Karel Breydel was an excellent Flemish battle scene painter at an age when Europe knew many wars, either involving King Louis XIV of France or the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Flanders, where Breydel spent most of his life, went in 1713 from Spanish Habsburg to Austrian Habsburg rule.
Our pair of copper paintings represents Breydel’s interpretation of battle scenes between Austrian Habsburg and Kuruc, Hungarian separatists. The Kuruc are easily recognizable by their typical hats and blue colours, the Austrians wear red. The only important, in fact decisive battle between both armies was the Battle of Trenčín of 1708. If so the paintings must probably have been commanded to the best battle scene painter in the Austrian territory (be it in Flanders), our Karel Breydel, by the commander of the Austrian troops, whom we see at the foreground in both paintings, Count Pálffy.
Anyone who ever visited Budapest must know about the Kuruc leader Ferenc Rákóczi II. He is a national hero in Hungary; his huge equestrian statue stands in front of Parliament.
About Karel Breydel
Antwerp 1678 – 1733 Antwerp
Battle scene painter.
Nicknamed "le Chevalier" (the "Knight"). He regularly signed his works.
In 1691 he became a pupil of Peter Ykens (1648 – 1695, a painter of religious scenes who regularly provided mythological figures in still lifes painted by colleagues). Following Ykens’ death in 1695 Karel and his younger brother Frans (1679 – 1750) became pupils of the landscape painter Pieter Rijsbraeck (1655 – 1729).
Stylistically Karel Breydel was influenced by the important battle scene painter Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632 – 1690), who had entered in the service of King Louis XIV of France in 1664.
Between 1698 and 1702 Karel Breydel travelled extensively with his brother Frans through Germany, where they stayed in Frankfurt-am-Main (1698), Nuremberg (1699) and Kassel (1700 – 1702).
Karel was in Amsterdam in 1703, where he copied paintings by Jan Griffier and Jan Brueghel I for the art dealer Jacob de Vos.
He returned to Flanders that same year. In 1703 he got married in his native Antwerp and the next year he became a member of the Painter’s Guild.
Breydel is further documented in Brussels in 1723 and in Ghent in 1726.
He passed away in Antwerp in 1733.
About the Battle of Trenčín
Both paintings represent battles between the Austrian Habsburg army (wearing red) and the anti-Habsburg rebels of Royal Hungary and Northern Transylvania, the Kuruc (or “fugitives” with their typical hats and wearing blue).
In his effort to take the throne of Spain King Louis XIV of France has sponsored a revolt of the Kuruc lead by Ferenc Rákóczi II. The king of France hoped to open a new front that would weaken the Austrian army, whom he was fighting the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714) with all over Europe. Following the childless death of the Habsburg King Charles II of Spain, both the French Bourbons (King Louis XIV) and the Austrian Habsburgs (the Holy Roman Emperors Leopold I and Joseph I) claimed that throne. The War opposed France, Spain, Bavaria and the Kuruc against those European states that were afraid that a unified France and Spain would be too powerful: Austria, the Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Prussia, Savoy and Portugal.
The important Rákóczi Uprising, fought between 1703 and 1711, followed on a less important and unsuccessful attempt under Emeric Thököly between 1678 and 1685, for which the French king had also already provided funds, against his Austrian ennemies.
During the first three years Ferenc Rákóczi II had been wining a lot of territory, but from 1706 onwards he was gradually being pushed back by the Austrians. At the decisive Battle of Trenčín (today in Slovakia) on 3 August 1708 the Kuruc troops were beaten by the Austrians led by the Imperial commander János Pálffy (who was actually a Hungarian nobleman loyal to the Austrians), assisted by the commander of the garrison of Trenčín, Sigbert Heister.
As so often both armies appeared at the battle with little knowledge of the geographical conditions, which would play an important part: there were two man-made ponds seperated by an embankment and surrounded by moats. The passages were too narrow for the Kuruc cavallery to advance and when Rákóczi himself tried to impress his troops by entering personally into the fight, he jumped with his horse on a moat, fell and lost consciousness. Rumours spread that he was dead, his troops started fleeing and his army was decively beaten.
After the Battle of Trenčín Count Pálffy (1664 – 1751) was made Field Marshal and he received command of all troops in Upper Hungary (the N. part of Hungary, now mostly present-day Slovakia). He succesfully negotitated peace with Ferenc Rákóczi II, who left for Poland, thus ending the second Kuruc Revolt. I think that there is a fair chance that the Austrian commander who appears in both our paintings is actually Count Pálffy himself, for whom Breydel might-must have painted these commemorative paintings of the Battle of Trenčín, testifying of his courage and of his success. Later Count Pálffy fought several times against the Turks. Although he was wounded at several occasions he reached the respectful age of 87 (1751).
One should not forget that Flanders, where Breydel lived, belonged to the Habsburg family, first to the Spanish branch and from 1713 onwards to the Austiran one. At that time Breydel must by far have been the best battle scene painter in the Austrian Empire. In these two paintings the town view (of Trenčín) in the background and the landscape are of course fictitious; little did Breydel know what they looked like.
Our pair of paintings stands very close to a set of four painted by Breydel not on copper but on oak panels, from the collection of the Alte Pinakothek Museum of Munich, currently exhibited in Bamberg at the Staatsgalerie in der Neuen Residenz. Just as our pair these four cabinet paintings must also have been commmisoned by a commander from the Austrian, Habsburg emperial army who appears at the front of each composition. The set of four represents the Austrian army fighting Turks. Austria fought against the Ottoman empire in the Great Turkish War (it started with the Battle of Viena of 1683 and ended in 1699) and in the Austrio-Turkish War of 1716 -1718 (in which the Austrians took Belgrade). It would certainly carry us way too far to start phantasising about all six paintings having been painted for our same Count Pálffy.
At the RKD, The Hague both our paintings are still entitled as a pair of battle scenes between Austrians, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy and Turks, with in the background supposedly the city of Vienna. This is an error.
1. The ennemy troops are clearly Kuruc (wearing hats) and for sure not Turkish (wearing turbans).
2. Prince Eugene did indeed participate in the victory of 1683 at the Battle of Vienna at Kahlenberg. It was his first battle, he was no commander, he was only 19 years old. He fought there under Herman Margrave of Baden, who was leading one of the three Christian armies relieveing Vienna (the others were led by King John Sobieski of Poland and by Charles of Lorraine).
3. There was indeed a small Magyar, Kuruc company under Emeric Thököly (as mentioned the first Kuruc leader to have received funds from King Louis XIV) that had joined the Ottoman troops of Kara Mustapha. But after a siege that had lasted too long (just under two months) there was little countryside to plunder for food and no promised booty. Therefore by the decisive battle of 12 September 1683 most Kuruc had already deserted to the Imperial Austrian side.
This erroneous information at the RKD was taken from the Christie’s Amsterdam 21/05/99 sale catalogue. At the Lempertz sale in Cologne, 21/05/16 both paintings had lost that wild qualification, but not so on the RKD website.
Why should you buy this pair of paintings?
Because they are great examples of the painterly skills of Karel Breydel.
Because they represent an exceptional subject.