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Portrait of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony (1722-1763), three-quarter-length, in armour, with an ermine lined mantle and the sash and star of the Order of the White Eagle

Portrait of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony (1722-1763), three-quarter-length, in armour, with an ermine lined mantle and the sash and star of the Order of the White Eagle
oil on canvas, unlined
61 1⁄4 x 43 1⁄4 in. (155.7 x 110.8 cm.)
(Probably) Commissioned by the sitter's father, Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony (1696-1763), and by descent in the family to the following,
Friedrich August III, Elector of Saxony (1865-1932), at Schloss Sybillenort, Szczodre, (probably) sold following his death with the contents of the castle and subsequently reacquired by a descendant, and by inheritance to the present owner.
Sammlungskatalog der Gemäldegalerie Dresden, Dresden, 1765, p. 242.
G.L. Bianconi, Elogio Storico Del Cavaliere Anton Raffaele Mengs: con un Catalogo Delle Opere Da Esso Fatte, Milan, 1780, pp. 25 and 87.
Sammlungskatalog der Gemäldegalerie Dresden, Dresden, 1782, p. 290.
J.P. Doray de Longrais, Oeuvres de M. Mengs, traduites par Doray de Longrais. Eloge historique de M. Mengs, par N. Guibal et Louis He´rissant, Regensburg, 1782, p. 19.
M.C.F. Prange, Des Ritters Anton Raphael Mengs, ersten Mahlers Karl III. Königs in Spanien hinterlassne Werke, Halle, 1786, I, pp. 106 and 159.
G.N. d'Azara and C. Fea, Opere di Antonio Raffaello Mengs, primo Pittore del Re cattolico Carlo III, Rome, 1787, p. XLI.
G. Schilling, Anton Raphael Mengs: sämmtliche hinterlassene Schriften, Bonn, 1843, I, p. 26.
Sammlungskatalog der Gemäldegalerie Dresden, Dresden, 1872, p. 373.
K. Woermann, Katalog der Königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden, Dresden, 1887, p. 69.
J.L. Sponsel, Fürsten-Bildnisse aus dem Hause Wettin, Dresden, 1906, p. 68.
A. Feulner, Skulptur und Malerei des 18 Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, Potsdam, 1929, XX, p. 24.
S. Pückler-Limpurg, Der Klassizismus in der deutschen Kunst, Munich, 1929, p. 33.
H.W. Singer, Neuer Bildniskatalog, Leipzig, 1938, II, no. 11741.
D. Honisch, Anton Raphael Mengs und die Bildform des Frühklassizismus, Recklinghausen, 1965, p. 117, no. 213.
S. Roettgen, Anton Raphael Mengs, 1728-1779, Munich, 1999, I, pp. 224-25, no. 153, illustrated.
Dresden, Berliner Saal, Die Grosse-Kunstausstellung, 1908, no. 549.
Darmstadt, Residenzschloss, Deutsches Barock und Rokoko: herausgegeben im Anschluss an die Jahrhundert-Ausstellung deutscher Kunst 1650-1800, 1914, with catalogue by G. Biermann.
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

