Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is She Really Who and What She Is Purported To Be?

I have been interested in collecting antiques my entire life, but it was not until I graduated from college and was earning a decent salary that I was able to afford to indulge in such predilections.  One of the first antiques that I bought of any consequence was a miniature painting on ivory, dating from the 1830s and purported to be of the Empress Maria Anna of Austria.

Kaiserin Mariane von Oesterreich, ca. 1830s
School of (?) Moritz Michael Daffinger

I found the little painting almost thirty years ago while browsing in an antiques shop in suburban Washington, D.C., where I was looking for a wedding present for one of my college roommates.  I thought the picture was appealling, and its subject was pretty, and the price was right.  So I bought it.

The reverse of the miniature, showing
pencil inscription in German

The painting, in an ivory frame measuring 4 ½ by 5 ½ inches, depicts a young lady wearing a rose colored dress, an embroidered shawl, and a pretty bonnet decorated with flowers and lace typical of the 1830s.  It is signed "m. Daffinger."  On the reverse of the frame, written in pencil, is "Kaiserin Mariane v. Oesterreich."

Maria Anna, Empress and Archduchess consort of Austria
Queen consort of Hungary, Bohemia,
Lombardia and Venetia, ca. 1830s
by Johann Nepomuk Ender (1793-1854)
Collection Museo di Roma

Up until now I've never bothered to do any research on my little portrait.  I've always assumed it was a nice piece of tourist or commemorative art, depicting a young Queen of Austria.

When it came time for me to write this essay, however, I decided to see if I could find anything out about my picture.  After spending several hours browsing around the Internet, I learned rather a lot.  The painting is very probably of the young Empress Maria Anna (or Mariane) of Austria (1803-1884) and was possibly painted by an Austrian miniaturist named Moritz Michael Daffinger (1790-1849).

Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia and Family, ca. 1815
by Luigi Bernero (1775-1848)
Collection Royal Castle of Recconigi
Piedmont, Italy

Maria Anna Ricarda Carlotta Margherita Pia of Savoy, the likely subject of my miniature, was Empress and Archduchess consort of Austria, and Queen consort of Hungary, Bohemia, Lombardia, and Venetia.  She was born in 1803 in Rome and was the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia (1759-1824) and the Archduchess Maria-Teresa of Austria-Este (1773-1832).

The hapless Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria
in ceremonial robes of the
Order of the Golden Fleece, 1847
by Leopold Kupelwieser (1796-1892)
Collection Schönbrunn Palace
Vienna, Austria

In 1831 Maria Anna married King Ferdinand V of Hungary (1793-1875), who later became Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria.  Ferdinand was apparently severely epileptic, subject to as many as twenty fits a day, and was widely considered to be rather dim-witted.  Nonetheless, he ruled Austria as Emperor from 1836 until his forced abdication in 1848, when he was succeeded by his far more capable and far longer reigning nephew Franz Joseph (1830-1916).  Although Maria Anna and Ferdinand were supposedly devoted to each other, it is thought that Ferdinand was incapable of consummating their marriage, and no little princes or princesses were produced from their union.

A close-up of the painting

I suspect my miniature of the Empress was painted around the time of Ferdinand's ascension to the throne of Austria in 1836.

After Ferdinand's abdication, the royal couple remained in Austria until Ferdinand's death in 1875.  Maria Anna died in Prague in 1884 and is buried in Vienna, next to her husband.

Detail of the signature of m. Daffinger

Moritz Michael Daffinger (1790-1849), whose signature appears on my little portrait of Maria Anna, was an Austrian miniature painter and sculptor and is considered by those in the know to have been the leading miniaturist of the Biedermeier period.  According to what I've read, Daffinger was influenced by the English painter Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), with whom he studied during Lawrence's visit to Vienna in 1815.  Daffinger is known to have produced more than a thousand portraits, mostly miniatures, of members of the Austrian aristocracy.

A pre-Euro Austrian 20 schilling note
featuring Moritz Michael Daffinger

Revered in his native Austria, Daffinger's likeness appeared on the obverse of the Austrian twenty schilling banknote that circulated until the introduction of the Euro.  He also appeared on a stamp.

An Austrian stamp
featuring Moritz Michael Daffinger

In searching through images of Daffinger's work, I am not absolutely convinced that my little portrait was actually painted by him, even though it bears his signature.  I don't rule it out that he might have painted it, but—even though my miniature of the Empress is very skillfully painted—it isn't as technically refined as many of the works of Daffinger that I came across when researching this essay.

Countess Ferdinandine Karolyi,
née Princesse Kaunitz-Rietberg, ca. 1830
by Moritz Michael Daffinger
location unknown

It is possible that my miniature was painted by Daffinger.  It could also have been painted by a student of his, and he signed it.  It could also be a copy by someone of a miniature of the Empress that Daffinger painted.  It could even be an outright forgery.  I'd have to show it to an expert who is knowledgeable of Daffinger's work in order to determine whether or not he painted it.

Leutnant Botha, ca. 1830s
by Moritz Michael Daffinger

location unknown

Regardless of whether Herr Daffinger actually painted my little portrait or not, it is exceedingly well and finely painted, and I'm very happy to have it.  I appreciate it both for its prettiness and also because of my sentimental attachment to it as one of the first antiques I bought, many years ago.

