A devoted sister?

17 February 2010

A beautiful portrait of a young woman, said to be in mourning for her husband or lover who had been guillotined during the Terror. 

I’ve seen this painting identified as Princess Johanna Francesca von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the wife of Frederick, Prince of Salm-Kybourg but as Johanna died in 1790, four years before her husband was guillotined on 23rd July 1794, this can’t be right.

However, it’s possible that it could be Frederick’s sister, Princess Amalie of Salm-Kybourg, who he was exceedingly close to and who resided with him in Paris at his magnificent mansion, the Hôtel de Salm. Princess Amalie was born on the 6th March 1760, which would make her thirty four when her brother met his unfortunate fate so she could well be the sitter here.

Princess Amalie is known to have been something of an eccentric in life. She was married in 1782 to Princess Johanna’s brother, Prince Anton von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen but decided very quickly that they were not suited and that she couldn’t bear to be far away from her beloved Paris, where she had been born and raised so, three weeks after doing her wifely duty and having a baby son in 1785, she returned and took up residence with her brother and it was to she that he addressed his final letter before being taken away to the guillotine along with Alexandre de Beauharnais (who may or may not have been Amelie’s lover, although she was a close friend of his estranged wife, Rose so it isn’t likely) and others:

When you receive this letter, my dear Amelia, your unhappy brother will be no more. I am accustomed to the idea of my imminent destruction, but I cannot bear the thought of your despair. May the memory of our holy friendship imbue your whole life with its consoling, painful spell. Look after yourself so that you may cherish my memory and bring up my little Ernest. He will not be an orphan, Amelia, because you will become his mother. Farewell, my loving sister. The religion that took me to its bosom on my entrance into life assists me in prison and will accompany me to the grave. Its fatherly but severe voice summons up over my past sins the tears that nature demands for my sister and son. May you one day learn all that your brother and his companions in misfortune owe as consolation to the courageous and charitable ministers of that divine religion! Farewell, promise to live for my son Ernest. Remember your unhappy brother.


You can say what you like about the aristocrats who met their end during the Terror, but you can’t deny that they were capable of extraordinary dignity, eloquence and courage in the face of death.

I could only find a portrait of Princess Amalie in later life, but I think that there are some definite similarities.

It was Amalie who in 1797 bought the site of the mass graves used during the Terror at Picpus and transformed them into a place of quiet reflection so that relatives of the victims could pay their respects and in their turn be buried close to their loved ones.

For those who missed it and are interested in the story of the Prince de Salm, I wrote a post about his tragic mistress, the Polish princess Rosalie Lubomirska that you may find of interest. She also perished on the guillotine’s scaffold at the height of the Terror and addressed her final letter to Amalie, who was to take in her young daughter Alexandrine and also Prince Frederick’s son, Ernest:

Farewell, Amelie, soon I shall cease to be alive. Remember your friend and love me in the person of my child.


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