Portrait of Emperor Ferdinand III Habsburg from the Regional Museum in Jawor (Jauer in German)

Published on: 06 / 01 / 2011

Authors of this entry:
  • Arkadiusz Muła

The presented portrait in an oval form originates from the former Heimatmuseum (that existed before the World War II) in Jawor (Jauer). At that time it was regarded as an image of an unknown “Silesian Duke”. Such a record had been cited by an author of the museum’s register of items which was being listed since the 1920s. The latest research has proved that the presented artwork is one of the most interesting in Silesian art, well preserved images of Emperor Ferdinand III (1608-1657).

The image was based on graphic patterns that were widespread within the Hapsburg Empire and were sketched mainly in Vienna, Salzburg, Zurich and Prague. The Emperor had been depicted as a standing youth, in an en trois quarts view, in front of a red curtain. The portrait contains also specific imperial attributes: in gold chain on the model’s neck hangs the medal of Golden Fell, farther on the right, on the table covered with red cloth, there is a Crown of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – a visible emblem of the Habsburgs’ power whose origins reach back to the medieval and early modern iconography. The hilt of a rapier that the portrayed holds in his left hand is reference to the role he had played within the turbulent period of the Thirty Years’ War. The painting was executed, beyond any doubt, after the Ruler had been crowned, i. e. after 1637.

Ferdinand III, within whose reining a stop had been put to a dozen years’ military conflict, became one of the main protagonists of counter-reformation, whose aim was fighting with Protestants. Conventional image types had adorned the interiors of city halls and seats of supreme government in the territory of Upper and Lower Silesia. Common depictions of rulers alluded to the legislation of the Emperor’s government within the duchies that were quite distant from the Viennese court. In many cases such portraits contributed to rich art collections of the Catholic aristocracy that had demonstrated their inclination kinship to the reining dynasty. The presented image most probably originated from one of several representative residencies in Jawor (Jauer in German) or in surrounding estates. It’s possible it had belonged to an ancestors’ gallery with the cycle of images of casa d’Austria. This can be testified by two other portraits currently housed in the same museum, both also in an oval form and in similar dimensions, depicting two other representatives of the reining dynasty and of Silesian dukes. A specific way of portraying the model, as well as the costumes and technique of painting testify the execution of the remaining canvases from the cycle around 1680. The sumptuous collection of images of the dukes and members of the Habsburg dynasty might have been housed in the nearby residence of Counts von Nostitz, rulers of the Duchy of Schweidnitz-Jauer, on Emperor’s behalf. Count Otto von Nostitz, loyal for the Emperor and contemporarily an active politician of the Thirty Years’ War period, played in 1656-1665 the most important role in regional politics, was appointed foreman of the Duchy. An impressive collection of his library and artworks gallery had been gathered by the Count in the family residence in Luboradz (Lobris in German), after the former Piasts’ castle had been restructured in a residential palace, the Count moved his collection to a new seat (after 1656). The presence of images and emblematic depictions in residencies of the Nostiz family, who praised the Habsburgs’ absolutism, can be testified by images of the leading members of the imperial dynasty, with a portrait of Leopold I, Ferdinand III’s follower. All those images formed the fresco decoration of the palace in Luboradz (Lobris in German), painted around 1690.

The Emperor Ferdinand III Habsburg’s images were spread within Central Europe by transitory prints, sketched by such artists like Sebastian Furck (1615-1655?) or Lucas Kilian (1579-1637). Progenitor of the “entwurf”, created after 1637, for one of the first Emperor’s portraits in an oval form was a Dutchman Frans Luyckx (1604-1668). Luyckx was probably author of the most famous portrait of the ruler which currently adorns the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and is dated to the years 1637/1638. Beside the traditional portrait depictions also the graphic images of Ferdiinand III in an oval form have been discovered, which contain emblematic decoration as well. Among them are the images executed by a Wroclaw’s sketcher and editor David Tscherning (ca. 1615-1691).

Author of the painting from Jawor (Jauer in German) was surely one of the 17th century Silesian artists, conceivably the one linked to the Piasts of Liegnitz-Jauer, namely to Georg Rudolf or to Georg III. An unknown painter had surely used the graphic patterns. The convention and picturesque style incline towards the local workshops strongly influenced by the portrait painting of Prague and Vienna. The finely chiselled and idealized features of the model are to some extent relative to the Rudolphine painting and to the popular in Central Europe, Flemish portraits by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681), which had strongly influenced formation of the Baroque rulers’ portraits as a new genre of painting. The way of portraying the model in front of a curtain, by a table with his regalia lying on it can be already found in mannerist portraits of emperors from the last quarter of the 16th century. Those stylized and portraits of rulers, cut-off at two thirds of a depicted model, mostly in an en trois quarts view can be come up against in Silesian collections, for the first time on the turn of the 16th century. Among the most significant mannerist paintings, which commence the sequence of the Habsburg Emperors’ portraits according to the foregoing pattern, are mainly the “Portrait of Emperor Rudolf II” , a gift from Jeremias Bock for the gymnasium library of St. Mary Madeleine in Wroclaw, from 1600 (currently housed in the National Museum of Wrocław).

The presented painting is not among the only Emperor’s images in Silesian collections. The similar oval images, however of poor quality of execution, are housed in the Museum of the District of Kłodzko (Muzeum Ziemi Kłodzkiej) and in the Wrocław’s Archdiocesan Museum, where they await closer recognition.


[b.a.] Haupt – Buch. Heimat=Museum Jauer, 1928-1942 (manuscript in the Regional Museum of Jawor)

Context bibliography:

Malarstwo śląskie 1520-1800. Katalog zbiorów, ed. by E. Houszka, Wrocław 2009.

P. Oszczanowski, J. Gromadzki, Theatrum Vitae et Mortis. Grafika, rysunek i malarstwo książkowe na Śląsku w latach ok. 1550-ok. 1650, Wrocław 1995.

Photos by: Arkadiusz Muła, Muzeum Regionalne, Jawor

Project co-financed by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy under Government Project – Civic Benefit Fund.
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