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Alessandro Sanquirico

(1777–1849, Milan)

The Coronation of Emperor Ferdinand I as King of Lombardy-Venetia in Milan Cathedral. Pen and black ink, grey wash. 30 x 38.9 cm. Circa 1838.

Sanquirico has portrayed the solemn coronation that took place in Milan Cathedral on 1 September 1838 with meticulous precision and astonishing attention to detail. Opulent drapes and hangings cover the Gothic structures of the church. Under a huge canopy the luckless Emperor Ferdinand I sits on his throne surrounded by a host of ecclesiastical and court dignitaries. Sanquirico certainly did not make things easy for himself. Each one of the numerous court officials has been portrayed with miniaturistic precision, while the wearer of the crown stares straight ahead of him with sullen indifference.

Ferdinand I (1793–1875) was the eldest son of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and his cousin Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily. As a child the prince was dogged by poor health, suffering from hydrocephaly, epilepsy and a number of other genetically caused ailments, and was ungovernable as a youth. Nevertheless, Ferdinand was crowned King of Hungary in 1830. In fact, however, he had no power to rule, as Prince Metternich, acting on behalf of his father, was the real power behind the scenes. In 1835 Ferdinand succeeded his deceased father on the imperial throne, although – significantly – there was no coronation ceremony. The real business of government was conducted in his name by a three-man State Conference. In view of his obvious lack of leadership qualities the Emperor was popularly known as the Kind-Hearted. Thus his coronation as King of Lombardy-Venetia, which took place as shown here on
1 September 1838, was a pure formality. In 1848 Ferdinand abdicated voluntarily in favour of his nephew, Franz Joseph.

The author of our drawing, the painter and stage designer Alessandro Sanquirico, was considered to be one of the most significant representatives of his craft during the first half of the 19th century. Originally trained as an architect, he had a profound knowledge of the various occidental building styles. His imaginative, sumptuous and bold sets for Milan’s La Scala enjoyed extraordinary popularity and made his name known throughout Europe. Sanquirico’s membership of the Imperial Academy in Vienna may have been another reason why the artist was honoured with the commission to make a pictorial representation of the coronation ceremony.

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