The Musical King
The Iconography in the Painting 'Frederick the Great Holding a Flute'
Frederick the Great is well-known in European history as one of the pioneers of Enlightened Absolutism, but what many of us may not have learned in history class is that he was a gifted flautist and composer. Frederick the Great was the ruler of Prussia. He reigned from 1740 to 1786 as an enlightened ruler. Enlightened rulers, whose ideas are rooted in Enlighted Absolutism, believe in rational thinking like science and having more education throughout their country for their citizens. Frederick the Great, in this painting, is shown more as a composer and musician than a king. Based on my inferences, the painting is a representation of Frederick the Great as an Enlightened Ruler, depicted by the lighting, the flute, and Frederick’s placement in the composition of the painting.
In this painting, the lighting is shining in from the left side, creating a glow on Fredericks’s face. The light on his face is a quite literal representation of his enlightened mind. Within the portrait, Frederick’s body makes up a triangle. The first point starts at the front of his body, the second is at his head, and the last point is at his back. His head is at the apex of the triangle, making it one of the main focal points. This demonstrates his reputation as an enlightened absolutist ruler. Enlightened rulers are viewed as rational leaders, embracing the furthering of the education of the citizens in their countries. The flute takes part in portraying his role of enlightenment.
In this work of art, Frederick the Great is shown as a musician in this painting holding his flute. The flute is positioned differently from the other objects as to bring emphasis to it. He is not wearing a crown and is holding music. Frederick’s clothes are also not that of a king, as he has no long flowing robes or the fanciful clothes iconic of rulers. He is only wearing fine clothes that would show his upper-class status in society. The artist of the illustration makes a point to add Frederick’s hands, which is not common in portraits. The light shines on his hands on his flute, highlighting his status as an enlightened ruler and dedicated musician. Being illustrated with a flute shows Frederick’s support of education and the fine arts. As an enlightened ruler, he wanted to promote music and art along with education, in Prussia. Not only the flute, but the overall composition is immensely important to the interpretation of this painting.
The placement of objects and composition of this painting are clearly deliberate in demonstrating Frederick the Great’s focus on higher learning. Frederick is the center of attention, positioned in the middle of the painting. The triangle evident in his form creates symmetry and balance in the portrait. The perfect triangle ties back to the Golden Ratio and the rational thinking and mathematics that Frederick supported as an enlightened thinker and leader. His position is also representative of his ruling status. At the epicenter of the painting is the center of the government. This is more than a painting. It is an illustration of a great leader's approach to bettering his people.
In conclusion, the painting Frederick the Great Holding a Flute is a portrayal of Frederick the Great as an Enlightened Ruler when considering the specific lighting, his flute, and his overall position in the painting. The lighting in the painting focuses on Frederick’s head, suggesting that he was an enlightened thinker. His flute represents his love for music and the arts, and the triangle created by his image is a tribute to arithmetic. The detail involved in telling a story about the interests of the subject in this illustration of Frederick was well-planned and evident. The painting gives insight as to the passions of the model, and we know that Frederick the Great was an advocate for education, music, and the arts.