The Prince and I

I first met Friedrich Christian, Crown Prince of Saxony/Poland, in 2004 in the State Archives in Dresden. I was gathering material for a book and stumbled across the handwritten travel diaries of his Italian odyssey in 1738-40. Fifteen years old and crippled by scoliosis and what was termed “palsy” (probably cerebral palsy), his Grand Tour was less a gap year than an all-out effort to find a cure for his condition in medicine or religion and safeguard the succession. Crowned Elector in 1763, he died prematurely from smallpox, aged 41, after reigning for 74 days. Thus he ended up a footnote in history books instead of a legend. And in 2004, I adopted him as my subject, hero and muse.

Although for me it’s all about the prince, in 1738, it was all about his younger sister, Maria Amalia, the new Queen of Naples, who, after a proxy wedding to her Bourbon beau, departed from the Elbe River palace of Pillnitz on May 13 on a one-way ticket to Italy with my diarist-prince in tow. The logistics caused an uproar with the in-laws, who wanted to send the Spanish fleet to ferry the Queen from Trieste, but her parents prevailed with a carefully scripted overland route-cum-pilgrimage through modern day Czech Republic, Austria and Slovenia into Italy at Palmanova, bypassing Vienna and Rome to keep up the pace. Bumping along rugged post roads and pilgrim byways from dawn to dusk, in Landaus and Berliners, the travelers stopped only for meals and state welcomes, to change horses and sleep. Lodgings varied widely from place to place, from palaces and convents to humble roadside inns and palatial tents. State carriages and security were supplied as needed and foodstuffs and tributes were proffered at every stop. On June 19, the Queen finally met her husband at Terracina, the gateway to Kingdom of Naples, progressing in state to Gaeta before her formal entry into the capital. Three weeks later, the prince sailed to the desolate island of Ischia for a lengthy cure in the restorative waters of the Gurgitella springs, still flowing today, which gave him the strength, and the courage, for the remarkable journeys ahead. After lengthy sojourns in Rome and Venice, and a junket through Tuscany, Lombardy and the Veneto, the prince left Italy for a state visit to Vienna, arriving back home in Dresden on Sept. 7, 1740.

The handwritten journals of his two-year odyssey are the guidebooks for this journey of mine, of his. The prince wrote daily, in school-boy French, in the words of a dutiful and obedient youth on the uncertain road to manhood. A Catholic crown prince of a Protestant state held tight by the Jesuits and buttressed by the Bohemian mysticism of the court of Vienna, he sat at the center of an able-bodied swirl, incognito as Comte de Lusace though hardly anonymous. His majordomo, the devoted Count Wackerbarth-Salmour, the minister who headed the prince’s household and accompanied him abroad, kept another journal, also in French, penned by a secretary. This was regularly dispatched to the parents and circulated to senior members of the diplomatic corps. Wackerbarth’s observations are detailed and official, his sentiments measured and polite, except when encoded or when he writes in his native Italian to his confidante, Father Guarini. And there is one more journal written in German, in Rome, by the prime minister’s brother, Hans Mortiz von Brühl, a budding diplomat. There are also financial, logistical and medical reports in the Dresden archive, the diplomatic correspondence is voluminous and relevant archival material has to date been located in Italy. The souvenirs, works on paper and artworks shipped back to Dresden, however, are mostly lost and known chiefly through the diaries.

To date, I have twice driven the historic itinerary and have conducted research in situ in Dresden, Naples, Rome and Venice, towards an annotated publication. For the moment, however, this WordPress blog is an experimental platform for sharing the contemporary accounts with interested colleagues. The transcriptions retain the inaccuracies, idiosyncrasies and misspellings of the originals; autocorrect has also introduced inadvertent errors, for which I apologize. Corrections will be made in the annotated edition.

The first to recognize the diaries was Martin Paul, Graf Wackerbarth-Salmour / Ober Hofmeister des sächsischen Kurprinzen Friedrich Christian (Leipzig: Verlag von S. Nirzel, 1912.) Nearly a century would pass before they were rediscovered by German historians; see Dinah Burkert and Andrea Frings, “Die Tagebücher des Sächsischen Kurprinzen Friedrich Christian,” in Fabio Marri and Maria Lieber, eds., Die Glückseligkeit des gemeinen Wesens. Wege der Ideen zwischen Italien und Deutschland im Zeitalter der Aufklärung, Italien in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 14 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1999), 115-122. See also Wiebke Fastenrath Vinattieri, “Die Katholische Hofkirche in Dresden: Der Bau, die Ausstattung und die Reise des Kurprinzen Friedrich Christian von Sachsen nach Rome (1738–1740),” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 54–55 (2003): 238–309; Fastenrath Vinattieri, “Sulle trace de primo Neoclassicismo. Il viaggio del principe ereditario Friedrich Christian di Sassonia in Italia (1738–1740),” Zeitenblicke 2, no. 3 (2003), Musicologists have mined the diaries: see, for example, Zorawska Witkowska, Federico Cristiano in Italia. Esperienze musicali di un Principe Reale Polacco (Musica e storia, 4 (1996), pp. 277-323). I brought the diaries to broader awareness with Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, “Princes and Porcelain on the Grand Tour of Italy” in Maureen Cassidy-Geiger (ed.), Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for Foreign Courts, ca. 1710-1763 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), 208-255. The most recent contribution to the literature is Jóhannes Ágústsson, “Giovanni Alberto Ristori at the Court of Naples 1738-1740” in Studi pergolesiani – Pergolesi studies 8, 2012 (Bern, 2012), pp. 53-100.

For their support, I thank the Getty Trust, American Academy in Rome, Fondazione Cini, the DAAD, Herzog August Bibliothek, Brown Foundation/Dora Maar House/MFAHouston, Parsons School of Design/New School University, the Attingham Society, Wellesley College, the Dresden State Museums, interested colleagues, family and friends, and the staffs of the many libraries, archives and museums in Europe and America where I have conducted research.

Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, April 2018

Departing Pillnitz, June 18, 2010

At Pillnitz, departure point on May 13, 1738

The Grand Cure: A Disabled Saxon Prince on Tour in Italy, 1738-1740

Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, The Grandest of Tours

Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, Princes and Porcelain on the Grand Tour of Italy

Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, “Je reçus le monde marqué”: A Crown Prince of Saxony on the Grand Tour of Italy, 1738-40