Princess Emilia of Saxony

WAG 1222


The clasped hands embroidered on Princess Emilia’s bodice, which also appear on one of her necklaces, suggest that this portrait records her engagement. She was sixteen in 1532, when she married the Margrave of Ansbach, another German princedom. Krell painted portraits for the Saxon court in Dresden, and elsewhere in Germany and Hungary. But he was never as famous as his German contemporaries, the Cranach family, whose portraits were stylistically similar and to whom this portrait was previously attributed. X-rays show that Krell originally portrayed Princess Emilia wearing a taller, plainer bonnet-like hat. He later changed it to the mass of multi-coloured ostrich feathers, attached to her cap. William Roscoe believed that this was a portrait by the leading German artist Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), of the painter’s wife. There is an old inscription in Latin on the back of the painting stating this, but naming the wife wrongly. The inscription was probably a forgery. The portrait was identified as Princess Emilia in 1958. The inscription was probably already there when Roscoe bought it in 1812, from his fellow Liverpool collector and Unitarian, John Ashton Yates (1782-1863). It also states that the portrait was consecrated to her eternal memory. Such feelings would have appealed to Roscoe. When he was away in London he would date his letters by the number of days he had been parted from his wife. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.