Portrait of the King as a Boy

Antoine Pesne painted young Friedrich the Great and his sister in 1714 at the same time as his father’s forthcoming campaign against Karl XII of Sweden, who had invaded Stralsund. According to an anecdote, Stettin was occupied by 24,000 troops, and the little prince, the future Friedrich the Great, heard the drums in the distant field. While young Friedrich’s favorite sister Wilhelmine wanted to play with dolls, the Crown Prince wanted to strike the drum for their marching. He is said to have told his sister: “Drums are more useful to me than plays, dolls and flowers.”

Queen Sophie Dorothea related this to her husband in a letter of July 15, 1714 and told the King that Friedrich wants him to return and teach him the drill. Also present in the picture is a small dog. Friedrich had a life-long love for dogs.

Antoine Pesne was born in Paris in 1683, son of a painter who gave him his first lessons in art. He later studied at the Academy and with his uncle, Charles de la Fosse. After an extensive tour of Italy, Pesne came to Berlin in 1711 where he would became a court painter of the Prussian king, staying for over 46 years as a highly respected and well-paid figure at court. He painted portraits of nearly everyone in the family. He was also the director of the Berlin Academy. He was a portraitist, and also executed monumental historical and religious subjects. In 1720, he was made a member of the Paris Academy of Arts. He died in 1757.

Many grand Pesne portraits were stolen by the Red Army after World War Two and carted off to Russia where they were destroyed or scattered. The portrait above of Friedrich the Great now resides in Russia. Only an inconspicuous, small common gravestone remains today of Pesne and the famous royal building master Knobelsdorff.