The girl in the painting would soon become Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. She gave this portrait to the Emperor for Christmas after the two were engaged to be married. It became one of Franz Joseph’s most prized possessions, and hung on the wall above his bed for 60 years, until his death.
It was sold at auction in Vienna last month for €1,540,000 (US$1,721,643).
It’s curious how people, places, and things you’ve never been aware of can make an unanticipated appearance in your life, and gradually draw you in until they become, at least for a while, a prominent part of your existence. An exhibition of Victorian art at the National Gallery totally altered my views on painting, for instance, and led to an ongoing obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites. A few years ago, my appreciation for The Hunger Games eventually resulted in my spending an entire summer reading nothing but teen dystopia novels.
OK, some unexpected tangents are more rewarding than others.
Until a few years ago, I knew next to nothing about Sisi–sometimes written as “Sissi”–the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. But then in Vienna, I visited the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Complex and did The Grand Tour of 40 (out of 1,441) rooms of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg imperial summer residence.*
The unconventional and brilliant Sisi has been on my mind ever since. She was a searcher, always looking for something different, something new. She hated court life, and spent months at a time away from the capital, travelling to Morocco and England, Egypt and Corfu, France and Malta, learning languages as she went. She championed the empire’s Hungarian subjects, and they, in turn, idolized her. She was only 16 when she married the 24-year-old Emperor. He loved her passionately; her feelings were less intense.
The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. I just recently discovered that her favorite cousin was another historical figure who has always fascinated me, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, builder of Schloss Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace, and patron of Richard Wagner. Researching that relationship immediately landed a spot on my To Do list.
*There are some ravishing pictures of those sites at the links, most of them found on the Net, but a few of them my own. You can also view some pictures of her partially restored apartment in the Museo Correr that I took when I was in Venice this spring.