03 December 2016

The Radetzky March, Johann Strauss I and the Austrian army

I know the Radetzky March and can hum along with the best of Strauss fans. See it performed by the Vienna Philharmonic in 2011.

The composer Johann Strauss I had left Vienna in 1833 on the first of his many European tours in 1838. In spite of all the revolutionary sentiments then, the German-speaking Austrians were not prepared to yield national sovereignty to the other peoples of the Hapsburg Empire. In fact there was great rejoicing in Vienna when news of Field Marshall Radetzky’s victory in Italy arrived. In August 1848 there took was a “…victory celebration in honour of our brave army in Italy and in support of our wounded soldiers”; it was then that Strauss’s Radetzky March was heard for the first time.

Despite 1848 being the year of revolutions across Europe, or because of it, The Radetzky March became popular. During his final tour in 1849 across Central Europe and Britain, Strauss sensed that many people regarded the Radetzky March as an affirmation of political power [although some sympathised with the Italians and Hungarians’ quest for freedom]. The tradition among officers was to start clapping and stomping their feet whenever the chorus was played. And this tradition carried on.
Emperor Franz Josef and Archduke Franz Ferdinand parading 
while the brass band played The Radetzky March.

The main thing I did not know was: who the individual called Johann Josef Wenzel Anton Franz Karl Graf/Count Radetzky von Radetz (1766–1858)? Thanks to Graham Darby and the Mad Monarchist Blog for the history.

Radetzky was born in Trebnice Bohemia (Czech Republic now) to a noble family. His parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather until he became a student in Vienna’s Theresa Academy. In 1786 he became an officer-cadet in the Imperial Army, received his commission as an officer and was posted to a heavy cavalry regiment. His first battle was in the Turkish War and then he served in the Austrian Netherlands in the 1790s.

He first really distinguished himself in the wars against Revol­ut­ion­ary and Napoleonic France. He led a successful infiltration of the enemy lines in 1794, fought along the Rhine in 1795 and in 1796 led a troop of hussars into northern Italy.

Radetzky served in the siege of Mantua against Napoleon, was promoted within the military ranks while still in Italy and received the pres­tigious Military Order of Maria Theresa. As a hands-on staff colonel, he was constantly advocating improve­ments in the Austrian Army.

In 1798 he somehow managed to find time to go home and marry Countess Francisca von Strassoldo Grafenberg with whom he had eight children.

In 1805 he was promoted to major general and assigned in Italy under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria, but this time it did not lead to success. Soon Radetzky was back in the field leading a brig­ade in battle in 1809 and became a field marshal. Then he became colonel-in-chief of the Fifth Radetzky Hussars. However in what was a major problem for the Aust­rian armed forces, the government refused to allocate the funds nec­essary to implement Radetzky’s recommended changes. Eventually the colonel re­signed in disgust and returned to the field. In 1813 he served as chief of staff to Field Marshal the Prince of Schwarzenberg.

Portrait of Fieldmarshal Radetzky, in 1850
painted by Georg Decker
Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna

Graf Radetzky helped plan the operation that led to the allied victory at Leipzig. He marched in triumph through Paris in 1814 when Napoleon was defeated and played a part in the Congress of Vienna, helping Austria-Russia ties. Unfortunately the ensuing peace only brought about a greater disinterest on the part of the Austrian government for Radetzky's plans for a more efficient organisation, improved tactics and overall a stronger commitment to national defence.

To get him out the way, Radetzky’s seniors promoted him to General of the Cavalry and placed him in command of a fortress. But when the fear of revolution rose again, Graf Radetzky was called on to save the monarchy. When rebellion broke out in the Papal States, his part of the Austrian army suppressed it and in 1834 he was placed in command of the Austrian Imperial troops in Italy.

At 70, he was promoted to Field Marshal. He ensured that his troops were the best trained and most disciplined force in Austria. But it was a dang­erous mistake not to do the same across the Empire, as was proven when the Revolutions of 1848 erupted. Radetzky struggled against large-scale rebellions in the Austrian-ruled territories of Italy and in the war being waged by the king of Piedmont-Sardinia.

