Peter Finer

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A Portrait of August II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg in Wolfenbüttel (1579–1666) by HB, 1666

Item Ref: 1066 Price on application

1066 1
1066 2

Germany. Oil on canvas.


The Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

Exhibition of Arms, Armour and Militaria lent by H.R.H. The Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg at the Tower of London 1952-3, cat. No. 256 

Benezit, E., Dictionnaire de Peintres...(Paris 1948), vol. 1, p. 733
Beard, C.R., ‘An Armourer’s Receipt’, The Connoisseur, vol. LXXVII, no.305 (January1927), pp. 18-20 

Our fine portrait of Duke August II, or Augustus the Younger, of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was painted some eight months before his death, which occurred in Wolfenbüttel on 17 September 1666 when August had reached the remarkable age of eighty-seven years. August had led a long and active life and is depicted in our painting wearing a fine blue and gilded Greenwich armour. The fine armour depicted in our portrait was sold by Christie’s, London, 18 November 1981, lot 132, and is now in a private collection in New York City.  This armour was ordered by Henry, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King James I, either for Duke Henry Julius of Brunswick- Wolfenbüttel (1564-1613) or for his son and successor, Frederick Ulric of Brunswick (1591-1634). Frederick Ulric was the cousin of Prince Henry and visited England in the spring of 1610, when he was put in the special charge of his cousin, and, among other things, attended the festivities on 4 June on the latter’s creation as Prince of Wales.  It was probably at this time that Prince Henry ordered the armour for him as a gift, though no payments were made for it until nearly two years later.  On 1 May 1612, payment was authorised of £100 to ‘John Pickering Armorer to the Prince towardes the guilding and compleat garnishing of an Armour for the Duke of Brunswick’ (The National Archives E351/2793), while another payment of £80 was made ‘to Pickering the Armorer for guilding one Armour for the Duke of Brunswick and for other woorkes’ at an unspecified date, probably shortly before the Prince’s untimely death on 6 November 1612.  Half of this must have been for the ‘other woorkes’, since the warrant of 11 July, 1614, authorising final payment, is for a balance of £200 owing on a total price of £340.

Whereas was made in the office of our Armory of Greenwich by William Pickering our Master Workman there one rich Armour with all pieces compleate fayrely guilt and graven by the Comaundement of our late deere sonne Prince Henry wch Armour was worth as we are informed the some of three hundred and forty poundes, whereof the said William Pickering hath received of our said Late deere sonne the some of one hundred and forty poundes only for as there remayneth due unto him the some of Two hundred poundes. 

William Pickering was a distinguished London armourer, Master of the Worshipful Company of Armourers from 1608 to 1610. In 1605 he was given the reversion of the office of Master Workman in the Greenwich armouries, then held by Jacob Halder, to which he succeeded on the latter’s death in 1608, and held it until his own death in 1618.  His son John (died 1626) worked under his father at Greenwich as well as holding the office of personal armourer to Prince Henry.  The armour was sent to Brunswick in February 1613, in the care of ‘John Douglas, Gentleman’ who was paid £40 for his expenses and trouble.  The armour worn in our portrait clearly descended to August II on the death of his kinsman in 1634 and it is a measure of his appreciation of its qualities that he chose to be portrayed wearing it. 

August was born on 10 April 1579 in Dannenberg, a city in the duchy of Lüneberg, where  August’s father, Heinrich III (1533-98), had been the ruler since 1569. August was his father’s seventh and youngest son by Ursule, princess of Sachsen-Lauenburg.  August’s father and his many cousins and other kinsmen, were all members of the Welf, or Guelph, family.

Thus it was in 1569 that August’s father, Heinrich III, agreed to divide the duchy of Lüneberg with his younger brother Wilhelm the Younger (1535-92) and to take the lands, castle and city of Dannenberg.  Part of the agreement of 1569 was that Heinrich’s descendants should inherit the lands of Wolfenbüttel when the last male heir to those lands died; this happened in 1634 and so, in 1635, August, whose title by descent was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg, became Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg in Wolfenbüttel, a title usually abbreviated to Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

August is remembered for his intellectual achievements. He published a book on chess in 1616 and another on cryptography in 1624.  Both of August’s publications were written under a pseudonym.  The pseudonym he chose reflects his interest in cryptography since it was ‘Gustavus Selenus’, Gustavus’ being an anagram – the letters ‘U’ and ‘V’ are interchangeable in Latin – of Augustus and ‘Selenus’ being a reference to the Greek goddess of the moon, Selene, and a pun on the first syllable of the word ‘Lüneberg’, the Latin for ‘moon’ being ‘luna’. The inscription that identifies the sitter in our portrait may well have been written by August himself since it relates to his pseudonym.  The first two lines are simple: ‘In this picture is seen the august form of Augustus’; the third line translates as, ‘The world will be the witness of his Divine breast’; the reference to ‘the Divine breast’ is possibly an echo from Lucretius’s poem, De Rurum Natura (‘On the Nature of Things’), expounding Epicurean philosophy, and perhaps hints at prophecy.  The remainder of the inscription is:

HB made this in the year of Christ 1666, the year when Selenus was aged eighty-six and three-quarters.’

When it was exhibited in the Tower of London in 1953, our painting’s inscription was not translated in the catalogue and the initials HB were said to stand for Hans Boiling – about whom no more was said. Benezit’s multivolume reference work Dictionnaire de Peintres...does not note a Hans Boiling but says that a Heinrich Boiling was a Brunswick artist of the seventeenth century: beyond that, nothing appears to be known about him.  This fine and well-painted portrait of Duke August II, in a splendid, blued and gilded armour of the best that the Greenwich workshop could produce, remains as an image symbolic of a venerable philanthropic German nobleman of the late seventeenth century.

Oil on canvas, re-lined and re-stretched and within a later carved, gessoed and gilded frame. The sitter half-length within an oval, facing slightly to his left, wearing a cap and a lace collar over a Greenwich armour and identified in the top left corner: 

Cernitur AUGUSTI

augustum hac in imagine corpus, Divini testis pectoris orbis erit. 

H.B. fecit A.C. 10 Jan: 1666

Seleni Ætatis Anno 86 ¾.

Size: Height 100 cm / 39.4 in, Width 85 cm / 33.5 in (including frame)