Situating Charlotte: Reading Politics in Portraits of Belgian Princess Charlotte, Vicereine of Lombardy-Venetia, Empress of Mexico

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MacNayr, Linda C.
Charlotte of Saxe Coburg Gotha , Historical Portraiture
The political significance of portraits of Charlotte of Saxe Coburg Gotha (1840- 1927) has been obscured by her historical liminality and by romantic myths that have prevailed since the late nineteenth century and influenced interpretations of her visual representations. This thesis reassembles a wide range of images of Charlotte and analyzes these as sequential representations of an individual participating, across diverse cultures, in defining episodes of the nineteenth century. Strategies of allegory, programmatic intertextuality, and revisionism are revealed when these images are read within their political circumstances of production and complicate the dominance of a few late, iconic portraits of Charlotte and their entrenched associations. The use of costume, essential in certain portraits commissioned during Charlotte’s childhood in Belgium, is revisited in images depicting her during a brief position as Vicereine of Lombardy- Venetia and in another dating from her role - of equal brevity but indelible historical resonance - as Empress of Mexico. The significance of dress is explored in relation to agency and political influence and as demonstrating compliance with, or negotiation of, gender conventions. Charlotte’s public life was abruptly terminated upon her 1866 return to Europe by a diagnosis of ‘madness.’ Napoleon III was withdrawing troops supporting the Mexican Empire and her journey was made seeking to reverse this decision. I speculate a painting by French artist Edouard Manet allegorically records this episode of Charlotte’s life and that other factors relating to this episode subsequently influenced the erasure of her imperial images until their reappearance in the twentieth century.
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