Yet he succeeded in holding off the Italian forces until reinforcements arrived, ending in his great victory at the Battle of Novara in March 1849. Radetzky crushed the Italian nation­alists and reconquered Venice, bringing it firmly back under Austrian control. This was the pinnacle of his military career; he was awarded the a] Order of the Golden Fleece for his victories against the Hapsburg monarchy’s enemies and b] Viceroyship of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.

The Austrians troops certainly adored Radetzky because he always tried to get them better weapons and equipment, and his victories meant that fewer Austrian lads lost their lives. In fact his men referred to him as Father Radetzky. I imagine being idol­ised by his troops was an uncommon event amongst Austrian generals. He was a rock solid defender of his Emperor and of his men, until his death at the grand old age of 91 in 1858.

Radetzky was one of the most significant Austrian military figures of the late 18th (against the Turks in the 1780s) and first half of the C19th (against Napol­eon in 1813 and in the 1848 risings in Italy). His successful career spanned 70+ years! By the 1850s the old soldier was becoming frail, but that does not explain why we largely know his name only via the Strauss March. Perhaps it was because the soldiers clearly liked Strauss’s music, but the liberal critics believed it encouraged unthinking Habsburg nationalism. 

Radetzky March score, 1848

Wait a moment! Now everyone knows his name! Radetzkyplatz is a well known square in the Weißgerber­viertel in the 3rd district of Vienna, near the Danube Canal. It was named after our man in 1876.

Radetzky Mem­orial was built in Central Prague in the 1890s.

Hotel Radetzky is a traditional Austrian hotel facing the water in Sankt Gilgen, Salzburg.

There is an important chapter in the book Military Culture and Popular Pat­riot­ism in Late Imperial Austria by Laurence Cole called “Embodying Patriotism: Field Marshall Radetzky as Military Hero”.

And there are Café Radetzskys in Prague, Vienna, Turin and everywhere else.

29 November 2016

Rare Australian Colonial architecture in Melbourne

Convict architect Fran­cis Greenway left valuable gems of Australian Colonial architecture in Sydney that emphasised the power and authority of Australia's colonial masters. Thus his Colonial Period of architecture in Australia 1788-1840 came at the latter half of the Georgian style of building. This style was typ­ified by symmetrical facades, windows which were arr­an­ged vertically and a scale relating well to the humans who used the building.

The roots of the colonial style were in classical Roman architecture. Verandas were added to suit the harsh summers of Australia and this made Aus­t­ral­ian Colonial Georgian a version of the original European and English styles. Early public buildings were constructed around the importance of influencing community and civic identity. There was a sentimental attachment to the idea of public space with a city square ringed by great civic buildings 'to the glory of god and humanity'.

St James Old Cathedral, 
Melbourne's Central Business District

Collins St Baptist Church, 
Melbourne's Central Business District

But Melbourne was not settled as early as Sydney ... or Tasmania's towns. The first attempt at settlement in the most southern part of the Australian continent had been made way back in 1803 by Lt David Collins but it must have been a bit rough; Collins and his men decided to move to Tasmania where the group eventually settled in Hobart in Feb 1804. It was not until the Henty brothers landed in Portland Bay in 1834, and John Batman fixed the location of Melbourne, that the Port Phillip District was officially declared a settlement in 1837.

Convicts were not allowed into Melbourne so the first ships that arrived at Port Phillip in the late 1830s were full of free immigrants. Being a young set­t­lement, and a late starter in architectural design, Mel­bourne has far fewer Colonial Georgian and Regency buildings than Sydney and Hobart. Nonetheless the colony of Port Phillip District formally separated from NSW and became a state (Victoria) with its own parliament in 1851.

Victorian Regency architecture WAS built in Melbourne and a few rare examples still survive. The Anglican St James Old Cathedral is the oldest church in Mel­bourne and one of only three buildings in the central city which predate the 1850s Gold Rush. The church's foundation stone was laid in Nov 1839 by Charles La Trobe, Superintendent of Port Phillip District which itself was then only 4 years old. Designed by town surveyor Robert Russell, the church had restrained Georgian features in local bluestone.

