Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1493-1519) never actually had a triumphal procession. What he did have was a discerning eye for self-aggrandizing propaganda, and he enlisted artists to ensure the image of the great emperor, son of emperors, glorious in victory, bringer of prosperity and high culture to his people, would capture the grandeur of his reign and long outlive the man.
As one often sees today with midlife crisis Lamborghini purchases, Maximilian was overcompensating. His father Frederick III became the first Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor in 1452. Maximilian co-ruled the empire with his father for the last 10 years of his reign (1483-1493). With so fresh a link to the imperial throne, Maximilian made a point of emphasizing royal connections, real or fictional, in his family line. He traced his ancestry back to Hector, son of King Priam of Troy, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and a number of saints. The point of this family tree liberally sprinkled with myth was to underscore that though the Habsburg dynasty might be technically brand spanking new to the throne, its long history of heroism, military genius, leadership, chivalric ideals and piety made it even more of an imperial line than some of the other families with royal claims.
As one also sees today with those midlife crisis Lamborghini purchasers, Maximilian’s mortality weighed heavily upon him. From 1514 on, he carried his coffin with him wherever he traveled, and he traveled a lot. To ensure that his legacy would live on once he was gone, he spent a great deal of money to immortalize his deeds, words and lineage. When questioned on the vast sums he dispensed on this pursuit, Maximilian replied:
“He who does not provide for his memory while he lives, will not be remembered after his death, so that this person will be forgotten when the bell tolls. And hence the money I spend for my memory will not be lost.”
With his historical legitimacy and posthumous legacy in mind, in the last decade of his life the emperor commissioned three monumental works inspired by the victorious generals of Rome: the Triumphal Procession, the Great Triumphal Chariot, and the Triumphal Arch. Engraver Hans Burgkmair began work on the Triumphal Procession in 1512, designing scenes from the life and military victories of Maximilian carried along in a long procession of musicians, hunters, falconers, standard bearers, courtiers, exotic baggage trains, Habsburg ancestors, knights and a hugely elaborate imperial carriage. The original gouache was painted by Albrecht Altdorfer on 109 large vellum sheets which all together were more than 100 meters (328 feet) long.
Behold the glory (click for large versions to truly behold the glory):
The detail is not only beautiful, but has also proven an invaluable resource for historians of the musical instruments, heraldry, clothing and armor of the period. My favorite part is the Lion of St. Mark turning tail and running from Maximilian’s forces in The Great Venetian War. By 1517, the emperor would lose all the territory he had won in that particular skirmish.
We don’t know how this monster piece was displayed, but some art historians believe it was unrolled and moved forward while the seated emperor watched, a Renaissance animated gif, if you will. We do know that he disseminated this tribute to his military successes and illustrious ancestry to the populace via reproduction prints made from woodcuts engraved by Burgkmair, Altdorfer and the greatest master of them all, Albrecht Dürer.
Albrecht Dürer also created the Triumphal Arch and the Great Triumphal Chariot, only the former of which was completed before Maximilian’s death. The woodcuts of the Triumphal Procession and of the Triumphal Arch, which ended up being composed of 192 woodcut panels for a total dimension of 9′ 8″ by 11′ 8 1/2″, were the largest woodcut prints ever produced. They were intended to be plastered to walls, like giant billboards advertising the awesomeness of the emperor, and to be issued in large special edition publications.
Half of the original vellum Triumphal Procession sheets are now gone, but sheets 49 through 109 have survived and are part of the permanent collection of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria, which also has many of the original woodcuts used to make the reproduction prints. They remain in good condition, with the colors and details still brilliant. They are very rarely seen, however, and were last put on public display in 1959 in celebration of Maximilian’s 500th birthday.
Now is your chance to see all 54 meters (177 feet) remaining of the original Triumphal Procession painting. The Albertina has put the complete Triumphal Procession sheets on display along with many other related masterpieces in a new exhibit: Emperor Maximilian I and the Age of Dürer.
On his deathbed in 1519 Maximilian fled from all this splendor he had purchased. Terrified of God’s judgment on his prideful life, after receiving the last rites he abdicated all his titles and ordered that his body be mutilated after death. His hair was to be shorn, his teeth broken off and his back scourged. He was buried in a simple tomb in St. George’s Cathedral in the castle of Wiener Neustadt, northeast Austria, where he was born. Forty years later, his grandson Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I would build a church (the Hofkirche) with an elaborate cenotaph in Innsbruck in Maximilian’s memory.
Despite the last-minute foray into mortification, Maximilian’s political, military and dynastic efforts during his life secured for the Habsburg family centuries of power among the crowned heads of Europe. The range of history set in motion by Maximilian’s choices is breathtaking. His marriage to Mary of Burgundy ultimately netted much of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a considerable piece of northern France for the Habsburg line. His son’s marriage to Joan of Castile (later known as Juana la Loca, Joan the Crazy Lady, for among other things allegedly carrying her husband’s corpse with her wherever she went for years after he died of typhoid fever) resulted in their son Charles V becoming King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor at the same time.
It was Charles V who sacked Rome in 1527 and imprisoned the Pope, preventing him from granting Britain’s King Henry VIII an annulment of his marriage to his wife and Charles’ aunt, Catherine of Aragon. Charles’ son, Maximilian’s great-grandson, would become King Philip II of Spain, King of England during his marriage to Queen Mary I, and sender of the Spanish Armada so soundly defeated by the navy of Queen Elizabeth I, the weather, and the violent moods of the English Channel. The Spanish Habsburg line died in 1700 with poor Charles II who was riddled with congenital deformities and diseases thanks to the family’s penchant for uncle-niece and cousin-cousin marriages, but the Austrian Habsburgs reigned until the 1780 death of the formidable Queen Maria Theresa, mother of Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
16 thoughts on “The Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I”
Hehe, being descended from so many mythological people makes him sound as fake as someone from Hollywood. I suppose this means I can stick Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Casey Jones, Sam McGee and papa Smurf into empty spots in my genealogy tree? Seriously, the long vellum “story” reminds me a bit of the Bayeux tapestry, only 400 some years younger.
