PROPERTY OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF SAXONY, HOUSE OF WETTIN A.L. (ALBERTINE LINE) (LOTS 221-230)
THE ROYAL HOUSE OF WETTIN – A BRIEF HISTORY
The Royal House of Wettin, one of the oldest ruling dynasties in Europe, ruled over areas of Saxony and Thuringia in modern-day Germany for over 950 years. The Middle Ages had seen a gradual rise in the family’s status, which in 1423 culminated when Friedrich VI (variously known as the ‘Warlike’ and the ‘Pugnacious’), Margrave of Meissen was given the Duchy of Saxony by Sigismund, King of the Romans and thus became Friedrich I, Elector of Saxony. Subsequent generations of the family, however, went through bitter divisions. Elector Friedrich I had three sons, two of whom, Friedrich II 'the Mild' and Wilhelm, Landgrave of Thuringia, fought over their father's lands. Friedrich II’s sons, Ernst and Albrecht, after the death of their uncle Wilhelm III of Thuringia, divided the House of Wettin and its lands forever.
THE ERNSTINE AND ALBERTINE LINES 1485-1694
The Treaty of Leipzig in 1485 marked the division of the family’s titles and lands into the ‘Ernstine’ and the ‘Albertine’ branches. Ernst, the elder brother, succeeded his father as Prince-elector of Saxony and Thuringia, along with the territories of the electorate, and had his seat at Wittenberg. His younger brother, Albrecht ‘der Behertze’ became Duke of Saxony and retained the title Margrave of Meissen, with lands in Ducal Saxony, which he ruled from Dresden.
In 1547 the title of Elector passed from the Ernstine branch to Moritz (grandson of Albrecht III) of the Albertine line. The Ernstine branch had been ardent supporters of the Protestant Reformation: Friedrich III (r. 1486-1525), ‘the Wise’, was Martin Luther's patron; his brother and successor John (r. 1525-32), ‘the Steadfast’, legally established Lutheranism in his territories in 1527 and in 1531 established the Schmalkaldic League – and it was at Wittenberg that Martin Luther nailed his famous ninety-five theses to the door of the cathedral. Johann Friedrich I (r. 1532-47), ‘the Magnanimous’, was also a staunch supporter of the Reformation, however, following his capture by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Mülberg during the Schmalkaldic War (24 April 1547), he was forced to abdicate the electorate to his cousin Moritz (r. 1547-53), head of the Albertine line.
Following Moritz's death, his brother August (r. 1553-86) became Elector. Under him, Saxony went through a social and economic boom and he was the first Elector to build up the artistic and scientific collections at Dresden. He promoted commerce and agriculture as well as the mining of coal, which his brother had introduced. Subsequent Electors of Saxony, Christian I (r. 1586-91) and Christian II (r. 1591-1611) showed little interest in politics. In 1591, the year Christian II succeeded his brother, the wheel-lock pistol (lot 250) was supplied for the Trabantan guard. Johann Georg I (r. 1611-56) inherited the title after Christian II's untimely demise. His rule was defined by the Thirty Years War (1616-48) in which he first supported the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II (r. 1619-37) during the Bohemian Revolt (1618-23) to enhance his position among the German princes, and then fought with the forces of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden (r. 1611-32) during the Swedish phase of the war (1630-35).
Johann Georg II (r. 1656-80) and Johann Georg III (r. 1680-91) continued to regenerate and develop Dresden as the cultural capital of Saxony, and strengthened Saxony as one of the leading military powers in Europe.
THE AUGUSTAN PERIOD 1694-1763
Following the death of Johann Friedrich IV (r. 1691-94) after only three years in power, the title passed to his younger brother Friedrich August I (r. 1694-1733). Within two years of his succession, the Polish throne became vacant following the death in 1696 of Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland. Friedrich August’s election to the kingdom of Poland Lithuania elevated him to the title of August II, King of Poland (known as ‘August the Strong’ due to his great physical strength and appearance). In order to secure the Polish crown he had had to convert to Roman Catholicism, which in the context of a largely Protestant state was astounding and revealed a driving ambition for power and recognition. Such flexibility was clearly inherited by his only (legitimate) son Johann August III (r. 1734-63 as August III), who in 1712 also converted to Catholicism and in 1719 married the (Catholic) Habsburg Archduchess Maria Josepha, daughter of the Emperor Joseph I, in order to secure his own ambitions.
