Abbess Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach and Ignatius Fortuna (1772)


Ignatius Fortuna (ca. 1730-1789) was born into slavery in the Dutch colony of Surinam. In 1735 he was brought to Europe as a boy by an Essen merchant named Franz Adam Schiffer. When Schiffer returned to his hometown and entered the service of the Abbess Franziska Christina von Pfalz-Sulzbach (1727-1775), he gave Fortuna to her as a gift. 

In this portrait Fortuna is an important part of the scenery that demonstrates the princely authority of the Abbess , but he was far more important to her household than mere decoration. 

When he entered the Abbess’s household he took advantage of the opportunities for education that he found there and, in 1737, he was baptized Ignatius Christianus Fredericus, a necessary step for full acceptance within courtly life. As he proved his value to the Abbess over the years he rose to become one of her closest advisors, illustrated by the fact that he was given personal chambers next to hers in the most elaborate part of her residence. After her death, among other gifts she willed him lifelong accommodation and care within the orphanage she had founded. To the end of his days he was known in and around the orphanage as “Herr Ignaz,” and he adopted the honorific last name “Fortuna” that had been granted to him as a sign of respect.

While in the service of the Abbess Fortuna was able to amass significant wealth, enough that he was able to make loans and investments, including substantial loans to one of the children of his former owner Schiffer. After his death his “siblings” claimed his estate, but in the end it was given to the orphanage where Fortuna had lived and served and where he ultimately was buried.

Jeff Bowersox


Source: J. Schmitz, Fürstäbtissin Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach mit ihrem Kammermohrn Ignatius Fortuna (1722), Schloss Borbeck.

Creative Commons License

Abbess Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach and Ignatius Fortuna (1772) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at