Charlotte von Rothschild (1807-1859), affectionately known to her family as Chilly, was the oldest child of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild Bank in London, and his wife, Hannah Barent Cohen.
Born in Manchester and raised in London along with her six siblings, Charlotte married her cousin Anselm von Rothschild in 1826 and moved to Frankfurt, where her husband was active in a bank run by their mutual uncle, Amschel Mayer von Rothschild. A society portrait by Dutch-born painter Ary Scheffer (see cover) shows her early in her marriage.
Charlotte and Anselm had eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. An art lover, Chilly taught her brood to appreciate the family’s art collection, but she was also a talented and innovative artist in her own right – one of the earliest Jewish women in the arts. We don’t know when Charlotte began to study, but painter Moritz Oppenheim – patronized by many Rothschilds – records in his memoirs that she asked to be his pupil.
Until recently, Charlotte was known primarily for the portrait-within-a-portrait pictured here, in which she’s painting Anselm. Her husband looks as though he’s taken his place in a hurry, his cane, gloves, and hat placed haphazardly on the table beside him. This allusion to Anselm’s frequent and prolonged absences is the only hint of discord in the idealized domestic setting, which includes everything Charlotte held dear: her children, her art, and the objects that inspired it.
An Ambitious Project
The illustration below is from an ambitious, Hebrew-German Haggada Charlotte produced for Uncle Amschel’s seventieth birthday, in 1842. With ten full-length illustrations and eight smaller ones, this professionally scribed Haggada is the earliest Hebrew manuscript illuminated by a woman.
In this example, based on the devotional Christian book of hours, Charlotte has removed all Christian motifs and filled the foreground with the Rothschild coat of arms, set in an elaborate frame.
The illustration below, showing a renaissance family at their Passover Seder, includes Charlotte’s signature, carved on the back of the armchair in the foreground.