1580 Bathory Portrait Found
Learn about the obscure 435 year old master painting identified as that of Elizabeth Bathory.
Original posting: January 1, 2016.
Updated: May 17, 2019.
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It has been impossible to really know what Elizabeth Bathory looked like in life. The only two portraits known to exist of her likeness until 2015 come with their own sets of controversies. No longer! It is our firm belief that a period high quality portrait of Elizabeth Bathory does indeed exist. The painting is a forgotten sixteenth century original portrait of the Countess painted when she was only twenty-years-old. It has languished in obscurity in terms of the the portrait's subject for more than four centuries, though not without appreciation of its sheer aesthetic beauty by its several past private owners. Her accomplishments and most particularly the controversy surrounding her life make this painting an extraordinary and extremely rare object to even exist, as you can appreciate. But who is the real historic Elizabeth Bathory? That subject is extremely complicated and beyond any article's ability to do it justice.
About the Portrait
The actual and original 1580 Elizabeth Bathory portrait was recently "discovered" by its current owner at a Sotheby's of New York Master Paintings auction held on June 4th, 2015. The painting itself has been verified by art experts, and offered for sale as an original work of art, painted by the master painter, Anthonie Blocklandt van Montfoort in 1580, titled Portrait of a Lady, three quarter length, in a ruff with matching lace cap and cuffs. (1)
Per Sotheby's own condition report, it is an oil on panel, signed with an initial and dated upper left: '1580 / .B.'. It is 50 1/4 x 37 1/2 inches or 127.6 x 95.3 cm in size. The panel is beveled and constructed of five vertical boards. It is cradled on the reverse by a lattice of wood to hold the five vertical boards tightly together. There is some retouching to the panel joins which has now discounted slightly, notably in the pale fabric of the sleeves and in the sitter's face to the left of her right eye. There is some slightly discolored retouching to the craquelure through the left side of the her face. The paint surface overall is a little dirty beneath a slightly discolored varnish. Inspection under UV is impeded by the milky and uneven varnish though retouching is apparent along the aforementioned joins and there appears to be scattered retouching through the darks of the robe and through the hands though relatively little through the face. It is mounted in a carved black wooden frame. The portrait was also featured in Sotheby's Magazine, Jan/Feb 2015, Dressed for Excess, by Jonquil O'Reilly.
The Significance of the Date - 1580
Elizabeth Bathory was born in Bathor, the ancient, dynastic capital of every Bathory that ever lived. The year was 1560. Bathor was located on Bathory ancestral lands in Royalist Ungaria, part of the so-called "Eastern Hungarian Kingdom," or what was left of it. This last vestige of liberty also included Transylvania which made up the bulk of this kingdom. The Habsburgs had seized the western and northern kingdom which was their "Imperial Hungary," part of their Holy Roman Empire. Northern Imperial Hungary, north of the Danube River was a critical Habsburg possession. It held the rich mining industry which was critical to financially support the Habsburg war machine and regime. Sandwiched between these two domains was the so-called "Ottoman Hungary." Royalist Ungarians and their Ottoman allies were at war with the Holy Roman Empire and their "Imperial Hungarian" subjects. Yet, Elizabeth was raised at Ecsed Castle, about 200 kilometers away, just east of Buda and Pest in Ottoman-held territory. Why? In a war-torn kingdom where one side fought desperately for its liberty and the other to deny it, this was not only the safest, but the most important place in Europe to be. Ecsed was an impregnable fortress. It was also far from the eastern, western, and northern conflict zones. More importantly, it was inaccessible to the Habsburg regime. It was heavily protected under the personal protection of the Ottoman Sultan himself. The very might of the Ottoman army itself - an undisputed superpower - protected Ecsed from imperial forces. At fifteen, in 1575, she was already married as was customary at that time. Her family had great plans for her and her new husband. The future of Europe without Holy Roman Imperial tyranny itself depended on it. Academic study - the best possible - not childhood or marriage, preoccupied her time. The year of the portrait's creation, 1580, puts her at twenty years of age, about right for the beautiful young woman depicted in the portrait. Soon after this portrait was completed, she and her husband embarked on a mission to fulfill their solemn duty, their purpose, and destiny. It is this destiny which would relegate her and her entire bloodline and eventually her civilization to extinction, slander, myth and historic obscurity. Moreover, a thousand-year-old history of her nation would be supplanted by ignorance, systematically erased from Western consciousness! As an art object, the portrait is breathtaking. As historic piece, however, the portrait is priceless.
The Significance of the Cryptic Initial, ".B."
We believe that the cryptic initial
.B. simply stands for "Bathory" and the person that marked this painting did so after her death in 1610 so as to preserve the portrait's identity. We believe that person was most likely George Pech, a Viennese merchant, my ancestor, and, like Elizabeth, also a nobleman of an old Ungarian dynasty. He was trusted by Elizabeth herself with the sale of many of her more valuable moveable assets between 1604 and 1610. But why the cryptic initial '.B.'?