One of the founders of Melbourne, John Batman, was among the sub­scribers who paid for the church. It was was built at the corner of Collins St and William St, opened in 1842 and completed in 1847, although the tall, octagonal, Romanesque tower came later. This is a rare Melbourne example of a Colonial Georgian style building, having simple design and pleasing proportions, with Greek detailing at the doorways. The style reflected Robert Russell’s experiences in Sydney, especially the work of cont­em­poraries Francis Clarke and Francis Greenway.

In 1848 St James became Melb­ourne's Anglican Cathedral, until the more centrally located and elaborately designed St Paul's Cathedral was consecrated in 1891.

Designed by John Gill, the Collins St Baptist Church 1845 is the oldest Baptist church in Victoria. Unlike most Melbourne churches of the period, which were either Gothic or Romanesque, this Collins St church was in the form of a classical Greek temple, with four Cor­in­thian columns facing lovely Collins St, one of the most important streets in the Central Business District. The steps and lamp standards enhance the building's classical grandeur. To fit in with the Baptist dislike of decoration in churches, the interior had plain plastered walls.

Banyule Mansion in Heidelberg
a suburb of Melbourne
completed 1846

Como house and gardens in South Yarra
a suburb of Melbourne
Originally built 1847 and expanded at least twice more

Banyule Mansion 1839-46 was built in the Flemish Gothic revival style. It was built overlooking a creek, just when Heidel­berg was emerging as a separate town on the northern edge of Melbourne! Also designed by the ar­chitect John Gill and built by the Englishman Joseph Hawdon, Banyule was a wond­er­ful piece of archit­ecture, similar in style and size to many of Sydney's early government buildings: gabled parapets, corner pinn­ac­l­es, bay window and porch and chimneys. Believed to be Victoria’s oldest ex­t­ant col­onial mansion, the original large estate has since been broken up.

Como 1847 was a typical grand residence in Como Avenue, South Yar­ra. It was built for Edward E Williams, the colonial advocate who became a Supreme Court Judge in 1852. The original Como was already grand by the standards of its time, but later it was vastly enlarged. It was added to in 1855 by land speculator John Brown, a classic ex­ample of the affluence that Melbourne enjoyed in the gold rush era. He de­v­eloped the house and its gardens lavishly. This beautiful estate was sold 1874 to the pastoralist Charles Armytage.  Subsequent generations of the family lived in Como, until it was sold to the newly formed National Trust of Australia in the 1950s.

Tens of thousands of settlers and diggers poured into Victoria following the discovery of gold in 1851. But by then, the Colonial Period of architecture in this state was largely over. What a shame gold wasn't discovered 10 years earlier - Melbourne might have been a more Georgian city.

26 November 2016

Han van Meegeren, successful Vermeer faker

Dutchman Han van Meegeren (1889 –1947) was born in Deventer and developed an interest in painting at a young age. He wasn’t supported in his dream to become an artist by his father, who banned painting as a career. But it didn’t matter. van Meegeren met a school teacher-painter who encouraged the lad. The teacher loved art from the Dutch Golden Age and probably steered van Meegeren into C17th paintings as well.

Old Mr van Meegeren sent his son to school to become an architect in Delft, but the lad didn’t graduate and moved instead to art school in The Hague in 1913. Van Meegeren exhibited his first set of legitimate paintings in 1917, and they proved to be somewhat old fashioned with the critics. He did not have as much talent as the great artists who had lived in the Golden Age, apparently.

In 1937 the first famous art historian to be fooled by van Meegeren’s Vermeer was the Vermeer scholar Abraham Bredius. He examined a large painting of a Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus that was in France and wrote an article in the Burlington Magazine saying "It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great mas­t­er, untouched, on the orig­inal canvas, and without any rest­oration, just as it left the paint­er's studio. We have here the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft".

