“Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci” by Adolph Menzel depicts the King of Prussia, a keen flutist, playing on the occasion of a visit from his sister. The King is shown keeping time with his left foot and facing the chamber ensemble. Menzel has portrayed the scene, with great attention to the historical accuracy in the dress, musical instruments, and furnishings. The concert room in Sanssouci is filled with the warm candlelight creating a theatrically atmospheric portrayal of Frederick the Great playing the flute at Sanssouci.
Adolph Menzel’s attention to details includes the inclusion of the following historical figures:
- Johann Joachim Quantz, the King’s flute teacher in the far right,
- Franz Benda, standing up with a violin and wearing dark clothing,
- Gustav Adolf von Gotter is the leftmost in the foreground,
- Jakob Friedrich von Bielfeld is behind him in the far left,
- Pierre Louis Maupertuis is looking at the ceiling,
- Wilhelmine of Bayreuth in the background, sitting on a pink sofa, and
- Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is at the harpsichord:
Menzel produced numerous illustrations related to the history of Frederick the Great and German history, which transformed his subjects by subtly introducing parochial patriotism.
Frederick the Great
Frederick II (1712 – 1786) ruled the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, the longest reign of any Hohenzollern king. His accomplishments included his military victories, his reorganization of Prussian armies, his patronage of the arts, and the Enlightenment. In his youth, Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy than the art of war. Nonetheless, upon ascending to the Prussian throne, he attacked Austria and claimed Silesia. Frederick acquired Polish territories in the First Partition of Poland. He was an influential military theorist.
Frederick reformed the judicial system and made it possible for men not of noble status to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick also encouraged immigrants of various nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia. Frederick supported arts and philosophers he favored, as well as allowing complete freedom of the press and literature.
The Nazis glorified him as a great German leader pre-figuring Adolf Hitler, who personally idolized him. Associations with Frederick became far less favorable after the fall of the Nazis, primarily due to his status as one of their symbols. However, recent re-evaluations of his legacy have positioned him as a great general and enlightened monarch.
Sanssouci was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin. Sanssouci is in the more intimate Rococo style and is far smaller than its French Baroque Versailles. The palace’s name derives from the French phrase “sans souci,” which translates “without worries” or “carefree,” symbolizing that the palace was a place for relaxation.
After World War II, the palace became a tourist attraction in East Germany. Following German reunification in 1990, Frederick’s body was returned to the palace and buried in a new tomb overlooking the gardens he had created. Sanssouci and its extensive gardens became a World Heritage Site and a significant tourist attraction.
Adolph Menzel (1815 – 1905) was a Realist artist considered one of the two most prominent German painters of the 19th century (along with Caspar David Friedrich). Menzel was the most successful artist of his era in Germany and was knighted in 1898.
Adolph Menzel’s popularity in Germany, especially with his history paintings, was such that museums quickly acquired many of his works. He received many honors, and in 1898 became the first painter to be admitted to the Order of the Black Eagle and raised to the nobility, becoming “Adolph von Menzel.” He was also made a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the Royal Academy in London. After his death, the Kaiser attended his funeral and walked behind his coffin.
Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci
- Title: Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci
- German: Flötenkonzert Friedrichs II. in Sanssouci.
- Artist: Adolph Menzel
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Date: 1851
- Dimensions: Height: 142 cm (55.9″); Width: 205 cm (80.7″)
- Type: History Painting
- Museum: National Gallery (Berlin) – Alte Nationalgalerie
- Name: Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel
- Born: 1815 – Breslau, Prussian Silesia (now Poland)
- Died: 1905
- Nationality: German
- Notable works:
- Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci
Explore Alte Nationalgalerie – National Gallery, Berlin
- “In Summer” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- “In the Conservatory” by Édouard Manet
- “Moonrise by the Sea” by Caspar David Friedrich
- “Cromwell in Battle of Naseby” by Charles Landseer
- Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci by Adolph Menzel
Explore History Paintings
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Family of Darius before Alexander” by Paolo Veronese
- “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez
- “The Third of May 1808″ by Francisco Goya
- “The Fighting Temeraire” by Joseph Mallord William Turner
- “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776″ by John Trumbull
- “The March to Valley Forge” by William B. T. Trego
- “The Massacre at Chios” by Eugène Delacroix
- “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche
- History Paintings
A Tour of Germany’s Museums
- The Pergamon Museum
- Neues Museum
- Altes Museum
- Alte Nationalgalerie – National Gallery (Berlin)
- Bode Museum
- Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
- Spy Museum Berlin
- Jewish Museum, Berlin
- Deutsches Historisches Museum – German Historical Museum
- DDR Museum
- German Resistance Memorial Center
- Art Galleries
- Greek and Roman Art
- Egyptian Art
- Kunsthalle Munich
- Deutsches Museum – German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology
“Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.”
– Frederick the Great
Photo Credit: Adolph von Menzel [Public domain]