This portrait was painted by Jan Thomas van Yperen, a follower of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, who, after his early years in Antwerp and Mainz, worked in Vienna for the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. Our portrait stands very close to the depiction of the emperor in a similar costume, which was also painted by Jan Thomas van Yperen. That portrait and the one of his young wife, Empress Margaret Theresa, were also painted on copper plates, of exactly the same dimensions as ours. The imperial couple had itself portrayed in these theatre costumes to commemorate their opulent mariage festivities held in Vienna during two years between 1666 and 1668. The newly wed and court members participated personally in the celebrations (opera, equestrian ballet, etc.). Our painting must therefore portray a member of the high aristocracy who had joined the emperor on stage.
About Jan Thomas van Yperen
Ieper (Ypres) 1617 – 1678 Vienna
Painter of portraits, genre scenes, biblical and mythological subjects.
It is not known whom he studied painting with, but he did work in Rubens’ (1577 – 1640) workshop during the end of the master’s career.
Jan Thomas was active in Antwerp, where he is documented between 1639 and 1654. In 1643 he inscribed Andries de Coninck (circa 1625 – 1659) as his pupil at the Painters’ Guild of Saint Luc. De Coninck became a Master in 1645, was a promissing still life painter, but died at a very young age, probably not even 35 years old.
Our painter possibly already left Antwerp in 1654 for Mainz in Germany, where he worked for the Archbishop-Elector. In 1658 he was in Frankfurt for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I. It is thought that by that time Thomas was already in his service in Vienna.He is definetely documented there from 1661 until his death in 1678. He received commissions from the imperial court, the higher clergy and the local aristocracy.
Thomas was one of the earliest engravers who executed mezzotint (“manière noire”) engravings, circa 1658.
About our painting
During their wedding feasts in Vienna, which lasted for two years (1666 – 1668), emperor Leopold I, his wife Margaret Theresa and close relatives all seem to have participated in several operas, equestrian ballets and plays that were being staged there to glorify the House of Habsburg. As keen music lovers it should not be a surprise that the imperial couple had themselves portrayed in extravagant, theatrical costumes by Jan Thomas van Yperen. Both portraits, which are today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, have been painted on copper plates from exactly the same dimensions as our painting.
Our portrait does not exactly copy the pose, the richly embroidered costume, the Habsburg appearance and the jewels of the emperor, but it was clearly strongly inspired by that painting. It must therefore represent somebody from the very close circle of the emperor, who must have appeared on stage on the side of the emperor. As our portrait lacks the full, hanging lower lip and the long narrow under jaw (typical, easily recognizable features of the Habsburg), it can not be a close member of the emperor’s family, but probably somebody from the highest nobility.
In “Man and Music. The Early Baroque Era”, edited by Curtis Price in 1993, chapter VII discusses music in Vienna between 1580 and 1705. According to Theophil Antonicek, who wrote this chapter, the portrait of Leopold I from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna possibly represents the emperor as Acis in “La Galatea”.
This opera (in fact a “favola pastorale per musica”) was composed in Vienna in 1667 by Pietro Andrea Ziani (1616 – 1684) with a libretto of Antonio Draghi. Ziani was at that time the “Kapellmeister” (director of music) of the “Hofkapelle” (court orchestra) of Empress Eleonora Gonzaga (1630 – 1686), the third wife of Emperor Ferdinand III (who was the father of Leopold I).
At the “Spettacolo Barocco! Triumph des Theaters” exhibition in the Theatre Museum of Vienna (3/03/16 – 30/01/17) the Vienna portrait of Leopold I was said to portray the emperor during the equestrian ballet of 1667. That horse show with more than 600 performers that lasted for over 4 hours was to eclipse the Grand Cavalcade of 1662 held in Paris by Louis XIV.
About the love for music of emperor Leopold I and of his first wife Margaret Theresa
In 1666 the Holy Roman emperor Leopold I (1640 – 1705) married Margaret Theresa (1651–1673), daughter of King Philip IV of Spain, who was both his niece and his first cousin! He was 27 years old, she was 15. She was the blonde princess depicted in the centre of Diego Velazquez' masterpiece “Las Meninas” from1656. This marriage between members of the Austrian and the Spanish Habsburg houses was an important signal against King Louis XIV of France. Margaret Theresa gave birth to four children, of whom only one survived infancy. The young empress died, at the age of twenty-one, during her last pregnancy, after falling ill with bronchitis. Leopold was left heartbroken, as he had truly loved her. But four months later he already married his second wife, Archduchess Claudia Felicitas of Austria, member of the Tyrol branch of the House of Habsburg.
Leopold I and his young wife had a keen interest in music: the emperor composed himself several Oratorios and Suites of Dances.
Ostentatious festivities with fireworks, theatre, ballet and opera performances, flashy decorations, banquets and the ceremonial entrance of honoured guests – particularly on occasion of important events – were commonly used during the baroque era to display wealth and enhance the prestige of an emperor. Louis XIV’s (1638-1715) extensive patronage of the arts and pompous courtly festivities served as a model for the whole of European royalty, but seemed impossible to surpass. Only the festivities on the occasion of the wedding of Leopold I and Margaret Theresa in 1666 dwarfed even the French spectacles. Leopold did everything in his power to highlight the immense political importance of the wedding between the Austrian and the Spanish branch of the family. The marriage celebrations lasted almost two years. Among the most important events there had been:
- the opera “La Galatea”;
- two representations of an equestrian ballet (a contest of the Four Eelements) in January 1667, where the emperor personally mounted on his horse, Speranza during the first representation; due to technical adaptations, the ballet gave spectators the impression that horses and carriages were hovering in the air;
- the opera “Il Pomo d’oro” in 1668 which, due to its magnificence and expense, was described as the staging of the century.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is such a bizarre, eccentric portrait on copper that testifies of the cultural competition between the courts of the Habsburg and King Louis XIV of France.