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Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of Rhine
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An aristocrat, army officer, admiral, scientist and investor in England’s colonies, Prince Rupert of the Rhine was also an amateur artist who was instrumental in the development of mezzotint. The third son of Frederick V (1596-1632), Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), the daughter of King James I (1566-1625) of England, Rupert was born in 1619 in Prague, where his parents were reigning as King and Queen of Bohemia. After defeats by the Hapsburgs in the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, his family was exiled to The Hague. Rupert became an accomplished linguist and mathematician, learned to paint and studied the arts of war. He also learned etching as a teenager, and made eleven etchings over the next twenty years. After visiting England, where he impressed his uncle King Charles I (1600-1649), he began his career as a soldier at the age of 14. His military career was interrupted during 1639-1641 after he was captured by forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and imprisoned in Linz. After his release he went to England in 1642 to serve in the Royalist forces, achieving renown as a cavalry commander. Appointed Captain-General of the Royalist Army in 1644, divisions among the King’s advisors led to estrangement from King Charles I; Rupert left England for the Continent in 1646. Reconciled with the King, Rupert then commanded a small fleet of warships against the Parliamentary forces in unsuccessful campaigns. Rupert’s ships eventually turned to privateers, capturing English and Spanish ships in the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, a campaign that in the end brought few treasures for the Royalist cause. Rupert returned to Europe in 1653. While at lose ends over the next several years, Rupert became acquainted with the mezzotint technique that had been developed by a German army officer, Ludwig von Siegen (1609-ca. 1680), perhaps during Rupert’s visit to Vienna in 1654. The earliest mezzotint attributed to Rupert, Head of Titian (Holl. 30, after Titian (ca. 1488-1576)) is from 1657. While in Frankfurt in 1658 for the election of Leopold I (1640-1705) as Holy Roman Emperor, Rupert met and hired Wallerant Vaillant (1623-1677) to be an assistant. Scholars believe that Rupert taught Vaillant how to make mezzotints, and that they collaborated on making prints. The extent to which Vaillant is responsible for prints attributed to Rupert is not known, but two of Rupert’s best prints, both from 1658, The Standard Bearer (Holl. 16, after Pietro della Vecchia (1603-1678)) and The Great Executioner (Holl. 14, after Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652)) seem to benefit from Vaillant’s artistry. Rupert experimented with the methods of creating the rough ground on the copper plate at the beginning of the mezzotint process, and again the extent of Vaillant’s contribution is not known. With the Restoration and the coronation of Charles II (1630-1685, Rupert returned to England where in 1661 he demonstrated mezzotint to members of the Royal Society and to the writer John Evelyn (1620-1706), who described it in his 1662 book Sculptura. The book’s frontispiece was Rupert’s mezzotint print, The Little Executioner (Holl. 15, also after Ribera). In total he created fifteen mezzotints. In addition to serving Charles II in various senior political roles and holding leadership positions in the English navy during the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 1660s and 1670s, Rupert was an investor in colonial ventures in Africa and an early investor in the Hudson’s Bay Company, becoming Governor of “Rupert’s Land” around Hudson’s Bay. In the 1670s he became more active in the Royal Society. Various scientific inventions, many with a military application, are credited to him. He never married, but fathered an illegitimate daughter with the actress Margaret Hughes (d. 1719). He died on November 29, 1682 and was interred in Westminster Abbey on December 6. (TNB 5/2013) Selected bibliography: Griffiths, Antony. The Print in Stuart Britain, 1603-1689. Exhibition catalog, pp. 193-194, 211-212. London: The British Museum, 1998. Roy, Ian. “Rupert, Prince and Count Palatine of the Rhine and Duke of Cumberland (1619-1682),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Wax, Carol. The Mezzzotint: History and Technique. Pp. 16-24. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990.