Getty Adds an Enlightenment Prince
|Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony, 1751. J. Paul Getty Museum
J.S. Bach composed a cantata ("Hercules at the Crossroads") for Friedrich Christian's 10th birthday. The child was no Hercules. Considered sickly, he used canes and a sedan chair, possibly a consequence of cerebral palsy. ("I suppose you know he has been lame from his birth," wrote one snarky aristocrat, "and is carried about in a chair, though a beautiful person from the waist upwards.") Mengs' portrait ignores the prince's physical challenges, presenting him in ancestral armor.
The Saxon game of thrones found the prince's mother and younger brother scheming to cut Friedrich Christian out of the line of succession. A couple of timely deaths led to Friedrich Christian assuming the Saxon throne in 1763. He ruled as an Enlightenment monarch until he died of smallpox just 74 days later.
Mengs is less well known to today's museum public than his rivals Tiepolo and Goya. But Winckelmann singled out Mengs as "the greatest artist of his time and perhaps of succeeding times." In recent years American museums (including LACMA, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan) have sought works by Mengs. The Getty has informal Mengs portraits of a Spanish diplomat and an Irish Grand Tourist (a pastel). Of all these pictures, the Portrait of Friedrich Christian is the most ambitious.
Agnew produced a publication on the portrait's history, available online. It says that the painting has not been exhibited in over a century.
|Detail of Polish Order of the White Eagle. The prince's family ruled Poland as well as Saxony