This porcelain portrait bust of Emperor Franz Joseph I is based on models from antiquity, both in pose and in the subject’s attire, which is similar to a Roman toga, fastened by a brooch on the shoulder. The work deviates from other contemporary imperial portraits, particularly paintings, in which the sitter is usually portrayed wearing dress uniform adorned by numerous decorations.
Franz Joseph I was born on 18 August 1830 and replaced his sick uncle Ferdinand I on the throne at the age of just eighteen. In 1854 he married Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria (known as Sissi). Their marriage, which was only apparently a romantically ideal one, produced three daughters and a son – Crown Prince Rudolf, the heir apparent to the Austrian throne. Rudolf died in tragic circumstances at the age of 31. Nine years later, Empress Sissi was assassinated by a deranged anarchist. The Emperor died on 21 November 1916.
The verdicts of historians regarding Franz Joseph I and his reign vary considerably, depending on the point of view from which they judge the 68-year reign of an emperor who was, without a doubt, the most popular Habsburg alongside Empress Maria Theresa. He was a patriarch who, through his own personal prestige, united the imperial-royal state, with its population of 50 million, into a colourful community of eleven nations. He was a majestic figure who personified the idea of the eternal monarchy, in which he ruled as its first official, administering his vast empire with scrupulous care. Franz Joseph I was a monarch who not only reigned but ruled. His reign was marked by technical and cultural advances throughout the empire (see Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830–1916), the Last Patriarch of Monarchic Europe; on the Centenary of the Emperor’s Death, Revelations, National Gallery, 2016).