This beautiful pair of antique portraits depict a uniformed Austrian officer and his bride in about 1850. These Austrian portraits are painted on tin, an unusual choice of medium that achieves a great depth and luminescence of color. The brass buttons on the officer’s breast almost glisten, while a beautiful softness is achieved on the blush of the bride’s cheeks.
Wealth and rank of the subjects are in full display, as the silk and lace bodice of the woman’s dress (and very corseted figure), evokes the elegance of Western European styles that migrated East towards the fashionable women of Vienna and Prague. Likewise, the officer sits in full military regalia and clutches his sword, showing his pride for, and duty to, the Empire.
Since these antique portraits are Austrian portraits, let’s take a look at the context. Austria in the 19th Century was rife with war– both victories and defeat. During the first half of the 19th Century, the Austrian Empire, along with its allies, was constantly at war with the brutal French armies. In 1815, however, Austria defeated France during the Hundred Days War, led by Napolean Bonaparte on his return from exile.
This stunning victory led to a period of expansion wars with surrounding countries and Austria became an unstoppable force for a period of about 50 years. It was the third most populated empire, after Russia and France, and the largest and strongest country in the German Confederation. It was ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty, and as such, was a state ruled by a strong monarchy. Austria, however, met internal challenge in the 1860’s by Hungary. This eventually led to the two ruler state solution: the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of a tension filled dual state.
This gorgeous pair of antique portraits capture a brief time of love, duty and honor during the reign of the great Austrian Empire led by the Hapsburgs. The subjects, while deeply involved in a time of war, are still protected by a life of art and leisure. These finely created portraits, after all, were no doubt a great expense for the sitters, and are first and foremost, a celebration of their union. Beautifully rendered, they achieve a great warmth and intimacy, especially within their small scale. The mirrored poses and matching backgrounds unite the officer and his bride eternally, and we can imagine their commitment to one another is matched only by a love and pride towards their nation and their king.
The Officer and His Wife, Pair of Portraits
Oil on Tin. Circa 1850. Austrian
Monogrammed “TR” (Artist Unknown.)