Friday, 18 July 2014

Some notes on identification: Ruta graveolens and Elector August

I'm currently looking at details which is my favourite part of art; looking for any clues to build up a better idea of what is going on. This little section concerns a mysterious procession of people towards a stunning 16th century view of Dresden.

The third and final procession of the bench is more open to interpretation than the previous two. However I suggest that this is August returning from a day’s hunting, and present the following reasons. Firstly, his position as riding ahead of the group, which was standard court etiquette, as befitted a man of high status. Secondly, his attire. His clothes initially do not appear overly elaborate, yet his long cloak has a beautifully stiffened collar and a silver chain is fastened around his shoulders by a rosette or other shape. A lace collar peeps out from underneath it. In comparison to the hunters in the various tableaux, he is extremely well dressed for riding in the forest.

Completing his hunting outfit, in his left hand, he carries a large hunting bag (a Schwedler). Aristocratic bags of this type were traditionally beautifully decorated, with gold thread embroidery and semi-precious stones attached to them. Given the marquetry details it is admittedly hard to see the details but under a magnifying glass it looks like a dual portrait of a bearded man and blond haired woman with a black cap. August was known for his devotion to his wife, Anna of Denmark, so perhaps she accompanied him decoratively on these hunting trips, permanently to hand. Finally his tall crowned, small brimmed hat in a greenish hue is adorned, not with feathers as in the other images, but with greenery. A sprig of leaves is also to be found on his mount’s brow band.

From Butterfly Fun Facts
This, for me, is the third and most obvious identifying characteristic. The symbolic plant of Saxony is the Ruta graveolens and can be seen on the House of Wettin’s Coat of Arms as a green chaplet of stylised rue. This was first granted by Frederick Barbarossa to the first Duke of Saxony, in 1181 and incorporated into successive heads of house's arms. Anna who was a talented herbalist would have appreciated the value and symbolism of this familiar evergreen European herb. It was primarily used for protection to ward off evil, as well as having qualities that enhanced clarity of vision. It was believed that you could never miss your target if you used shot that had been boiled in rue. Interestingly Culpepper states that it was a herb governed by the constellation Leo and appropriately August’s birthdate of 31 July 1526 makes his star sign Leo. So it fulfils a symbolic and practical purpose of identification and protection.

He is not illustrated on the same panel as his capital city but the procession is heading there. The footmen who are running ahead of the group make it clear that the two panels are a successive narrative. One of them turns to look at the viewer, as if to hold us back from August's path. We gaze back, pausing submissively to admire the cavalcade. What can be confirmed is that he was not returning from his hunting lodge as it had not yet been built.  The building of the J√§gerhof commenced in 1569 on the site of a suppressed catholic monastery. However I relish the idea that August regularly patrolled and hunted in the vicinity of his city; it connects him with both the urban and forest environment.

Taken individually, these points are tenuous. However, together they make a reasonably case for my conclusion. Furthermore this is a bench which he commissioned; why wouldn't be put himself on there?

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