Portrait of Emperor Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
(Anton von Maron)


This sketch, for an uncompleted portrait of the Emperor Joseph II, shows a young man, probably painted soon after his father’s death, standing a little unsure of himself, wearing the uniform of an Austrian general. He is decorated with the red and white cordon of a knight Grand Cross of the Order of Maria Theresia (the highest military Order of the Empire, founded in 1757 to commemorate the Austrian victory of Kolin at the beginning of the Seven years War). Beneath the cordon of Maria Theresia, can be seen the dark green edge of the cordon of the Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen, also founded by Maria Theresia, just a year before Joseph’s accession in 1764. He stands in a splendid rococo interior, a view through an open window, a gilded throne to the left and a sculpture of the Ludovisi Ares behind him, indicating that the painting was done in Rome.

Joseph II was the first Emperor of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen, the eldest son of Archduchess Maria Theresia of Austria (herself the elder daughter of the last Habsburg Emperor, Charles VI), who had married Francis Duke of Lorraine, elected Emperor in 1745. Francis had given up his ancient Duchy to France in exchange for the vast Medici inheritance of Tuscany, as part of an international settlement which allowed Maria-Theresia to keep the Hungarian and Bohemian thrones and the Habsburg hereditary states in southern Germany (Austria) and the Netherlands.

Joseph grew up in the relaxed and relatively liberal Viennese court, an environment surprisingly open to Enlightenment ideas. On succeeding his father as Emperor, he was elected on 27 March 1764 and crowned at Frankfurt on 3 April following, but decided to cede Tuscany to his younger brother Leopold. He gradually took over foreign affairs from his mother, but she retained control over internal affairs, until he succeeded her as King of Hungary and Bohemia and ruler of the hereditary states in 1780. He immediately began a programme of reform, abolishing serfdom and introducing religious tolerance, permitting the full assimilation of Protestants, Greek Orthodox Christians and Jews into the nation’s life. He instituted laws that allowed interfaith marriage and permitted civil divorce and these acts, coupled with the measures he took against the Jesuits and religious houses placed him firmly in the radical camp, earning the disapproval of Rome. He opened up the Prater, a hunting enclosure limited to the nobility, which directly abutted the Imperial capital to public access, leading to an expansion of the city and the construction of cafés and theatres. He modernised the ponderous Habsburg bureaucracy, centralizing the administration but some of the measures intended to advance this, notably the establishment of German as the official state language were unpopular with his Hungarian, Bohemian and Slav subjects.

Joseph was twice married, first to Isabella-Maria of Bourbon-Parma daughter of Infant Philip of Spain, Duke of Parma, who died in childbirth after three years of marriage; in the following year he married for a second time, to Princess Maria Josefa of Bavaria, who survived only two years. This marriage was celebrated by a fete organised by the Emperor’s’sister, the ill-fated Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, commemorated in a painting by Georg Weickert now at Schonborn. She lived for only two years and the only daughter of his first marriage, Archduchess Theresia, died aged eight in 1770. Joseph himself died in 1790, of tuberculosis, and was succeeded by his brother Leopold, grand Duke of Tuscany, ancestor of the present Imperial House.

22 ½ x 15 ¾ in. 57.2 x 40 cm.
Oil on canvas
Where is It?
Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc., NY
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
German - Austrian
Price band
Sold or not available