The painting was larger than anything Vermeer had done, and it had religious subject matter, a genre Vermeer rarely touched. But art historians had speculated that Vermeer might have painted religious themes early in his career, and they were eager to believe that the painting really was Vermeer’s. And Vermeer was a good target because he’d produced so few paintings (c33). That meant art hist­orians were constantly seeking previously undiscovered Vermeers.

Lady with a Flute
by Han van Meegeren
a la Johann Vermeer

The Witch of Haarlem
by Han van Meegeren 
a la Frans Hals

Many other fakes followed. van Meegeren studied Vermeer (plus Pieter de Hooch and Frans Hals), bought authentic C17th canvasses, and used the original recipes for making his own paints. His biggest problem was trying to make the painting look like it was 300 years old so he experimented with the original paint formulas and baked his paintings in an oven. To avoid burning, van Meegeren found using phenol formaldehyde on a finished painting would make the paint harden. When it was finished baking, he made cracks on the surface to give a sense of legitimate old age.

Then van Meegeren had another problem: the content of the paintings. At first, he painted pictures much like those that Vermeer had painted, but he found that experts looked too closely at them and detected little differences between the real thing and the forgery.

van Meegeren said he did the fakes to revenge himself on the art critics by doing perfect forgeries. Van Meegeren set out to show the world that he was just as good as the Golden Age artists by creating paintings and passing them off as the old artists’ originals. Presumably he also loved the huge amount of money made from the fakes and the luxurious life style this money bought for his family.

Starting with his famous Christ at Emmaus painting, van Meegeren continued to churn out paintings with religious subject matter, and they continued to be snapped up by art patrons. By the time he was found out, he’d made $30 million on his forgeries (c$400 million today).

During WW2, the Nazi leader Hermann Goerring traded dozens paintings for van Meegeren’s forgery of Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery. Goerring was pedantic in his record keeping and at the end of WW2, van Meegeren was arrested for collaborating with the enemy and tried. In order to avoid execution, van Meegeren chose the lesser crime of forgery. He claimed responsibility for the painting of the Vermeer that Goerring had bought, along with five other Vermeer paintings and two Pieter de Hooghs.

The incredulous court room had him paint another forgery in front of them to prove it, and when he passed the test, his charges were reduced to forgery. Rather than be angry with van Meegeren, the Dutch public largely lauded him as a patriotric hero. He had, after all, secured many paintings that had been unlawfully seized by Goerring by duping the famous Nazi into thinking he’d purchased a real Vermeer. Even in 2015, when I reviewed his reputation in the Netherlands, people still secretly admired van Meegeren for being so scholarly in his fakes. More than once have I heard that Meegeren’s tour de force was a feat more of intellect than of skill.
van Meegeren at his October 1947 trial in Amsterdam
He died two months after this photo was taken.

van Meegeren died of a heart attack soon after the trial ended. Until the end, he believed that post mortum his name would be forgotten, and his paintings would eventually be remembered as true Vermeers. This was not what he wanted AT ALL. Many forgers did prefer anonymity and were therefore rarely remembered. But Han van Meegeren was the exception. He wanted to be remembered as the most serious, most successful modern day art faker in the world.

And there was another accidental result. Art historians, patrons, museum directors and dealers agreed that from then on, all master painters needed to be evaluated in far more depth and with more scientific rigour.

A very sympathetic book was Van Meegeren's Vermeers - The Connoisseurs Eye And The Forger's Art by Lammertse, published in English by Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2011.

A less sympathetic book was by Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, published by Mariner Books in English in 2009. Lopez dated van Meegeren’s initiation into The Hague’s underworld of art swindlers to 1920 when he was mentored by a dealer and painter, Theo van Wijngaarden, who had apprenticed in trickery by a genius: Leo Nardus. Nardus stuck art patrons with old copies, fresh fakes, and misattributions of famous artists. Then a panel of invited experts, including Bernard Berenson, Roger Fry and PAB Widener, defrocked Nardus.


I need to be honest about why I  did not include photos of van Meegeren's religious paintings in this post: The Supper at Emmaus (1936), The Last Supper I (1939) and Jesus Among the Doctors (1945) - I did not like them.