Johann Christian Fiedler

1679 – 1765

Prince George William of Hessen-Darmstadt (1722-1782), his Sister Princess Karoline Luise (1723-1783) together with a young Black Servant in a Palace Interior

Medium:

Oil on Canvas

Category:

Portrait

Dimensions:

57(h) x 74.5(w) cms

Framed Dimensions:

69(h) x 87(w) cms

Essay:

Johann Christian Fiedler was born in Pirna in Saxony in 1697, the son of a brewmaster. As a painter he was largely self-taught, having graduated from grammar school c. 1715 and then embarked upon law studies in Leipzig. He soon realised, however, that his talents lay within fine art, and he began to paint miniatures that he would display at a fair in Braunschweig. His paintings evidently caught the attention of August Wilhelm of Brunswick-Lüneburg because in 1720, with a view to making Fiedler his court painter, the Duke sent him to Paris at his expense to study with Hyacinthe Rigaud and Nicolas de Largillière. Returning in 1724, Fiedler passed though Darmstadt and there was made an irresistible offer of 400 Florins annually to become court painter to Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt instead.

Fiedler would remain in Darmstadt for the rest of his life, painting a considerable number of court portraits, and occasionally genre scenes, not just for Landgrave Ernst Ludwig and his family but also for his son Ludwig VIII and subsequently the latter’s son Ludwig IX.

When the artist died, he was buried next to Stadtkirche Darmstadt, and the Landgrave erected a monument for him with a medallion and a poetic inscription.

Dating from c.1750, our portrait depicts Prince Georg Wilhelm (1722–82) and Princess Karoline Luise (1723–83), children of Landgrave Ludwig VIII of Hessen-Darmstadt (1691–1768). The setting is an elegant salon interior, presumably in Georg Wilhelm’s palace, the so-called ‘Markt-Palais’, presented by Ludwig VII to his second son who acted as official representative of the family in Darmstadt. The father himself preferred his hunting castles to his residence palace in Darmstadt. Their elder brother Ludwig (later Ludwig IX) was still only hereditary Landgrave at this point in time.

Georg Wilhelm is depicted leaning nonchalantly on the back of his sister’s chair. She, resplendent in a silk brocade dress and an ermine-lined cloak, is seated at a dressing table holding up precious jewellery. By her side stands a young black page whose bejewelled headdress bears the crowned initials L.L. of their father. The page wears an elegant uniform paired with large pearl drop earrings and a wide silver collar around his neck (presumably in reference to his colonial past).

The Landgrave himself, albeit in portrait form, glances down at them from his central position on the wall. He is represented in his military attire of field marshal – presumably he would have been away at war as Fiedler also painted a small portrait of the Landgrave in battle in 1750 (now in Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw). As head of the family, Ludwig VIII is flanked to his left by a likeness of his wife, the late Landgravine Charlotte-Christine (1700–1726) and, to his right, by the portrait of the eldest son in the family, hereditary Landgrave Ludwig, who would eventually reign as Ludwig IX.

On the wall are other paintings including three oval equestrian/battle scenes and a classical landscape and a wall clock topped with a statuette of the Landgrave and his hunting dog. Fiedler has allowed the viewer a glimpse of his father’s palace, the Residents-Palais, through an open window; this is artistic licence as, even then, the building would not have been directly visible from this angle. In front of the window sits an African grey parrot on its perch, while two pet pugs are keeping watch over the proceedings from floor level.
Georg Wolfgang is depicted here without his wife, which seems odd considering they were married in 1748; unless of course she was in confinement giving birth to one of the couple’s nine children. Another likely explanation is that our painting would mark the occasion of Karoline Luise’s engagement to Margrave Karl Friedrich of Baden-Durlach, or indeed their wedding, which took place in 1751 in Stadtkirche Darmstadt. If so, the footman might be there to present Karoline with a gift of precious jewels from her father in his absence.
Margravine Karoline Luise was a true exponent of the Age of Enlightenment: She was fiercely intelligent, exceedingly well-read and well-connected (she corresponded regularly with prominent thinkers such as Voltaire and Goethe). A gifted artist, she studied pastel technique with Jean-Etienne Liotard and held an honorary membership of the Danish Royal Academy of Art, herself an avid art collector. She played the harpsichord with the Markgräfisch Badischen Hofkapelle. To satisfy her interest in natural sciences, a room in the castle of Karlsruhe was given over to a physics and chemistry lab for her experiments. Karoline Luise had a head for business and for managing the family’s estates. It is known that she provided financial support to Georg Wolfgang and his family.

