Archduke Charles Joseph was the second son (of sixteen children) of Maria Theresa of Habsburg and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. Charles Joseph’s father was elected Holy Roman Emperor a few months after the birth of his son in September 1745.

Although he was the second-born son, he became his mother’s favourite child. This naturally caused issues between Charles and his elder brother, Joseph and by the time they were in their teens, their hatred for each and the intense rivalry was well-known. Although Charles may have contested his brother for the Imperial crown, he died of smallpox just before his sixteenth birthday. This left his mother heartbroken, although he stated to her on his deathbed ‘You should not weep for me, dear mother, for had I lived, I would have brought you many more tears!’.[1]

This portrait of Charles Joseph as a very young boy (perhaps aged four or five years old) shows him studying the image of...

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Archduke Charles Joseph was the second son (of sixteen children) of Maria Theresa of Habsburg and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. Charles Joseph’s father was elected Holy Roman Emperor a few months after the birth of his son in September 1745.

Although he was the second-born son, he became his mother’s favourite child. This naturally caused issues between Charles and his elder brother, Joseph and by the time they were in their teens, their hatred for each and the intense rivalry was well-known. Although Charles may have contested his brother for the Imperial crown, he died of smallpox just before his sixteenth birthday. This left his mother heartbroken, although he stated to her on his deathbed ‘You should not weep for me, dear mother, for had I lived, I would have brought you many more tears!’.[1]

This portrait of Charles Joseph as a very young boy (perhaps aged four or five years old) shows him studying the image of a rhinoceros in a book written in French. His mother, Maria Theresa, was to introduce far-reaching educational reforms to Austria, basing a new school system on a Prussian model where children of both sexes attended school between the ages of six and twelve. This portrait, as with many portraits of royalty, promotes an idealised view of the royal family. Here, the young Archduke Charles gazes on what would have been seen as a thoroughly modern text – it may show ‘Clara’, the Indian rhinoceros, who toured Europe between 1742-1756.

Although the artist of the present miniature is unknown, they must have been employed by the court, as this portrait of the Archduke was one of number painted of the young brood of Marie Theresa and Francis. All painted in the mid-1740s, this group of miniatures show some stylistic similarities with the work of Antonio Bencini (born circa 1710), who was miniature painter to the court or Joseph Anton Fischer (died 1750) who worked mainly in Vienna.

Although many copies in miniature of the Imperial royal family exist, particularly taken

from the impressive family group portrait by Martin van Meytens (1695-1770), this particular series would seem to be have been taken from life. The elongated oval suggests that they may have been set into decorative boxes.

[1] J. Alexander Mahan, Maria Theresa of Austria, 2011, p. 141

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