The Official Portrait of Alexandru Ioan Cuza

Plastic Arts
Modern History
1864 - 1865
oil, canvas, wood
oil on canvas/easel painting
height: 170 cm; width:133 cm


    Author: Carol Popp of Szathmari
    Texts: Dr. Oana ILIE / Photo: George NICA; MNIR collection

    The ruler is represented standing up, ¾, half profile to the left, frontal look; he is wearing the General of infantry mounted troops (named “dorobanți călări”) uniform. The right hand is resting on a table covered with a green cloth. On the table are two documents and two books, over which stands a cape with egret. The left hand is on the sword’s guard. Behind the character there are a throne (with lion heads, upholstered in red, embroidered “A” letter on the seatback) and a burgundy colored velvet curtain.  Alexandru Ioan Cuza wears more foreign orders, conferred on various occasions: the Orders „Osmanie” and „Medgidie” (bestow by the Ottoman Empire), the Order „St.Mauriciu and Lazar” (Kingdom of Sardinia) and the Order of the „Saviour” (Greece). The painting has the author signature in the lower left corner, written in red: Szathmari.  Even though the painting is not dated it could be easily placed in time: 1864-1865, if we take into consideration different elements of the painting (the rulers orders, the documents and books that symbolise the important reforms that he passed between 1864 and 1865). 


    Carol Popp of Szathmari was born in Cluj on 11th of January 1812. He attended the classes of the city’s Reformed College, developing his intellectual education by travelling and studying at Europe’s greatest universities. In the early 1840th, he established himself in Bucharest, where his painter talents brought him to the attention of the royal court. Szathmari reached the performance of being court painter under five rulers: Alexanndru D. Ghica, Gheorghe Bibescu, Barbu Stirbei, Alexandru Ioan Cuza and Carol the First (for the last two of them becoming the official photografer). Szathmari is considered to be the first war photographer whose images are preserved. He earned fame with the album in which he had gathered, in the spring of 1854, the first front images and portraits of the Danube campaign’s commanders, campaign that started the Crimean War. For this album (with which he also attended the Paris International Exhibition, from 1855) he won numerous awards, including two golden medals – one from the Emperor Franz Joseph and one from Queen Victoria. Szathmari was a partisan of  the Principalities Union, his lithography captured moments and personalities that made possible the fulfilment of this ideal. He was closed to Alexandru Ioan Cuza, so he fallowed the ruler in his travels to Istanbul (1860-1864). From Octomber the 16th, 1863 he is appointed by Al. I. Cuza as “painter and photographer of the Court.” 

    Szathmari created several outstanding photo albums, but the masterpiece of his life was the monumental work from 1869, entitled Romania.  This album belonged to His Majesty Carol the First and gained images of the most significant religious establishments from Bucharest and the rest of Walachia. Although he was old and sick, he witnessed the War of Independence, this time taking photos only from the back of the front and sends them to various publications from the country and abroad.  He took part at the Coronation of King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth (1881), this moment being the last one in his career as a photographer. He died in Bucharest, on 3th of July, 1887.