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Portrait of a Man, possibly Alexander I, Emperor of Russia

Portrait of a Man, possibly Alexander I, Emperor of Russia

1814

Jean-Baptiste Isabey

(French, 1767-1855)

Watercolor on paper in a gilt metal mount and burr wood frame

Framed: 23 x 17.7 cm (9 1/16 x 6 15/16 in.); Unframed: 13.8 x 10.3 cm (5 7/16 x 4 1/16 in.)

The Edward B. Greene Collection 1943.645

Description

This portrait miniature is believed to be Alexander I, emperor of Russia, painted during the Congress of Vienna, convened between September 1814 and June 1815 to establish the terms of peace in Europe following the Napoleonic Wars. Singers, actors, and artists flocked to entertain the delegates when they were not engaged in negotiations. Among these was French miniature painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey. He had been patronized by Marie Antoinette and the Bonaparte family but managed to retain a client base when the Bourbon kings were reinstalled. Isabey established a studio in Vienna and painted portraits and miniatures documenting the congress's delegates and attendees; he was so popular that carriages lined the street in front of his studio, which became a popular place to see the elite. Isabey signed many of his works from the congress "Isabey à Vienne," indicating that he understood the historical significance of the event. This portrait is inscribed in this way.v Emperor Alexander I did not participate directly as a delegate but was present in Vienna to ensure that his political interests were defended. Despite the lack of identifying medals, this portrait closely resembles other depictions of Alexander I by Isabey and his contemporaries, including Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830). These portraits all exhibit drooping eyelids, a long thin upper lip, and a slightly bulbous nose. The romantic atmosphere and perplexing lack of imperial accouterments in the miniature suggest that this work was a private memento for Alexander rather than an official record of his participation.

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