Return of the Royal Treasure

Journey of the exquisite portrait of the King poet and illuminator, Teimuraz II

By Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

Portrait of King Teimuraz II of Georgia (1761) by Aleksey AntropovArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

One of the finest treasures of the collection of the Bagrationi Dynasty (a royal family that reigned in Georgia from the Middle Ages until the early 19th century, being among the oldest extant Christian ruling dynasties in the world) the portrait of King Teimuraz II, also known as the king illuminator and lyric poet, was created by the prominent Russian Imperial Court’s portrait artists Aleksey Antropov (1761-1795).

Considered to be lost for more than 275 years, the portrait holds a particular symbolic meaning as it reflects a Georgian king, who was constantly at war or on guard to save and defend his country from neighbouring conquerors and who still found time to translate, compose, virtually on horseback, his own poems and lyrics; The painting depicts an exquisite king who, while being on his mission to find a Christian ally by way of Russia, died suddenly in the capital Moscow on January 8, 1762 and could not come back to his homeland even after his death, as he was buried in the Cathedral of Assumption, Astrakhan.

By the time of Teimuraz’s reign, Georgia was fragmented into different independent kingdoms and principalities. The neighboring large empires exploited the internal division of the weakened country: the Safavid Iran (followed by its successive Iranian Afsharid and Qajar dynasties) and Ottoman Turkey subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.

Hoping that the expanding Russian Empire would be the only protector for the Christians of Caucasus against the Ottoman and Persian aggressions, King Teimuraz II visited the Russian court in person in 1760. His aim was to gain support for his project of a Georgian expedition to Persia to put a Russian candidate on the shah’s throne.

Although Russia was too preoccupied with the Seven Years’ War, Empress Elizabeth received the Georgian king with respect and commissioned Aleksey Antropov (1761-1795) to portray the king.

Portrait of King Teimuraz II of Georgia. (1761) by E. Vinogradov and A. GrekovArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

The fact that Antropov truly fulfilled the Empress’s commission and depicted Teimuraz II on canvas was confirmed by the engraving presented to the King while visiting Typography of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1761. According to historical sources, Antropov’s painting got lost through hardships of times, whereas serval patterns of the engraving survived and are nowadays preserved in different state-owned and private collections.

The inscription below the engraving indicates that the etching was produced in Saint-Petersburg, in 1761, based on the portrayal by Antropov - by the masters Efim Vinogradov (1728-1769) and Aleksei Grekov (1723/26-1770?).

According to the inscriptions in Georgian (on the free area of the oval) and Russian (on the pedestal), "Teimuraz, the son of Nikoloz, successor of Georgia, Kakheti and Imereti, visited Her Highness the Empress of all Russia in St. Petersburg in 1761".

Portrait of King Taimuraz II (1761) by Painting - Alexei Antropov, Engraving - E. Vinogradov and A. GrekovArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

The facial features of both portraits are similar and the attire is identical. However, there are slight differences between the two depictions. With specific expression on his face, the king’s image is more distinctly characterised in the pictorial portrait, whereas the king seems to be more calm and relaxed in the engraving. Surely enough, the difference between the portraits is due to their execution in different techniques, fortiori, in the pictorial portrait, it is colour that constitutes the main language of expression for the artist.

Portrait of King Teimuraz II of Georgia (1761) by Aleksey AntropovArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

While working on the portrait of the king, Antropov apparently maintained his traditional style of painting - a soft combination of colors against a dark neutral background. The exquisitely depicted attire -a richly embroidered tunic and a turban- indicate the Georgian king’s status and authority.

The turban was of particular importance in the Muslim world, as it symbolised authority and dignity. Large white turbans with two or three red stripes connoted high social or religious status and each detail of the headwear indicated the status, age and origin of the owner.

Detail of the portrait of King Teimuraz II of Georgia (1761) by Aleksey AntropovArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

As a result of his mission in Russia, King Teimuraz received the precious portrait and engraving; his major goal, however, remained unattained. After his unexpected death, Georgia had to struggle for survival without any ally.

During the hard years which followed, the portrait of the king was lost along with other royal treasures, and it was only after 275 years that it was put up for sale by online gallery 1stdibs. Ultimately, the painting was purchased by the Art Palace of Georgia in 2018, with the financial support of ‘Cartu Fund’.

Imaging of the portrait of King Teimuraz II of GeorgiaArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

UV-, IR- and X-ray imaging brought to light the past of the portrait. Like the king depicted in it, the painting has been through hard times. Initially, it was oval-shaped (like the engraving), but its edges have been trimmed in unknown circumstances.

The inspection also showed considerable (repaired) tears of the canvas and holes on the area of the left eye and cheek; however, 80 % of the original work is still preserved.
The X-ray examination revealed a Latin inscription hidden underneath the visible painting. The inscription is now being studied; it begins with the letter A.

საგანძურის დაბრუნება FullHDArt Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History

The royal treasure of the Bagrationi Dynasty is now exhibited in the Art Palace of Georgia.

Credits: Story

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography - Art Palace

George Kalandia
Mary Kharaishvili
Irakli Zambakhidze
Irina Moistsrapishvili

Special thanks to 'Cartu Fund'


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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