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"The Proclamation of the Union” by Theodor Aman / The History of Romania in One Object

Photo 1: “The Proclamation of the Union of the Principalities” – the iconic painting by Theodor Aman

The union of the Principalities is one of the crucial moments in the history of Romania. It was masterminded by political leaders of the two Romanian principalities - Wallachia and Moldavia - and achieved, as a stroke of political genius, on January 24, 1859 by the election of a single ruler in both states.

Photo 2: Map of Romania at 1859 after the Union of the Principalities

Many European nations, like Italy and Germany, gained their political unity in the second half of the 19th century, the so-called “Century of the Nations.” Romania began this process at about the same time.

In Iași, the capital of Moldavia, Colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza, a representative of the Unionist Party, was elected as prince on January 5, 1859. After negotiations between the Moldavian political leaders and their counterparts to the South, a few weeks later, on January 24, Cuza was also elected as the ruler of Wallachia.

Photo 3: Colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the ruler of Romanians in both Moldavia and Wallachia

Thus, through a cunning political act, the two countries became united by virtue of having the same head of state, despite the opposition of the Great Powers (Russia and the Ottoman Empire). A long diplomatic process would eventually lead to the recognition of this momentous act, but only years later.

Photo 4: Painter Theodor Aman

The visual testimony of this great achievement is a painting entitled "The Proclamation of the Union of the Principalities” by Theodor Aman, a master of the brush and a fine observer of historical details, and later the founder of the Romanian School of Fine Arts.

The large canvass was painted two years after the Union. Its author was still a young man, devoted to the unionist cause and eager to chronicle a great event as faithful as he could. With talent and artistry, Aman managed to depict the tension of the moment and the sense that history was in the making.

The painting captures the moment when Alexandru Ioan Cuza is elected prince in Bucharest. The action takes place in the Great Hall of the Elective Assembly. The 61 historical figures who populate the painting are rendered in a posing attitude, and the pressure of the moment is visible on their faces. The excitement of the crowd outside, urging the electors to finalize the union, is revealed through an open window. The politicians obey the popular will and present the proof of their accomplishment.

Photos 4 & 6: “The Proclamation of the Union of the Principalities”, details

The Great Hall where the negotiations between the parties took place is accurately represented as a spacious place hosting three large tables covered in red brocade and surrounded by heavy curtains partially covering the windows. A single window is opened, through which one can get a sense of the tumult outside, the cries of the crowd demanding the unification.

Photo 5: From left to right, unionists C.A. Rosetti, Alexandru Golescu, Nicolae Golescu, I.C. Brătianu, Dumitru Brătianu, and Emanoil Florescu

The most influential leaders who negotiated the double election and who mobilized the masses are skillfully portrayed. The characters are seen standing, in dynamic poses, some acclaiming the victory in this historic election, some caught in desolated attitudes, some in a hurry to document the results. One can recognize important Romanian politicians of the era: on the unionist side, Ion C. Brătianu, Vasile Boerescu, C.A. Rosetti, the Golescu brothers; among those opposed to the union, the former rulers of Wallachia, Gheorghe Bibescu and Barbu Știrbey, and Metropolitan Nifon. Historian Cornel Constantin Ilie identified all these 61 characters immortalized in the painting and published a study on how they were depicted artistically.

Photo 6: The Elective Assembly of Wallachia in 1859

This masterpiece, preserved at The National History Museum of Romania, has entered national iconography and holds the same historical and artistic importance for Romanians as John Trumbull’s ”Declaration of Independence” has for Americans. Both works superbly capture the exhilaration of a key moment that would go to define a nation.

Every year, on January 24, Romania celebrates the Union of Principalities, the first step towards the definitive unification of all Romanians on December 1, 1918. And so, every year, our attention is drawn to Aman’s painting, which remains a celebration of both art and history.

Text and video presentation by Cristina Păiușan Nuică. Film concept by Bogdan Opreanu.

This episode of THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT was made in partnership with The National History Museum of Romania.


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