As well as increasing his territories August the Strong was a great patron of the arts. He was clearly affected by the power and splendour of the French court at Versailles under Louis XIV and the authority that the French king exercised over his aristocracy through his patronage of the arts. August sought to mirror Louis XIV at his seat in Dresden both through architecture and in his extensive art collection, and even opened part of his collection at the Grünes Gewölbe (the Green Vaults) to the public from 1723. His main residences in Saxony, such as the Zwinger Palace, Residenzschloss, Schloss Moritzburg and Schloss Pillnitz, had to be completely renovated, redecorated and refurnished in the latest fashions. The console table (lot 251) was probably supplied to August II for the Residenzschloss. Towards the end of his life, August the Strong ordered a large number of bureaux-cabinets: in 1727, for example, an astonishing fifty-five were delivered to the court. An inventory of Schloss Moritzburg taken on the Elector's death in 1733 lists 21 bureaux-cabinets, and an inventory compiled a year later of the contents of Schloss Pillnitz mentions as many as fifty-five (G. Haase, Dresdener Moebel des 18. Jahrhunderts, Leipzig 1983, pp. 39-40). The two bureaux-cabinets of the English taste, offered in the present sale as lots 252 and 255, were supplied to either August the Strong or his son, August III. Further renovations for the royal residences and palaces were commissioned by August III of Poland who following his father's death in 1733 was elected to the Kingdom of Poland with the support of Russian and Austrian forces, resulting in the War of the Polish Succession. August III showed little interest in either politics or Polish affairs, delegating much of his administrative responsibilities and powers to Counts Heinrich von Brühl and Alexander Joseph von Sulkowski. He had married Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria in 1719, by whom he had fourteen children. Part of the damask linen offered here (lot 256) is dated to the year after he was crowned in Krakow in 1734.
THE KINGDOM OF SAXONY 1800-1900
August III’s third son, Friedrich Christian (r. 1763), inherited the Electoral title briefly in the year of his father's death in 1763 but died very shortly afterwards leaving Saxony in disarray. His son Friedrich August I (r. 1763-1806 as elector; 1806-1827 as king) did much to rejuvenate and strengthen Saxony. Under the threat of invasion from Prussia he focussed on the stabilisation of Saxony, renouncing the Polish crown so highly prized by his forbears. The Dresden commode (lot 254) and the other elements within the damask linen lot (256) were most probably supplied to Friedrich August III for Schloss Moritzburg at the turn of the century.
In the face of Imperial French expansion Friedrich August joined the Prussians against Napoleon in 1806. However, after their decisive defeat at Jena, Friedrich August made peace with Napoleon, and was proclaimed King Friedrich August I of Saxony. Six months later he was also named Grand Duke of Warsaw by Napoleon. Thereafter Friedrich August remained a loyal ally to France, even after the disastrous Russian campaign (1812–13). Though he had started half-hearted negotiations with Austria, he broke them off after the French victory at Lützen (May 1813). At the Battle of Leipzig (October 1813), however, his troops deserted for the Prussian side and he himself was taken prisoner. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Friedrich August lost three-fifths of his territory to Prussia. He spent the rest of his life attempting to rehabilitate his truncated territories.
It was most probably Johann, King of Saxony (r. 1854-73) for whom the town coach by Carl Heinrich Gläser (lot 259) was supplied. When his uncle Anton (r. 1827-36) succeeded his older brother Friedrich August I as king in 1827, Johnann became the third in line to the throne. Following his father Maximilian’s renunciation of his succession rights in 1830, Johann's older brother became King Friedrich August II (r. 1836-54) who married twice, but was childless and on his death in 1854 Johann became King of Saxony.
After the removal of the collection at the end of the Second World War, pieces were seized and consequently moved to the GDR State collection. The following works are being sold as a result of restitution to the Royal House of Wettin A.L. from the Free State of Saxony in 2014, and present a unique opportunity to purchase works of art commissioned by this distinguished noble family for the first time since they were supplied to the Royal House.