It's important to know two important facts. First, non-imperial Ungaria, that is, the Principality of Transylvania (now Western Romania) and their allies, the Ottomans, were at war with the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire and their Imperial Hungarian supporters. Ungarians and Ottomans were not just at war to liberate the fractured "Imperial Kingdom of Hungary," but to destroy the repressive Habsburg Holy Roman Empire itself! Historically, these are the so-called "Ottoman Wars." Elizabeth and her husband, Francis, led this Ungarian-Ottoman war against the Holy Roman Empire. Second, when Elizabeth Bathory married in 1575, it was not only she who took her husband's family name, but her husband, Francis Nadasdy, took her family name as well. Officially, their legal name became, Bathory-Nadasdy. They were starting a new dynasty. Their children too, were Bathory-Nadasdys. In January 1604, just prior to the start of a major campaign against the Habsburgs, Francis was murdered. Elizabeth waged the campaign on her own. Elizabeth was murdered in December 1610. At the time of her murder, Elizabeth was not only excommunicated by the Vatican, but condemned to memory (aberacht) by imperial decree by the King of Hungary, Mathias II Habsburg (brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II Habsburg), and passed into law by the Imperial and Hungarian parliaments (diets). Her dynastic name - Bathory - and her name specifically -
Elizabeth Bathory and
Elizabeth Bathory-Nadasdy - were declared illegal, banned. Thus she, and all Bathorys, dead or alive, became a non-persons. It became an act of treason to speak of, write about, or to bear hers, or any other Bathory name anywhere in the empire, including Imperial Hungary which, for the past six centuries, was mostly under imperial suzerainty! Even objects visibly identifiable with Elizabeth Bathory, or any Bathory were to be destroyed if found. Thus, anyone possessing any of her former possessions that wished to preserve them would have either removed or masked her name so as not to run afoul of the imperial or Vatican condemnation. Legally, it was possible to refer to Elizabeth Bathory as the Lady Widow Nadasdy, but even that carried great risk. Her surviving son, Paul, for example, was forced to drop his mother's Bathory family name, thus becoming simply a Nadasdy. Paul's son, was beheaded for treason in Vienna against the Holy Roman Empire. After that, Nadasdys became obedient servants of the empire. It was either that, or their own extinction - just like the Bathorys and tens of thousands of other rebellious families in the kingdom. Habsburgs were ruthless and would not tolerate any dissent anywhere, especially in Imperial Hungary which they fought to possess for practically five centuries!
The irony of the cryptic
.B. is that like so many other Elizabeth Bathory personal possessions, it saved the portrait from destruction, but failed to preserve the portrait's significance and the person which it portrayed. After the death of George Pech, the significance of the portrait faded into obscurity. It became just another nice piece of art which graced the walls of several owners.
A Little About the Real Elizabeth Bathory
The owner of the portrait, in the "about" section, mentioned Elizabeth Bathory research. What did this research yield? Despite being one of the most important of all "Hungarians," all of Elizabeth I Bathory-Nadasdy's known personal possessions which remains in this world, and which is known to have belonged to her are one of the rarest objects on the planet. That which collectively survives in all the museums on the planet can easily fit into one 67" x 59" x 10" (170cm x 150cm x 25cm) crate to contain precisely one portrait and a shoebox containing a few handwritten letters. Moreover, in total, almost seven centuries of personal possessions of her ancestors of that noble house Bathory can easily fit into a large suitcase - if that. Immovable properties, lands still exist of course, and thus, it is still possible to walk in their footsteps - if one knows where to look. Most of their buildings, castles and the like, peppered throughout present-day Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia are ruins, a heap of stones, and most are indistinguishable from the rocky outcrops, or the fallow lands which obscure their locations. It's easy to tell who won the war for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness in the seventeenth century! It was not the Bathorys, Rakocis, Thekelys, Bethlens, or anyone else. No. These were the Ungarians, Slavs, or their Turkic brethren - all Church heretics, reformists, and enemies of the Holy Roman Empire! The Habsburgs, and their Hungarian allies, of course, won the war. Visit Austria and Hungary. None of the victor's buildings lie in ruin today! Still, if you visit these many ruins, and if you listen, you can hear Bathory echoes in the breeze. Some, once magnificent structures, have disappeared so completely, that even archaeologists have trouble locating them, even with accurate historical texts which preserve their exact locations. Despite their disappearance from the annals of official histories, the Bathory name peppers thousands of historical books by their real or aberacht names. The only problem is that the vast majority of these books were banned, heretical, books in the Holy Roman Empire, preserved only in places beyond imperial reach, beyond its frontiers! These can still be located, but one needs to know what to look for and where.