This imposing portrait encapsulates an important period in the successful and diverse career of one of the eighteenth century’s most significant artists and theorists, Anton Raphael Mengs. Depicting the young heir to the throne of Saxony, Prince-Elector Friedrich Christian of Saxony (1722-1763), the work has almost unbroken family provenance, and has not been publicly exhibited in over a century. Suffused with elegant power and easy command, the picture stands as a compelling example of Mengs’ skill as a portrait painter, subtly elevating and aggrandising his sitter whilst retaining a sense of personal engagement between viewer and subject.
Mengs had been introduced into the circles of elite patrons in Dresden by his father, Ismael Israel Mengs (1688-1764), who had himself worked at the court of the Elector of Saxony in the city. Following an early sojourn in Rome between 1740 and 1744, Mengs initially focused on producing pastel portraits in Dresden, executing a portrait of the sitter’s father, Augustus II in 1745 (Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister). The following year, the artist made a further trip to Italy, where he continued the studies he had begun a few years earlier, copying and studying the treasures of antiquity and travelling to see works by Titian in Venice, Correggio in Parma and the Carracci in Bologna, which had a deep and lasting impact on his oeuvre. Upon his return to Dresden in 1749, Mengs devoted himself to working in oils and serving the Saxon court. This portrait and its companion portrait of the sitter’s wife, Maria Antonia of Bavaria (fig. 1; Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister) were the first state portraits Mengs painted in his new office as Principal Court Painter in Dresden, in circa 1750. They would almost certainly have been commissioned by the sitter’s father, Frederick Augustus, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (1696-1763), who was a great patron of the arts and architecture. Augustus greatly expanded the Dresden art gallery, which in 1747 had to be moved to a new location at the present-day Johanneum, where it remained until 1855 when it was moved to the newly-built Semper Gallery. While Mengs did not remain at Dresden for long, his time there evidently equipped the painter with invaluable experience of working in courtly environments, which later served him well at the royal Spanish court, where he was summoned by Carlos III of Spain in 1761.
In this portrait, Mengs shows his sitter in a pose of calm and easy authority, conferring gravitas to Friedrich Christian by adopting a slightly lower viewpoint, obliging the viewer to look up at the prince. The Electoral Prince has all the heraldic attributes of his rank and dignity: he is dressed in highly polished armour and a voluminous mantle of deep blue velvet, lined with ermine (echoed in the companion portrait of his wife), and wears on his right hip the blue ribbon of the Polish Order of the White Eagle, the badge of highest honour in the Kingdom of Poland, the star of which is fastened to his left breast. Friedrich Christian’s father had held the throne of Poland since 1733 and the Order here makes a clear statement of the family’s prestige and power. Steeped in the traditions of early-eighteenth century French portraiture, the elegant composition, dress of the prince and the dramatic storm clouds gathering in the sky behind him all demonstrate Mengs’ conscious adoption of pictorial tropes employed by leading French portraitists, perhaps deliberately derived here from a likeness of the sitter’s father, Augustus, painted in circa 1714 by Nicolas de Largillière (Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria). The painter’s engagement with earlier portrait traditions, however, did not limit his own powers of invention. This portrait of Friedrich Christian, while formal in many respects, dispenses with the slightly stiffer style found in the work of other painters who had been active at the Saxon court, notably Louis de Silvestre (1675-1760). Furthermore, Mengs adopts a more eloquent approach to the solid modelling of the sitter’s face and lavishes attention on the exceptional rendering of the various textiles and surfaces of the prince’s attire.
The third son of Friedrich Augustus II, Elector of Saxony (Augustus III, King of Poland), Frederic was born in Dresden in September 1722. A weak child, afflicted by paralysis in his feet, the young Friedrich Christian was reliant on a wheelchair for much of his early life. The deaths of his two elder brothers, the Elector Princes Friedrich Augustus (1720-21) and Joseph Augustus (1721-28), saw him assume the position as heir to the Electorate of Saxony despite his mother’s attempts to persuade him to renounce his claims and enter the church because of his health. Friedrich Christian acceded to the Saxon electorate upon his father’s death in 1763. He quickly proved himself to be an able and talented statesman, dismissing the controversial Prime Minister, Count Heinrich von Brühl (1700-1763), whose misguided fiscal policies and disastrous decision to enter the Seven Years War (1756-1763) had plunged Saxony into a long-run economic and diplomatic crisis. He then instituted a wave of reforms across the electoral states, establishing a programme for economic reconstruction, which included paring back court expenditure and simplifying governmental procedures. His reign was cut short, however, when he died of smallpox on 17 December 1763, only 74 days after his succession.
Both Friedrich Christian and his wife, Maria Antonia, were enthusiastic patrons of the arts and advocates of Enlightenment thought. During his brief period as Elector, Friedrich instituted numerous significant reforms to promote more progressive, tolerant and liberal ideas in his territories. Even before his accession, he had expressed such ideas, writing in his diary that: ‘Princes exist for their subjects, not subjects for their princes. His subjects’ wealth, public credit and a well-standing army make up the true happiness of a prince’ (quoted in H. Schlechte, Das geheime politische Tagebuch des Kurprinzen Friedrich Christian: 1751 bis 1757, Weimar, 1992, p. 30). The Prince Elector was also renowned for his musical talent. Johann Sebastian Bach, in fact, had been commissioned to compose the cantata Hercules at the Crossroads for the prince’s tenth birthday. This musical affection was shared by his wife, Maria Antonia, who was also a talented amateur painter and poet.

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