Jan van Huchtenburgh (Haarlem 1647-1733 Amsterdam) Price Eugene of Savoy leading a charge near Belgrade during the siege of 1717, oil on canvas, 94.5 x 123 cm, framed ÜBERLANGTEXT
The present painting depicts a Battle of the Austro-Venetian-Turkish war of 1714-1718.
Walter Albrecht of the Heeresgeschichtliche Museum has suggested that the topography (the town surrounded by two arms of a river) closely resembles Belgrade, located at the confluence of the Sava River and the Danube. The mighty fortress of the city is not shown and would be further to the left of the viewers’ standpoint.
Huchtenburgh accompanied Prince Eugene as official painter from 1708-1717, which helps identify the conflict, the only major one in this period, as the war of 1714-1718. The Battle of Belgrade was in many aspects the climax of Prince Eugene’s long career. He was already an elderly General, an internationally famed war hero and one of the richest men in Europe, longing to retreat to his many estates when he was called to duty in what would be his final conflict with the Ottoman Empire.
In 1715 the Imperial government in Vienna began to realise that the Turks intended to attack Hungary. After the Ottoman Empire had rejected an offer of mediation in April 1716, Emperor Charles VI dispatched Eugene to Hungary to lead his relatively small but professional army. Of all Eugene’s wars this was the one in which he exercised most direct control. After the Austrian victory at the Battle of Peterwardein in 1716, Eugene proceeded to take the Banat fortress of Timisoara in mid-October 1716 (thus ending 164 years of Turkish rule), before turning his attention to the next campaign and to what he considered the main goal of the war, Belgrade. The town Belgrade held an Ottoman garrison of 30,000 men under Serasker Mustapha Pasha. Imperial troops began the siege in mid-June 1717. By the first days of August, a huge Turkish field army of 200,000 troops, lead by the Grand Vizier Hacı Halil Pasha had arrived to relieve the garrison. News spread through Europe of Eugene’s imminent destruction; but he had no intention of lifting the siege. Aware that a decisive victory alone could extricate his army, he decided to attack the relief force. On the morning of 16 August, 40,000 Imperial troops marched through the fog, caught the Turks unaware, and crushed Halil Pasha’s much stronger army. It was a decisive victory. A week later Belgrade surrendered, effectively bringing an end to the war. The victory was the crowning point of Eugene’s military career and had confirmed him as the leading European general. The Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III sued for peace, resulting in the Treaty of Passarowitz, signed on 21 July 1718, which completed the transfer of the remainder of Hungary, the Banat and the city of Belgrade into Austrian hands. The war had dispelled the immediate Turkish threat to Hungary and was a triumph for the Empire and for Eugene personally.
Prince Eugene was well-known for his personal bravery on the battlefield. Unlike most of his fellow army commanders, who led their battles from a safe position hundreds of meters away from the action, he often inspired his troops in the decisive moments of a battle by personally leading attacks, becoming exposed to enemy fire. Huchtenburg depicts such a moment: Prince Eugene, clearly recognisable in his green coat and the Order of the Golden Fleece, leads a charge from the left, relieving an artillery battery in the middle ground, positioned for the bombardment of the city visible in the background, of an imminent attack from Ottoman troops.
The present painting is much more realistic and anecdotal in his depiction of the topography and the fight than another painting showing the famous battle. Commissioned from Huchtenburgh as part of the Saubada series of large-scale battle scenes that were once in Eugene’s collection at Schloss Hof and were engraved to be published (J. Dumont, & J. Rousset. Histoire militaire du Prince Eugène de Savoye, du Prince et Duc de Marlborough, et du Prince de Nassau-Frise. 3 vols., The Hague 1729-47), the Saubada scene depicts the siege from a raised vantage point. Much more emphasis is put on showing the tactical location of the different parts of the army for a general overview, as one would expect from a painting intended to be engraved (oil on canvas,116 x 153 cm, Turin, Galeria Sabauda, inv. no. 898; see C.E. Spantigati, I quadri del Re: le raccolte del principe Eugenio condottiero e intellettuale: collezionismo tra Vienna, Parigi e Torino nel primo Settecento, Silvana 2012, p. 192, cat. no. 3.1, reproduced), whereas the present painting captures the excitement and danger of the battle.
Born in Haarlem in 1647, Jan van Huchtenburgh worked for several years at the Manufacture des Gobelins under Adam Frans van der Meulen, Louis XIV’s celebrated battle painter. Around 1669 Huchtenburg returned to Haarlem, where he joined the Guild of St. Luke. In 1676 the artist relocated his studio to Amsterdam, where he became highly successful as a painter of battle pieces. He accompanied the campaigns of Prince Eugene from 1708 to 1717.
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