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Dracula's portraits

But no matter how closely Dracula was bound to Transylvania, his associations with Wallachia are a major part of his story. Dracula's ancestors came from Wallachia, the southernmost of the three Romanian provinces. It was here that he ruled three separate times: briefly in 1448; from 1456 to 1462; and for two months in 1476. It was here, too, that Dracula's capital was located: therein lay the center of his political power, the scene of many of his horrors, and the official headquarters of the Orthodox Church. He also built all of his monasteries in this province, and fought many campaigns against the Turks both on its southern frontier along the Danube and within the borders of his state.

On the northern frontier of Wallachia, facing Transylvania, Dracula erected his infamous castle. On a tributary of the Danube, the Dimbovita, he built yet another fortress covering 800 square meters. (Built of brick and river stone, some of the fortress walls are still visible in the heart of the old city of Bucharest.) Dracula was killed in 1476 close to Bucharest and was buried at the island monastery of Snagov, twenty miles north of the city. From Wallachia come sources concerning Dracula which confirm the narratives written in German, Russian, and Hungarian.

At the Military History Museum in Bucharest is an assortment of mementos from Dracula's time, and in a Bucharest park had been a model of the tyrant's castle. The document with the first mention of Bucharest is a manuscript signed by Dracula located at the library of the Romanian Academy. Ironically, the only existing life-size portrait of Dracula is at Castle Ambras near Innsbruck. Ferdinand II, Archduke of the Tyrol, who owned Castle Ambras during the sixteenth century, had a perverse hobby of documenting the villains and deformed personalities of history. He sent emissaries all over Europe to collect their portraits and reserved a special room in the castle for displaying them. It made no difference whether the subjects were well known or comparatively obscure. What did matter was that they were actual human beings, not fictional ones. If such persons could be found alive, the archduke tried to settle them, at least temporarily, at his court, where paintings could be made of them on the spot. A few giants, a notorious dwarf, and the wolf man from the Canary Islands stayed on at Castle Ambras for some years. Dracula was already dead by the time this degenerate Hapsburg began his hobby, but the prince's reputation as a mass murderer was already largely established in the Germanic world because of the tales told by the Saxons of Transylvania. We do not know how or where Ferdinand's portrait of Dracula was painted or who the artist was.

Painting representing Gonsalvus the wolfman in Ambras CastleThe fascinating and rather frightening gallery of rogues and monsters at Castle Ambras, one of the first history museums in Europe, has hardly been disturbed since the days of its founding. The Dracula portrait hangs between that of the wolf man, Gonsalvus, and those of his two wolf children. A little to the left of Dracula is a portrait of Gregor Baxi, a Hungarian courtier who in the course of a duel had one eye pierced by a lance. The other eye degenerated, becoming bloodied and deformed. Baxi managed to survive this condition for one year, long enough for the portrait, showing the actual pale protruding from both sides of the head, to be completed. It is strangely appropriate that this portrait should be hung close to Dracula, whose eyes seem to gaze in satisfaction at this macabre scene. A visit to Castle Ambras, particularly to the Monster Gallery, as the modern-day guides insist on calling it, is a startling experience even for the most stouthearted.

At Castle Anif, near Salzburg, another Dracula portrait once existed. It was discovered at the close of the last century in rather unusual circumstances. A Romanian historian was traveling through Salzburg in 1885, and was by chance invited to dinner by Count Arco-Stepperg, the owner of Castle Anif. After dinner the count showed his guest the well-known collection of Oriental paintings in the large gallery of the castle. To his great surprise, the guest saw among them a portrait of Dracula, which he immediately recognized, having seen the other portrait at Castle Ambras only a few days before. The owner was not able to explain to him how this painting had come into his family. Unfortunately, in the present the Dracula portrait was no longer in the castle. The Arco-Stepperg family had died out, and inheritances had dissipated the collection.

Three other Dracula portraits exist. One, at the Vienna Art Gallery, is a miniature oil painting, probably a copy of the Ambras portrait. Another was discovered accidentally during the summer of 1970 by W. Peters, a German-born scholar of Romanian history. Entitled St. Andrew's Martyrdom, it shows Dracula – a symbol of evil for the fifteenth-century Austrian painter – as a spectator enjoying the scene. Crucifixion, after all, was just a variation of Dracula's favorite torture – impalement. A third painting dating back to the early seventeenth century was discovered by Dr. Virgil Candea in 1989 and is located in the library of the state of Wurtenberg in Stuttgart. The portrait on Dracula's tombstone at Snagov was likely destroyed by his political enemies. Several primitive woodcuts of the prince survive in the German Dracula pamphlets, one of them depicting him in a military uniform. Whether these are true portraits is an open question since with time the German artists did their very best to deform Dracula's features. It is a twist of history and fate that the Dracula portraits exist in the Germanic world while they are totally absent in Romania, underlining the fact that in his day Dracula was better known in Western and Central Europe than in his native land. Owing to the popularity of Stoker's novel outside Eastern Europe, this is still somewhat true today.

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