Johann Ernst Mansfeld, Unknown artist

In several dozen ornate portfolios Stanisław August collected portraits of European dignitaries—from the most prominent church and secular officials, to aristocracy, military leaders and scientists; among them—the silhouette of Empress Catherine II. The art of silhouette portraits gained unprecedented popularity in the eighteenth-century Europe and became a widespread fashion among higher social classes. It combined the element of leisure with a sentimental function, as well as—typically for the context of the Enlightenment—a scientific function: automated, ‘objective’ silhouettes were an important part of the physiognomic research, including the research conducted by Johann Caspar Lavater. In addition, they bore political significance—during the Kościuszko Insurrection the dark profile of its leader’s head was an important element of the visual culture, and to be in possession of this image was an unambiguous political statement.

Show description