Let no charlatan peddling history fool you. Real, truthful, factual, hard evidence concerning Countess Elizabeth Bathory is extremely rare. Most knowledge of this historical personage, is at best, an educated opinion! When she was condemned as a heretic along with her entire family dynasty by the Habsburgs, historians, by law, avoided writing about her and her family for fear of losing their lives! With a few, rare exceptions, most Bathory books and letters - personal movable possessions - no longer exist, at least, not that anyone knows of. The few artefacts which remain are all silent on Bathory history. Historians, generally beholden to someone's patronage, wrote what they were told to write, and they all suckled information from permissible state-directed histories which excluded the Bathorys. Even today, the name "Bathory" evokes academic disdain or at minimum, unease. Their reputations and careers are at stake!
What made Elizabeth Bathory? Who she was as a person? What made her practically unique in her society and time in history? She was not a stereotypical sixteenth-seventeenth century noblewoman. By her unique, and deliberate intellectual education, publicly, she played the expected feminine role expected of her at the imperial Habsburg and personal court. Inwardly, her intellectual wisdom surpassed most of her male and female peers. She was, in fact, extraordinary, one of only three women in a patriarchal world who truly possessed real, awesome power. Elizabeth received her name in honour of two great queens of her time - Elizabeth I Tudor of England and Isabella Jagiellon of Hungary. These three women knew history. They possessed wisdom. They also had the socio-economic-political means by which to change the world. And they did. Uncharacteristically for any age, including our own, these women thought for themselves. Men who did not enjoy these women's confidence felt intimidated, uneasy, clumsy, inferior, inadequate in their company. Women were in envious, spiteful, gullible, and in gossipy awe. Suffice it to say, even though men might have wished for it, winning these women's romantic hearts was next to impossible for any man, certainly not in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. These women's kept the company of intellectuals, people whom they could engage in stimulating conversation, typically older, wise, scholarly men. Sadly, this made these women the loneliest people on Earth in the flower of their Beauty and youth. All of humanity is born ignorant. It's why these women were frequent targets of often salacious gossip by both sexes, always behind their back. Nobody would have dared to challenge any of these women directly, and when they did, they always did so anonymously.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory-Nadasdy was an Ungarian, not a Hungarian, and probably the most powerful woman in the world at the time, perhaps ever. She was powerful enough to achieve what nobody except for Napoleon Bonaparte achieved. She defeated the Austrian-German Habsburg Holy Roman Empire in 1606, two centuries before Napoleon's Grande Armée victory dissolved the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 for the same reasons.
Knowing why, and what she might have known of her people's history, what drove her in her duty to family and country was the objective of the first two Chrysalis books. This is the research being referred to. Most history books are silent on early medieval Slavs in Ungaria as though they never existed. Most history books are also silent on Elizabeth Bathory's and her family's histories. The Chrysalis Books will illuminate the answers to many questions of histories many still do not want us to know.
Much has been written about Elizabeth Bathory. Unfortunately, it ranges from the sheer fantastic to the absurd. Believing theses stories is like believing that some comic strip character is a real person. Precious little factual material has ever been presented. If if it was, it was often either fragmented or skewed in a manner so as to substantiate or even fuel the myth, the scandal. Perhaps it is because scandal is more profitable and more interesting to the masses than historical fact. Here we refer to the myth, the alleged witchcraft, torture and murder of more than 600 young women of which she was accused and convicted of during her
trial of 1610-11. Scandal sells news, books and in some cases, tourist attractions, but above all, its an effective tool which solves complicated political problems. It was true in her day just as it is true in ours. But, inventing, then exploiting scandal obfuscates facts much to the detriment of society and even nations which are all the more poorer for it. We believe it is precisely this that her conspirators had in mind when she was alive. Her story-tellers benefited from contrived crimes and subsequent fictional
trials, thus, solving complex political problems and changing history in the process. In time, the
crimes for which she was
convicted of, seeded a mythology fuelled by a gullible society hungry for the fantastic and morbidly strange.
Speaking of strange, is it possible, that most of the vast personal property of Elizabeth Bathory has all but vanished from the face of the earth? If it is, why then can't it also be possible that, in fact, much of her personal objects do in fact exist but are not known as such by present-day owners? Her painting, after all, was recently discovered. We do know that many handwritten letters, her last will and testament and most of her former real estate is scattered throughout present day Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia. Undoubtedly, other artifacts are scattered throughout the world like a previously unknown 1580 original portrait of Elizabeth Bathory has come to light in New York of all places! This portrait, too, has languished in obscurity since her death in 1610. Who knows what future Elizabeth Bathory artifacts will be discovered in the future and what new information they will reveal?
We are certain that if we look more deeply and objectively we will discover even more historical details of her life and expose the truth which demands to be told.