As a rule, contribution to art is not what monarchs are typically remembered for; however, as seen in Adolph Menzel’s painting, “Flute Concert with Frederick the Great in Sanssouci,” Frederick the Great made quite a difference in the art domain by promoting the significance of music along with innovations in economy and politics. Integrating a range of innovative painting techniques, “Flute Concert with Frederick the Great in Sanssouci” represents the essence of Frederick the Great’s policy concerning the enhancement of change across all domains, including the cultural one.
On the surface, the painting represents the complete enthrallment with music and the intense power that it has over its listeners. With the help of the use of shadows and color, Menzel places the king with the violin into the forefront of the picture, therefore, implying that he is creating a musical piece that keeps his audience completely enthralled. Specifically, by placing Frederick the great in the spotlight and choosing a rather light, warm palette to portray his performance, Menzel manages to render the magic of music. Although the king himself is depicted wearing dark clothes, the background in which he is placed is represented by warm yellowish, brownish, and reddish palette (Samsel 2). In contrast to the king, the audience is placed into the background, which makes distinguishing the nuances of their perception more complicated and allows embracing the range of their emotional response only after careful scrutiny.
However, while retaining the fascination with the wondrous nature of music and rendering the enthusiasm of the king, the painting also masterfully outlines the skepticism of the teacher. In the broader context of the social change that Frederick the Great was intending to implement, the teacher’s skepticism could be translated into the sense of uncertainty that a significant number of people had about the reforms that Frederick the Great promoted (Lim 358). Specifically, the focus on political entrepreneurship combined with the active promotion of cultural education among general audiences, which warranted his title of Anti-Machiavelli is represented clearly as a metaphor in the picture in question. With the king being the only character fascinated with his performance, and the audience’s perception ranging from amusement to indifference to downright disdain is symbolic of the perception of the king’s policy and overall manner of ruling the country (Storring 12). Therefore, the painting combines the sense of wonder that music brings to the performer, namely, the king, and the changes that the perception of his performance undergoes when being filtered through the lens of the audience.
Thus, the painting encapsulates the era and the changes that accompanied it flawlessly. Although the art-related meaning of the piece is placed at the forefront, therefore, making the viewer capture the specified context first, the underlying social commentary becomes apparent upon considering the details that the artist preferred to shift into the background. As a result, the varying range of emotions expressed by the listeners, from boredom to indifference to concern bordering disdain, are rendered beautifully. When combined, they can be seen as a metaphor for Frederick the Great’s home and foreign policy, particularly, his passion for innovative ideas and strategies, that few people shared at the time (Salter 6). Consequently, by incorporating a unique painting technique and a combination of expressive tools, Menzel managed to render the unique changes transpiring at the specified point in time. While conveying the attitudes to these changes flawlessly.
The reference to the social and political changes promoted by Frederick the Great can also be read in other minor details of the painting. For instance, the spacious environment in which he performs the musical piece could be rendered both as the grandeur and scale of his intentions and as the lack of support that his ideas received from the members of his retinue. Indeed, when considering the painting, one will realize that the poses that the rest of the characters take are far from being as mobile and expressive as that one of the king. Instead, their location on the painting shows them being distanced form the king, as well as being quite reluctant to and skeptical of his passionate project (Roger 3). Therefore, while the painting might seem as the representation of the solemn atmosphere and the king’s ability to capture the magnificence of music, it, in fact, points to the internal conflict within the state, as well as in the royal family.
Due to the inclusion of a range of innovative painting techniques, as well as the masterful portrayal of every participant of the concert, Adolph Menzel captured the quintessence of the era with its multiple changes. With his focus on detail in each character’s expression, as well as the clever use of chiaroscuro, color, and space, Menzel created a painting that portrayed Frederic the Great’s aspirations to revolutionize the community, economy, and politics, while also outlining the skeptical attitudes of the retinue. Thus, the painting manages to encapsulate the essence of the time period, while also representing music in motion, thus, creating an impression of a unique time capsule transporting its audience to the distant 1852.
Lim, Shiru. “Frederick the Great and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert on Philosophy, Truth, and Politics.” The Historical Journal, vol. 61, no. 2, 2018, pp. 357-378.
Roper, Michael, and John Tosh. “Introduction: Historians and the Politics of Masculinity.” Manful Assertions, vol. 1, 2021, pp. 1-24.
Salter, Alexander William. “Private Prerogative, Public Purpose: Political Entrepreneurship and Management in Frederick the Great’s Anti-Machiavel.” Journal of Private Enterprise, vol. 35, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-28.
Samsel, F., Bartram, L., & Bares, A. (2018, October). “Art, Affect and Color: Creating engaging expressive scientific visualization.” 2018 IEEE VIS Arts Program (VISAP). IEEE, pp. 1-9.
Storring, Adam Lindsay. Frederick the Great and the meanings of war, 1730-1755. Dissertation. University of Cambridge, 2018.