Friday, October 5, 2007

The "Crown of Mexico" series

Vintage "photo" of Virgen de Guadalupe appearing to Maximilian and Carlota

Some of you may be familiar with the story of Maximilian and Carlota, the former Emperor and Empress of Mexico. Amidst all the MacArturo madness swirling around me, I'm carving out time to collect images of this hapless pair of Hapsburgs for some new photo-textiles I'm making. The DIY Factory craft fair is coming up on October 20th and I have a whole new line to crank out. To see some of my past textile work, visit

Hapsburg Family Portrait - Standing (left to right): Emperor Franz Josef, Archduke Maximilian, Archduchess Charlotte (Carlota), Archduke Ludwig Victor and Archduke Karl Ludwig. Seated (left to right): Empress Elizabeth with Crown prince Rudolf, Archduchess Gisela, Dowager Duchess Sophie and Archduke Franz Karl

This familia's true life adventures rival any telenovela. Seriously, I'm going to have to write a some screenplays about them. In a nutshell, this portion of my tale will deal with Franz, Max and his wife Carlota...

Eldest son Franz Joseph wasn't content to swipe his brother Max's future wife, Bavarian princess Elizabeth (better known as "Sisi"), he wanted him out of the picture altogether. Maximilian was more popular and handsomer than his powerful older brother and his presence in Austria was a threat. It didn't help that Sisi took Max on private 3 month voyage to Greece (as he was the head of the Royal Austrian Navy...and probably a navigator of the romantic kind). As a result, Max and his new bride, Carlota, moved to Miramar Castle in Triest, Italy, where he fell into a deep depression. Frustrated to be a mere Archduke without a country, and secretly mourning the death of his true love (and former fiancee), Princess Maria Amalia of Brazil, Max was miserable. Mientras tanto, the newlywed Carlota wanted desperately to win her husband's love and bring him joy.

Mexican Delegation to Maximillian

When Carlota heard that Napoleon III was looking for someone to govern Mexico, she got in touch with his wife Eugenie. She was told that the Mexican people were unhappy with Benito Juarez and his rogue regime, that they needed a champion to bring order to the post-revolutionary nation. Napoleon could name Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico and she would be it's empress. It sounded too good to be true! So on October 1863, Yucatan lawyer José Maria Gutiérrez went to see Maximilian describing Mexico as a "budding plant entitled to a place in the sun" and called on him to be the country's "redeemer." Max accepted. Thus the Archduke became the "Archdupe."

Maximilian with Map of Mexico

Maximilian and Carlota docked at Veracruz May 28, 1864 with a full retinue of French troops. It was the beginning of a long spiral downward. The majority of the Mexican population didn't want them. The revolution turned out to be far more successful than they had been told and very few wanted a monarchy or the Catholic Church back in power. Maximilian and the French Army fought Benito Juarez until the battle of "Cinco de Mayo." That was when Napoleon decided to cut his losses and withdraw most of the troops leaving Max & Carlota to fend for themselves.

Empress Carlota

Max fell into another deep depression and retreated to his palace in Cuernavaca where he found love with an indian mistress, smoked weed, binged on psycotropic drugs and partied 'round the clock with his buddies. He blamed the whole misadventure on Carlota and wanted nothing to do with her.

Desperate to win him back, Carlota decided to visit Napoleon III and her comadre Eugenie herself. She abruptly ended her tour of Mexico (where she was disturbed to hear lyrics to a song titled "Adios Mama Carlota") and set off for the port of Veracruz. Somewhere along the journey, she is rumoured to have been fed some magic mushrooms and had a drug-hazed affair with a Belgian officer in Maximilian's army, Colonel Alfred van der Smissens. Carlota was probably pregnant and rapidly losing her mind when she embarked on a ship to Europe. After making a scene at Napoleon's house, she set out for Rome and begged the Pope to save her. Feeling that everyone was trying to poison her, she refused to leave the Vatican and slept in the library. To this day, she's the only woman to have offically spent the night there.

Maximilian consoles his priest confessor before he is executed

While Carlota was gone, the situation got dismally worse for Maximilian. He was taken into custody and put to death. Max's last request was that his body not be mutilated so that his mother in Austria could take comfort in seeing his face before burial. Someone gauged his eyeballs out anyway. They also paraded his gunshot strewn shirt thru the streets.

A dead Maximilian on display

Needless to say, hearing that Max was dead hurled Carlota further over the edge. She was locked up at her former home Miramar until some Belgian relatives took pity on her. Carlota died crazy, old and single...totally guilt-ridden about everything that had happened. Some say that her illigitamate son, General Maxime Weygand, surrendered the French armies to Hitler in 1940. The whole ordeal left a sad yet strangely fascinating legacy.

So as a Mexican/American/Bolivian artist, I had to do something with these strange "memories" of our culture. By putting them on comforting pieces of cotton and stitching complementary patchwork designs, maybe the story will survive in the popular mind. The tragic poetry of this tale is too seductive to resist!

Dead heros and anti-heros will always have a special place in the heart of our collective unconscious...

A dead Che Guevara on display


miguel said...

wow nice
I wish Maximilian would have won, we would not be USA's bitch today

tsecub said...

Oh Miguel How sad that you would think that way.. Although Maximillian was a good guy Juarez had no choice but to have him shot to prevent other european powers to get any ideas for Mexico being the USA's bitch would have happen sooner or later as it is with any other country in the world and particularly in america. Besides the mexican's character although proud is weak and prone to corruption and mexico has always been at the mercy of these ambicious, corrupt and truly rapacious political leaders that we keep puting in power without exeption from Iturbide that made himself emperor to the present. A wise man said long time ago "Poor Mexicon so far from God and so close to the Unioted States" Maybe it was Guillermo Prieto a minister on Juarez's Cabinet. and that still applies.