Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait enamel of Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht, Freiherr von Richthofen (1892-1918), 'The Red Baron' 

German School 

Portrait enamel of Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht, Freiherr von Richthofen (1892-1918), 'The Red Baron', German School
20th Century
Oval, 38 mm. high
Possibly commissioned by Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht, Freiherr von Richthofen (1892-1918); Possibly given to the sitter’s mother, Kunigunde, Freifrau von Richthofen (1868-1962); J.D. Anderson Collection
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Set into a gold and turquoise enamel frame, the reverse with a gold and enamel replica representation of the badge of the Prussian Order Pour le Mérite; together with a fitted brown leather case, the exterior tooled in gold with the inscription ‘Meiner Geliebten Mutter, Manfred’ and dated ‘16-1-17.

Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht, Freiherr von Richthofen (1892-1918), wearing the Model 1910 ‘field grey’ service dress tunic, or Ulanka, of the 1st Regiment of Uhlans (Emperor Alexander III of Russia) and, at his throat, the badge of the Prussian Order Pour le Mérite; the badge of the Prussian Order of the Iron Cross, 1st class, is shown on his left breast and the ribbon of the Iron Cross, 2nd class, is shown at the first buttonhole of his Ulanka.

This enamel portrait of von Richthofen was probably commissioned shortly after he was awarded the prestigious Prussian Order Pour le Mérite. Having originally failed his pilot’s licence, he went on to become the highest scoring combat pilot and was the most famous flyer of World War One, universally admired and feared by both sides.

The painted enamel portrait was based on a photograph of von Richthofen used for the Sanke publicity postcard number 533. This is one of a series of three such postcards, the photographs for which were all taken on or about 2nd May 1917 – von Richthofen’s 25th birthday – on which date he was on leave and at Bad Kreuznach where he was presented to Kaiser Wilhelm II; the other postcards in the series of three were numbers 532 and 534. The artist of the portrait enamel has not included the silver badge worn by qualified German military pilots (this is shown in the photograph). It has not been possible to identify the artist of the enamel, but artists were often attached to photographic studios in the early 20th century. The artist may otherwise have been attached to the maker of the high quality gold and enamel frame into which the portrait is set.

The photograph of Von Richthofen must have been taken at some point during May 1917, as he also wears, on the shoulder straps of his Ulanka, the rank badges of a Rittmeister (a captain in the cavalry), to which rank he was promoted on 6th April 1917. This would date the enamel portrait to after this date – presumably several months after this date as such both enamel and frame may have taken a number of months to produce.

The frame in which the portrait enamel is set houses a specific medal and it can be concluded that the portrait was commissioned specifically to celebrate the award of the badge of the Prussian Order Pour le Mérite. The official date of award of the Order Pour le Mérite to von Richthofen was 12th January 1917. For reasons that none of the printed sources consulted explain, it appears that von Richthofen was not notified of the award until 16th January 1917 (the date on the tooled leather case). It appears that von Richthofen immediately notified his mother of the award, Freifrau von Richthofen recording that a telegram to that effect was received by her, from von Richthofen’s unit, at 7am on 16th January:

16. January 1917
Ein groer Tag für uns.
Früh um sieben Uhr wurde ich durch ein Telegramm gewecht. Ich öffnete es mit Zögern und nicht ohne das beklemmende Gefühl, das uns Telegramme jetzt im kriege einflöen. Ich las, während meine hände zitterten: “S.M. der Kaiser hat dem Leutnant von Richthofen den Orden Pour le mérite verliehen. Jagdstaffel Boelcke”.

16th January 1917
A great day for us.
Early, at seven o’clock, I was awoken by a telegram. I opened it with hesitation and not without feelings of concern, which for us in wartime telegrams aroused. I read, while my hands trembled: “ H.M. the Emperor has awarded the Order Pour le Mérite to Second Lieutenant von Richthofen. Boelcke Squadron”.

It also seems likely that that date would have had special significance for von Richthofen and his mother, with whom he regularly corresponded and whom he next visited – at the family home in Schweidnitz in Silesia – on 4th February 1917.

It is evident from the published writings of both mother and son that the award of the Order Pour le Mérite was much sought-after by Manfred and regarded as very much his due by his mother. The affectionate inscription on the leather case, ‘Meiner Geliebten Mutter, Manfred’ (‘My beloved Mother, Manfred’), would certainly fit with the possible commission of this enamel for the family of von Richthofen.

From 1901, Manfred von Richthofen’s parents occupied a villa in Streigauer Strasse in Schweidnitz in Silesia (now Świdnica in south-west Poland): the von Richthofen family had widespread and longstanding historical roots in Silesia. After the death of her husband in 1920 and of her two eldest sons in 1918 (Manfred) and 1922 (Lothar), Freifrau von Richthofen continued to live in the villa, which contained a large collection of items of all types associated with the careers of Manfred and Lothar von Richthofen. In April 1933, five rooms on the first floor of the villa were opened to visitors as the Richthofenmuseum and Streigauer Strasse was renamed Manfred-von-Richthofen Strasse. From what little information and illustrations that have survived of the contents of the Richthofenmuseum, it seems very unlikely that an item with the personal associations of this miniature would have been among the exhibits, most of which appear, or are said, to have been war and hunting trophies, as well as the awards received by Manfred von Richthofen. The miniature’s apparent personal associations, together with its size and portability, may have been contributory factors in its survival within the family.

By early 1945, the Russian army was advancing west into Silesia. Late in January 1945, Freifrau von Richthofen, her widowed daughter Elisabeth, Freifrau von Reibnitz, and Freifrau von Reibnitz’s two younger children, fled westward, together with such few possessions as they could carry or that could be carried in a horse-drawn wagon. It is said that that all the contents of the Richthofenmuseum were left behind in the family villa. On 11th February 1945 Russian artillery began to bombard Schweidnitz and within two days the town was evacuated. It is not known what became of the contents of the Richthofen villa following the occupation of Schweidnitz by Russian forces but the generally held belief is that the museum’s contents were removed to the USSR: no record of their survival, fate or current location is known to be available.

Having travelled from Schwednitz via Mecklenburg and Cuxhaven, Freifrau von Richthofen arrived in Wiesbaden, where her youngest son, Bolko (1903-71) was then living. She remained living in Wiesbaden, in the Hotel Albany at 2 Kapellenstrasse, until she died there on 24th April 1962. Her youngest son, Bolko, Freiherr von Richthofen, and her widowed daughter survived her. Bolko died in Karlsruhe on 3rd December 1971. Her daughter, having lost her eldest son – Manfred, Freiherr von Reibnitz – in action near Königsberg late in January 1945, died in Cuxhaven on 2nd January 1963.

In Germany, unlike in the United Kingdom, wills and details of their contents are not available in the public domain and so it is difficult for researchers to establish what was left, and to whom, in the wills of individuals. It is possible that the text of the will of Kunigunde, Freifrau von Richthofen, survives in one of the known von Richthofen family archives and application to those sources might elicit more information.
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