---and here is MT staring out at me this very morning, conjuring up part of my own past.

    1. It appears to be enamel on copper rather than oil--and rather than the rightly expected pastel. But how amazingly consistent it is with his pastels. I know nothing of enamel technique, but I find very interesting the fine stippling in some of the flesh tones.

      "Maria Theresia" seems like a very apt term for so many particular examples of old furniture!

  2. Enamel on copper! Now I'm really impressed.
    And yes, perfectly consistent with Liotard's pastels, as you say.
    How DO you come up with such fabulous images???

    1. Mainly, I find things when I'm looking for something else! Whenever I prepare a blog post, I scour the internet trying to find the largest, best images pertinent to the post. While doing so, I'm constantly stumbling over the most marvelous things. I copy them to a file on my computer, and they often find their way to a post of their own. Thus, whole days of my life are lost--oh, but delightfully so! : )