C1799 Oil Portrait of Frederick Roose Imperial Austrian Actor etc


This splendid oil on canvas portrait is at the restorers at present, being cleaned and varnished. The gilt frame appears to be original. The reverse features a Sotheby's label, and an old longhand sepia ink inscription on paper. This states, (in old German Gothick script): "Freiderich Rose (sic), spouse of Imperial and Royal Actress Margarethe Elisabeth Eckardt." Comparison with engravings of Frederick confirm this identity.

Frederich Roose (17 April1767-29 May 1818) was born in Germanic Limburg and the Lahn(River) in Hesse. In1806 it was annexed by the Duchy of Nassau, but Frederich had already left to study in Mainz in 1783. A theatre director, actor and singer, he joined the Vienna Burgtheatre in 1798.

While our handsome Frederich was a prominent celebrity in Imperial Vienna, his beautiful wife was hugely famous. Margarethe Eckardt was born on the 20th October, 1778. Her father Siegfried (1754-1831) taught drama. Margarethe first appeared on stage in Riga, aged 11. She debuted at the Mannheim national Theatre Nov 21, 1793 and went on to Hanover, Hamburg and Bremen before being elevated to the Burgtheatre in Vienna, debuting there 28 Sept, 1798. The following year 1799, the diva married Frederich Roose, the subject of our painting. Since the painting must date from about 1800, it is probable that it was painted at the time of the 1799 wedding, as was customary. This beautiful, young celebrity couple adopted a child, as celebrity couples still do! The couple had Vienna at their feet for the next few years as Margarethe, l known professionally as Betty Roose, was the adored toast of Vienna. Fame, youth and beauty do not always last, and our poor Betty died in childbirth in 1808, a few days after her 30th birthday. As you would expect, the funeral was a grand affair with 100 carriages* of the distraught nobility attending. There wads much public grief. Frederich died 10 years later. Betty is the subject of a biography, and a street in Vienna is name after her.

Regrettably, science has a dark side. The brain and skull research by Dr Franz Joseph Gall was the focus of European scientific interest at this time, so poor Betty had her head stolen by grave robbers a few weeks after burial. The same grave robbers ("resurrection men" in English parlance) are thought to have stolen Joseph Haydn's skull. Rumours have it that Shakespear's skull was also stolen in the late 18th century. It is not in his grave, so it appears the scientists got it!

*While it was customary to send ones carriage to a funeral as mark of distinction and respect, customarily the carriage was empty. Contemporary reports emphasise that the carriages had the actual nobles in them for this funeral, and record that "Not only women, but also serious men, and old men gave her memory heartfelt tears."

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