Encounter of Friedrich II with Emperor Joseph II in Neisse in 1769

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Encounter of Frederick II with Emperor Joseph II in Neisse in 1769 (Adolph Menzel)
Encounter of Friedrich II with Emperor Joseph II in Neisse in 1769
Adolph Menzel , 1855-1857
Oil on canvas
247 × 318 cm
Old National Gallery , Berlin
Franz Kugler's description of the encounter between Friedrich and Joseph with Adolph Menzel's illustration (1840)

Encounter of Frederick II with Emperor Joseph II in Neisse in 1769 is a history painting by Adolph Menzel . He painted it between 1855 and 1857 on behalf of the Association of German Art Associations for Historical Art . The subject of the picture is the meeting of King Frederick II of Prussia and Emperor Joseph II in Neisse on August 25, 1769.

Picture theme

In the Austrian War of Succession 1740–1748 and in the Seven Years War 1756–1763, Prussia under Friedrich II and Austria under Maria Theresa were bitter opponents. The long struggle for the Habsburg Monarchy ended with the loss of Silesia .

Maria Theresa's son Archduke Joseph, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire since 1765 , admired the enlightened monarch Friedrich for his military, administrative and economic successes and tried to meet him from 1766 onwards. After Maria Theresa's initial resistance, the meeting took place in 1769 in the residential town of Neisse , close to the border , where Friedrich was staying for military maneuvers . Joseph arrived as Count von Falkenstein around noon on August 25th in Neisse and went straight to the prince-bishop's palace, where Friedrich received him. High-ranking aristocrats and military officials from both sides took part in the meeting. The emperor and the king stayed in Neisse until August 28th. During the day they observed the Prussian maneuvers, in the evening they visited the Opéra comique .

Image description

Small-format oil sketch by Menzel

Adolph Menzel, who himself chose the episode as the subject for the history picture ordered by the Association of German Art Associations for Historical Art , had been familiar with the scene since the time when he had drawn the illustrations for Franz Kugler's 1840 story of Frederick the Great . Kugler decorates the encounter like a novel and provides the artist with welcome details. Accordingly, the meeting of the rulers took place in the stairwell of Neiss Castle, where Friedrich met Joseph, who was hurrying up, and they both fell into each other's arms. Friedrich then led the emperor “by the hand into the hall”. On the following days, too, “the two heads of the German Empire were seen only arm in arm”.

Menzel had chosen the moment of hand-in-hand for his book illustration. There, too, the staircase with the emperor's entourage can be seen in the background; Joseph himself, however, is already on the same level as Friedrich and towers over him by a head. For the oil painting, Menzel chose the moment of greeting in the stairwell. At a turn of the stairs the young emperor hurrying up from below meets the mature king coming from above. So Joseph has to look up to Friedrich, and Menzel puts the expression of enthusiastic admiration in his expression. His imperial dignity is expressed solely by the white, red-lined travel cape in contrast to Friedrich's dark everyday clothing. The faces come very close, the greeting is done with both hands; however, Menzel does not show the hug described by Kugler. An oil sketch shows that Menzel initially considered a beginning embrace of both as a moment of representation. Several uniformed companions appear behind the rulers in the semi-darkness of the stairwell, their facial expressions and gestures underlining the importance of the moment.

Political statement

Menzel's painting was created at a time when the end of the Holy Roman Empire was already half a century ago and in the German Confederation founded in 1815 the national question and the Prussian-Austrian rivalry were becoming increasingly pressing. Against this background, the picture shows a symbolic reconciliation of the two German great powers, which, although at least equating the king from Berlin to the emperor from Vienna, at the same time contradicts Bismarck's small German policy .

Konstantin Sakkas interprets the painting in his essay Europe Prodigal Son in the magazine CICERO against the background of the political myth about Friedrich as follows:

“Nothing expresses this myth better than the picture that Adolph Menzel painted a century later of Frederick's meeting with the young Emperor Joseph II in Neisse in 1769: here the king, aged early due to many ailments, smiling with mild old age; because the juvenile, fiery-headed emperor, who now confronts his mother's once much hated adversary with the drunken enthusiasm of a fan. It is the last great ecce homo scene of absolutism: the amazed reverence of the thirsty young man before the grizzled hero, who once again gave shape to the whole panopticon of human greatness and human tragedy. "


Individual evidence

  1. according to the sober report by Rödenbeck, diary or history calendar
  2. Werner Busch , p. 178
  3. Europe's prodigal son , in: CICERO, December 2011.

Web links

Commons : Meeting of Frederick II with Emperor Joseph II in Neisse in 1769  - collection of images, videos and audio files