German school, ca. 1700

A portrait medallion of Frederick-Augustus I, Prince-Elector of Saxony

Portraits in ivory were fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries. Generally elephant or walrus ivory was used. Since the pieces were limited in size the portraits tended to be small, yet they could still be monumental in form. Ivories were often displayed in glass cases. Sometimes they would have been treated as portable medallions with their own individual cases. The present work, executed by an anonymous artist ca. 1700, represents Augustus II the Strong (12 May 1670 – 1 February 1733) of the Albertine line of the House of Wettin was Elector of Saxony (as Frederick Augustus I), Imperial Vicar and became King of Poland (as August II) and Grand Duke of Lithuania (as Augustas II).

Augustus’ great physical strength earned him the nicknames “the Strong”, “the Saxon Hercules” and “Iron-Hand”. He liked to show that he lived up to his name by breaking horseshoes with his bare hands and engaging in fox tossing by holding the end of his sling with just one finger while two of the strongest men in his court held the other end. In order to be elected King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus converted to Roman Catholicism. As a Catholic, he received the Order of the Golden Fleece from the Holy Roman Emperor.

As Elector of Saxony, he is perhaps best remembered as a patron of the arts and architecture. He established the Saxon capital of Dresden as a major cultural centre, attracting artists from across Europe to his court. Augustus also amassed an impressive art collection and built lavish baroque palaces in Dresden and Warsaw. His reigns brought Poland some troubled times. He led the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Great Northern War, which led to the Russian Empire strengthening its influence in Europe, especially within Poland. His main pursuit was bolstering royal power in the Commonwealth, characterized by broad decentralization in comparison with other European monarchies. He tried to accomplish this goal using foreign powers and thus destabilized the state.

Artist: German school, ca. 1700
Medium: ivory
Dimensions: 5,2 cm diameter
Inscribed: 'FR. AUGUSTUS I. REX'