July-December 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 30


TC TO LADY WILLIAM RUSSELL ; 26 October 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18551026-TC-LWR-01; CL 30: 91-93


Chelsea, 26 Octr, 1855—

Dear Madam,

This is a fine old German Picture; very probably historically interesting, too; and well deserves to have its secret inquired into.

My own vague guess, very vague indeed, according to all the indications I can gather, would be:

1o. That (perhaps) the Picture is by Lucas Cranach; and that it represents the Three Protestant Heroes of the Schmalkaldic League,1—all in trouble, like Lucas himself, in the year “1549,” which is legible upon the Picture.

2o. That, accordingly, the grey bearded gentleman on the left, with an Electoral bonnet on his head, and one of his gloves off, is (or may be) Johann Friedrich Elector of Saxony,2 whom Charles V had defeated at Muhlburg (24 April 1547); and keeps captive (Lucas mainly with him in volunteer confinement) for five years afterwards. This Elector, Johann Friedrich, was now (since 1548) an Ex-Elector;—Moritz, of the Younger or Albertine Branch, having got his Electorate from him, which the descendants of Moritz (present King of Saxony) still hold;3 poor Johann Friedrich and his descendants being restricted to Weimar, Gotha, Coburg &c ever since,—one of said descendants, however, having a prospect to be King of England just now!4 I do not at all know that the figure is Johann Friedrich; nor does anybody here, Portraits of him being scarce (I have an excellent Albert Dürer of his Uncle,5 but never saw him): all I can say is, his age corresponds to such a beard; and he clearly at that date was the chief of Protestant men (confined, in danger of his life), and Lucas there beside him, very ready for painting him!

3o. The middle one I would surmise, on the same principle, might be Philip the Magnanimous, Landgraf of Hessen,6 a most thoroughgoing decisive Defender of Protestantism, against all comers; and now lying in durance for the same Cause as his friend Johann Friedrich.

4o. Who the third figure, to the right, with cap on head, and about the age of Philip von Hessen, may be, I cannot even with the same faint degree of plausibility make out to myself: Ernst Duke of Brunswick (the same to whom Jn Fh said, “Pergamus [let us continue]!” playing at chess with him, when sentence of death was read);7 Ernst of Brunswick, or else Ulrich Duke of Würtemburg8 (or with much less probability, Moritz of Saxony) one or other of these;—but I never saw a Portrait of either; and so of course am groping greatly in the dark.

It seems to me, besides the date 1549, there is a faint double-eagle with a twisted cord in its claws: now I find Charles V struck a medal, 2 years before, with a similar figure on it, triumphing over the Schmalkaldic League (the “laqueus [noose]” of that is “broken” &c, the medal says, double-eagle tearing it): if this of the Picture (just above the “1549”) be actually a double eagle, and not a mere Painter's flourish, it may point ironically towards the Kaiser's Medal.— The words “V D M I AE” I interpret Viri Digni Memoriä In AEternum9 (your Ladyship knows Latin);—and this is really all I have to say, even in the way of faintest guess, upon this old Kunstwerk [work of art].

But it ought to be made out with certainty! If you will let me keep the Picture for another fortnight, I can have a correct Photograph taken of it; and by sending a Copy or two of that to the right places in Germany, it seems possible we might get a decisive account of the matter.— I remain always,

Your Ladyship's with much regard,

T. Carlyle.