Menu Shopping cart
Your basket is empty.
Support us


Exhibitions and Projects
4 May–31 May 2017

Revelations, May 2017

Empress Maria Theresa, the Ruler of the Great Austrian Empire and Enlightened Reformer

On the 300thanniversary of the birth of the monarch Maria Theresa of Habsburg (13 May 1717–29 November 1780), who also reigned over the Slovenian lands for forty years, the present ‘Revelations’ discuss her portrait in grand manner that was executed in the painting workshop of Martin van Meytens the Younger (1695–1770). After training in his father’s workshop in Stockholm, Meytens improved his skills of portraiture in London, Paris, and Italy. In 1730 he settled for good in Vienna, where he was appointed painter to the court, and in 1759 also director of the imperial Academy of Fine Arts. The portrait was said to have been executed “in his workshop”, since the artist was overloaded with commissions and did not manage to do all the work himself. For that reason he employed specialized masters who elaborated the work he had conceived to the tiniest detail. Among these specialists was also his niece and pupil, Sophonia de Derichs, who was capable of depicting masterly the materiality and rustle of precious costumes and jewellery. Commissions of grand-manner dynastic portraits required from the workshop to produce routine solutions, which also holds true of the present, 280 cm high full-length portrait of the empress in the National Gallery of Slovenia. The painting comes from the Baroque palace Leopoldsruhe, the present-day Cekinov grad (Cekin Castle), in Ljubljana. It was built by Count Leopold Lamberg who, besides doing several other state services, was also imperial Privy Councillor (Geheimrat). Out of need for prestige, his status naturally required the possession of a grand-manner portrait of the monarch.

The portrait is neither signed nor dated, but taking account of the iconographic whole we can date it into the latter half of the 1740s, which also corresponds to the youthful appearance of Maria Theresa. She stands next to a richly decorated table on which a red velvet cushion with sovereign insignia is laid. The fur ‘crown’ is the so-called archducal hat (Erzherzogshut) which was already laid in her cradle. But in the War of the Austrian Succession, which she still had to fight out, the following two crowns consolidated her position of the Austrian sovereign: in 1741 she was crowned Queen of Hungary, which is evidenced by the crown of St. Stephen and the appertaining sceptre; and in 1743, one day before she was twenty-six, she was also crowned Queen of Bohemia in Prague, as evidenced by the crown of St. Wenceslas in the background. Although the iconography of the painting is very eloquent, it should be noted that no portrait of the Austrian monarch shows the imperial crown. It is true that she is generally called Empress (Kaiserin, Imperatrice), but after the coronation in 1745 the title belonged solely to her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, and not to her although she had been his wife since 1736. When she became a widow, the imperial crown came down to her son, Joseph II, since by law the crown of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ belonged exclusively to male rulers. However, on the grounds of her extraordinary successful forty-year reign, her subjects and the following generations acknowledged her the title of Empress. Taking into account her ability to consolidate the reputation and balance of the Austrian Empire among the European monarchies, she could even deserve the tag of ‘the Great’. 


Ferdinand Šerbelj

4 May–31 May 2017

National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana