We may never know what Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi) looked like as she aged. Her story was a tragic one of a woman obsessed with her own weight and beauty.
After age thirty-two, Sisi (1837-1898), wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and thus Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Queen consort of Croatia and Bohemia, refused to sit for any more portraits; she shunned photography so that the image of her youthful beauty would remain eternal in the public's eye. That beauty is exquisitely captured in this wonderful signed portrait miniature of Sisi by Geneva enamelist, Marie Goll, 1846-1933. *
Moll's miniature is based on a portrait by Austrian painter Franz Schrotzberg (1811-1889). In his day, Schrotzberg was one of the most sought-after portrait painters in Vienna. His image of Sisi was one of only a handful of portraits for which the Empress actually posed as a model. In her own depiction of that painting, Moll beautifully captures the softness of Schrotzberg's painting. Sisi is posed with rose-coloured lips, ivory skin, and dressed in fine white lace and blue silk. I contacted Christie's of London and the head miniature portrait specialist said that this was one of the nicer paintings of Empress Elisabeth she had seen.
Tragically, Sisi fought endlessly to retain that beauty at great cost to both her physical and mental health. The empress was a woman of tall, thin stature, standing 5' 8" and weighing 110 pounds after four pregnancies, which she achieved by fasting and exercising obsessively. As the portrait shows, she had extremely long hair that took three hours of combing and care per day. She wore double braids and often complained that the weight of the hair and the number of pins caused terrible headaches.
Elisabeth's sudden, tragic death at age 61 has inspired film (Ava Gardner played the Empress in the 1968 film "Mayerling," in which Omar Sharif starred as Crown Prince Rudolf), theatre and ballet. While waiting to board a ferry from the shores of Lake Geneva to Montreux, Switzerland, the Empress was stabbed while strolling along the promenade and died from her wound. A monument to Elisabeth stands in Territet, a Swiss town between Montreux and Chateau Chillon.
The pin measures approx. 7/8" across, weighs 5.3 grams and fastens with the extended Victorian pin and an unusual "C" clasp that I have never seen before. It is very secure. The brooch is beautiful in every way, from the intricate painting of her lace blouse to the halo effect around Sisi's head; even the back of the pin has been beautifully constructed. Unfortunately, there are no marks to indicate where it is from, but I would think it is Swiss-made. Tests as 18K gold.
The piece is in remarkable condition, with no enamel loss, dents or problems that I can see. The pin is signed "Goll" at the lower right edge.
*Marie Goll was a talented miniature enamelist working in Geneva, Switzerland. One of her enamel miniatures that captures painter Nicolas Poussin's "Les Bergers d'Arcadie" was famously featured on an 18K gold timepiece by Swiss luxury watch company, Vacheron Constantin.