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Emperor Joseph II as Hungarian King

Artist: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Date made: 1780–1783
Medium and support: alabaster
Dimensions: diameter: 9.5 cm with frame: 24 × 17.7 × 3 cm
Type: plaquette
Inventory number: 8525
Collection: Sculpture

Joseph II (r. 1780−90), emperor of the Habsburg Empire, is shown with the Hungarian Holy Crown on his head even though he was never crowned as king of Hungary. Consequently, the relief was thought to have been created during the unstable period around 1780, after the death of Empress Maria Theresa (r. 1740−80). Another possibility is that it was intended as a caricature, with the emperor shown wearing a crown which he had rejected. Acceptance of the crown would have implied his endorsement of the ancient rights of the Hungarian nobility. This, however, would have contradicted his planned reforms. Moreover, in Messerschmidt’s portrait relief, Joseph II is wearing ordinary dress, which does not suit the crown.

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