Another palace in the grounds, Prinz-Georg Palais, now houses the Porzellanmuseum displaying precious porcelain collected by generations of the House of Hessen-Darmstadt. Here hangs a second version of our family portrait, painted in upright format by Fiedler in 1753. The two siblings are depicted as in our work, but this time with the inclusion of Princess Maria Luise Albertine (1729–1818), the wife of Georg Wolfgang, and their young son, Prince Georg Karl of Hessen- Darmstadt (whose dates 1754–1830s suggest that he would have been painted in later). By the window is a portrait depicting the youngest brother, Johann Friedrich Karl (1726–1746) that cannot be see in our painting.

We cannot be certain of the identity of the young servant in our painting. Alexa-Beatrice Christ, Director of Schlossmuseum Darmstadt, has kindly pointed out that the Hesse-Darmstadt court employed several servants of colour, not all of whom are named in their archives. She notes that the dates would seem to match a certain Ludwig Carl Prenzlau. Born in Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) in 1738/9 he appears to have been given to the hereditary Landgraves. The couple resided in Prenzlau at the time and had the boy baptised in the local Marienkirche, naming him Ludwig after the Landgrave and Prenzlau after the city.

Former slave children who ended up at the European courts were typically considered free either on arrival or once they had been baptised. In the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment the European royals would have seen themselves as guardians of these children, responsible for their maintenance, overseeing their education and paying them wages for their services as footmen or chamber maids and, generally, adding status and an air of exoticism to court life.

Young Prenzlau appears to have been regarded with genuine fondness and treated as a member of the extended family. A painting by Antoine Pesne in Schlossmuseum Darmstadt shows the hereditary Landgravine Karoline Henriette putting her arm protectively around her doting protégé who, in turn, offers her flowers. When in 1763 Prenzlau married Maria Susana Aubimon, (daughter of the so-called American Mohr at court), the newlyweds moved into a house in the palace grounds owned by his father-in law. At the baptisms of their four children, the godparents included the Landgraves themselves, their friends and members of the local bourgeoisie, who were also connections of the Prenzlaus. After the death of Ludwig VII, Prenzlau left court service and bought the house they lived in with this own money. Prenzlau himself died in January 1785, deeply mourned by the family of Ludwig IX.

Former slave children who ended up at the European courts were typically considered free either on arrival or once they had been baptised. In the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment the European royals would have seen themselves as guardians of these children, responsible for their maintenance, overseeing their education and paying them wages for their services as footmen or chamber maids and, generally, adding status and an air of exoticism to court life.

Young Prenzlau appears to have been regarded with genuine fondness and treated as a member of the extended family. A painting by Antoine Pesne in Schlossmuseum Darmstadt shows the hereditary Landgravine Karoline Henriette putting her arm protectively around her doting protégé who, in turn, offers her flowers. When in 1763 Prenzlau married Maria Susana Aubimon, (daughter of the so-called 'American Mohr' at court), the newlyweds moved into a house in the palace grounds owned by his father-in law. At the baptisms of their four children, the godparents included the Landgraves themselves, their friends and members of the local bourgeoisie, who were also connections of the Prenzlaus. After the death of Ludwig VII, Prenzlau left court service and bought the house they lived in with this own money. Prenzlau himself died in January 1785, deeply mourned by the family of Ludwig IX.

Provenance:

Private Collection, Vienna, Austria.