An Austrian artillery officer
by Moritz Michael Daffinger
Collection of Elle Shushan

At least several dozen miniatures and little paintings by Daffinger have sold at auction in recent years, most of them in Europe but also some here in America, too.  Hammer prices realized range from a low of $750 to as much as $50,000, depending on the picture's quality, attribution, and subject matter.

Princess Melanie Metternich, ca. 1830s
by Moritz Michael Daffinger
sold at Christie's in 2007

Tell me, do you think my little portrait of the Empress Maria Anna was likely painted by Daffinger?

Photographs of Reggie's miniature by Boy Fenwick


  1. It's such a pleasure to read scholarly postings such as this one. I appreciate all the research that went into this, and for starting the day with both a good history lesson and lovely images.

  2. Reggie, what an interesting post. Whether a an authenic Daffinger or a painting by a student of Daffinger, the miniature is a lovely piece of art (and history) in its own right.

    It's difficult for us today to realize the importance of miniatures for transmitting visual images and information before the invention of photography.

  3. Yes, I do think its original. Especially in the signature to the right on the portrait of Botha, there is a striking similarity.Also the same placement of signature on the portrait of the military officer. Wonderful post, Reggie.

  4. Exquisite. Fabulous frame, as well. Interesting post.

  5. The best way to check whether the painting is old and genuine, is to pop it out of the frame and exmine it under a glass. Obviously, you are loathed to do that, because the old paperbacking would be torn!

    My advice is to nip over to Sotheby's or Christie's during your lunch hour, where some charming 'smootherboy' will tell that it was made c.1940, that the frame is made of bone and the picture is a photo print.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but my mother-in-law in Scotland left us two similar pictures. In our pictures the paper backing was from an ancient English tome.
    Over here, UK, its worth about 50 quid!

    That dealer in Washington, knew his trade.

    Good luck and I hope you prove me wrong and look forward to the next installment



  6. Anon 5:09: You may be right, as I note in this essay I am not convinced this was done by Daffinger. I shall see what I can find from such an expert and report back when I do so. Reggie

  7. She's lovely wherever she came from and the frame is pretty special, too. I have a small collection of miniatures myself which began with an inherited pile of them that I have been judiciously adding to. They mystery is half the fun.

  8. The main goal of collecting is the fun in researching the objects. Although instant authentications and attributions are dangerous, your portrait is definitely worth checking out further.

    I noticed that the neck seems very long, and the shoulders have a sort of slumped, shapeless quality, similar to other works by Daffinger on the internet. Still, the shoulder-neck continuum is possibly a little exaggerated on your miniature, and the technique of the lace seems different from the portrait of Countess Ferdinandine Karolyi.

    Of course, a workshop effort could explain all this--perhaps assistants painted the body and background, and Daffinger painted the face; that would account for the slight seeming dissociation of the face and neck seen in several of Daffinger's works (also his high output).

    If I were in New York I would make an appointment with the Met--their experts have amazing knowledge, they rarely have vested interests in confirming or denying authenticity, and they may have a bunch of other Daffingers put away for comparison. Usually the truth is complex, and Yes-No answers are rare.

  9. Regardless, it has great decorative value.

  10. Great and interesting post. I love your taste in art. Have a wonderful Wednesday!
    E + J

  11. What a delightful blog this is.
    I came here quite by accident via Jane and Lance's blog and find much to admire.

    This is a world which I had thought all but gone and I certainly have not found described in blogland before.

    Your miniature is equally delightful and I hope you will continue to derive much pleasure from it.

  12. Dear Mr. Darling,
    first of all let me express my deepest sympathy for your blog and your endeavour to enrich our dark and dull world with your both aesthetically and intellectually pleasing musings. As you probably realize from my terrible english spelling i am German, and an art historian too. Whilst my main interests are the old masters and the decorative arts from Holbein to Lebrun and from Gothic to John Fowler, i have encountered several Daffingers over the last several years, as i work for a dealer and am in Vienna quite often. Unfortunetely, from a very embarrassing experience, i know your signature quite well, and have to tell you what i was told: your signature reads n.Daffinger, not M. Daffinger. the little n. stands for "nach" which means "after". This was often applied by contemporary artist copying Daffinger, who was immensely popular in Biedermeier Vienna. So your signature actually means "after Daffinger". I am pretty sure though that the identification is right.

  13. Dear Anon 5:42: Thank you for your comment, and clearing up the uncertainty of my little painting's creator. You are absolutely correct, the signature is of "n. daffinger" and not "M. Daffinger." Considering that I did not pay much for the picture, and it was not sold to me as being a product of the M. Daffinger, I don't feel duped in the slightest. While it would be most pleasing if this were verifiably by M. Daffinger, I would of course be thrilled, but now I am happy to know that I (still) have a pretty and decorative little picture painted in his manner only. I appreciate your expertise, and input. Thank you -- Reggie

  14. Dear M Darling, I located a miniature looking like your portrait. It is about a German school of the second half of the XIXth century but the image is inverted. If it interests you you can see it at the address: https://www.expertissim.com/miniatures/ecole-allemande-du-xixe-portrait-de-femme-au-chapeau-miniature-o12158601.html


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