1797–1826

An expedition to the tropics

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The preparations for the wedding and the journey to Brazil took on a new dimension when Emperor Franz I agreed to Metternich’s proposal that they use the occasion of Leopoldine’s marriage to send an expedition to Brazil.

Two ships were prepared and in April 1817 scientists, painters, gardeners and a taxidermist, all with assistants, travelled to Rio de Janeiro ahead of Leopoldine. Leopoldine, in the meantime, studied the history and geography of her future home and learned Portuguese. During these weeks Leopoldine compiled and wrote a vademecum, a unique document the like of which has never been produced by any other Habsburg princess.

 

State Chancellor Metternich was personally charged with the overall leadership of the expedition. It was to collect precious woods, animals, minerals and plants and send them back to Europe. A ‘Brasilianum’ was set up in Vienna, where the spoils from the expedition were to be displayed. As they stopped on the way in the harbours of Pula, Malta, Gibraltar and Madeira, Thomas Ender (1793-1875), who was the expedition’s equivalent of a modern day photo journalist, began to record in sketches the landscapes and cities they passed through, as well as details of life on board the ship. Once they arrived in Rio, Ender painted the luxuriant tropical forests, the many churches, public buildings and squares, and the piped water system (built in 1740). He wandered through the suburbs and the surrounding hills; he painted the famous church of Maria da Glória; he organized small expeditions and climbed the Corcovado, from where he was able to capture wonderful views over Rio. He also visited São Cristóvão, home to the Boa Vista royal palace, and recorded the social life of Brazil in his watercolours.

 

The watercolours painted by Thomas Ender during the Austrian expedition to Brazil in 1817 have survived and today constitute one of the most beautiful complete collections of watercolours of the Viennese Biedermeier period. Today they are housed in the Kupferstichkabinett of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

Gloria Kaiser