The old Moldavian boyar families ordered for themselves a series of “galleries” of portraits that represented a way of building up the family memory. The commissions of portraits increased especially after 1830, which led to several foreign painters relocating to the capital of Moldavia in order to respond to such a high “social demand”. Thus, such “virtual galleries” may be identified, grouped according to historical families, which assigns faces to an entire history of words. Such a historico-genealogical approach, different from the regular one employed by art historians, brings the quality of primary historical sources of old portraits to the forefront, thus bestowing onto them a brand new dimension, one that is often forgotten.
Within this study, the faces of the members of the Catargiu family from Iași are reunited; this family is fairly large historical relevance, and is considered to be among the first four or five in terms of importance, in the mid 19th century. It concerns three generations of the Catargiu family, who lived in the “Catargi House” („Casa Catargi”) in Copou (within the city of Iași), that, nowadays, houses lecture rooms and offices of the Faculty of History of Iași. The representatives of this branch of the family suffered from what could be referred to as “bad press”. This is why their memory was swept under the rug for the most part, and their faces were forgotten.
Moldavia’s History Museum of Iași has a portrait of chancellor Iordache Catargiu (1788-1841), oil on canvas, unsigned. A lithographed form of the portrait as well as a few drawings, have been preserved in the collections of the Prints Cabinet of the Romanian Academy; the said lithographed form shows that this painting was done, in its original form, by Constantin Lecca. The next generation is represented by Costin Catargiu (1800-1876) and his wife Smaranda Balș-Catargiu (1811-1886), two oil paintings, located in Bucharest, at the National Museum of Art of Romania.
The portrait of the wife, especially, is representative of the evolution of the Biedermeyer style in Romanian modern art. The third generation is illustrated by Maria Catargiu-Obrenovici, mother of the future king of Serbia, Milan Obrenovici (favorite of late Romanian ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza). Three portraits of Maria Catargiu-Obrenovici are analyzed, all of them belonging to the collections of the Prints Cabinet of the Romanian Academy and Unirii Museum of Iași.