And about 400 times less fictional. :giggle:
Legendary ancestry was a staple aristocratic families going all the way back to the Romans. Julius Caesar traced his ancestry to the goddess Venus, and later noble lines kept the practice going. One of my favorite anecdotes along those lines involves the Massimo family, an Italian princely family that in theory is descended from Fabius Maximus of Fabian strategy fame (he kept Hannibal chasing him all over Italy without ever engaging in a pitched battle). At the Treaty of Tolentino, Napoleon approached the then Prince Massimo and asked him if it was true that his ancestor was Fabius Maximus. The Prince replied “I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s been a family tradition for the past thirteen or fourteen hundred years.”
I love that handwave. Oh, who knows if it’s true that we go back to the Romans. That’s just what our wacky genealogy-obsessed aunties said 1300 years ago. The 1300 years of family history is a given. 😆
400 years less fictional? The art or the genealogy?
Funny story, I had never heard that one!
I am sure though, that if we go back far enough most people are related to most other people in one way or another, never mind most aristocrats, since it is likely that most of them had more children than anyone other than Ramesses the Great.
The Bayeaux Tapestry is 400 years older Maximilian’s Procession and about 400 times less fictional.
I said that the tapestry was 400 years older. I was curious where you were applying the fictional. I described it as art for a reason, it may not be entirely accurate history-wise. 🙂
Right. I’m saying that even taking into account artistic license, the Tapestry is a lot closer to depicting actual historical events than the Procession which never came anywhere near happening.
Right, unless when Ol’ Maxxie went to the bathroom he REALLY went to the bathroom. haha
Wonderful blog by the way.
:giggle: Thank you!
The Bayeux Tapestry is more historically accurate because it contains subversive messages from the embroiderers who relied on their patron being too egotistical to notice.
😆 Good point. I seriously doubt there were any of those in the Procession.
I always enjoy this but, this time, found quite a few mistakes and also think you sold maximilian I shore.
First of all, he came from a long line of Habsburgs who served as Holy Roman Emperor (an elected post) since the first was Rudolf I who was had been crowned over 200 years earlier.
Second, he was not only famous for jousting (and personally leading his troops), hunting, music (he composed simple pieces, founded choirs including the Vienna Boyschoir, and maintained the largest royal orchestras of his time), sponsored artists (eg. Duerer), and was able to read and write in 3 languages…
You also missed the other end of the Habsburgs:
Maria Theresia was never crowned as Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. But if she had been, she would not have been the last Habsburg since her son, Joseph II (another music and art lover and one of Mozarts fans) became Holy Roman Emperor on the death of Maria Theresia’s husband Francis I (who ruled as Emperor).
In fact 3 more Habsburgs reigned as Holy Roman Emperors after Maria Theresia. The last was Francis II who resigned in 1806 in protest at many of his German subjects allying themselves with Napoleon, their enemy.
Instead he took the title of Emperor of Austria as Francis I of Austria and the Habsburgs continued to be Emperors of Austria (as well as kings of Hungary,etc. etc.) till 1918, making them the longest ruling family in known history. Their off-spring continue to be an unusually productive family in terms of the arts even today, at the Met and many other similar institutions.
Rudolph and the other Habsburgs before Frederick III were not Holy Roman Emperors but Kings of the Romans (aka, Kings of Germany). The difference in title between Romanorum Rex and Romanorum Imperator was of major significance in medieval European politics and had been since 1077 when Henry IV spent three days barefoot in the snow outside the Castle of Canossa begging Pope Gregory to lift his excommunication. Rudolph tried and failed several times to secure the Imperial throne. It mattered a lot.
True. He was a Renaissance man, literal and figurative.
True, but I didn’t say she had been. She was just the end of the Austrian line.
After Maria Theresa it was no longer the House of Habsburg but the House of Lorraine. They incorporated her family name into their line, styling themselves the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, but the direct male line of Austrian Habsburgs was over. It’s a debatable point, certainly, and one that many wars, including most directly the one of Austrian Succession, have been fought over. Still, I’m comfortable with saying that the Austrian Hapsburg line ended with Maria Theresa just like I’m comfortable saying that the British House of Hanover monarchy ended with Queen Victoria because her children with Prince Albert were all Saxe-Coburg-Gothas.
No disrespect to the Habsburg-Lorraines intended. They have a long and fascinating family tree and I’m delighted to hear that the contemporary scions are unusually philanthropic. 🙂
As a big fan of the Habsburgs, and Austria, and Spain, I have a few points to make about this post, and I think I’ll start with the most flippant.
Maybe the wanton purchases of Lamborghinis aren’t so much an indication of a mid-life crisis, as just being a reasonable age at which someone can afford to buy a Lamborghini. Who has that kind of money at 20, or 30 years old? I’m 31 and barely have two farthings to rub together. But at 40 I fancy I’ll be enjoying all of the luxuries of life.
As for poor Carlos II of Spain, with so much uncle-on-niece action in that family, it’s almost a miracle that he made it to 39 years old! And thanks to him dying at just the right time, we have the awesomeness of the War of Spanish Succession. So I suppose everything turned out alright in the end…
I heard recently that about 90% of the people in the UK are descended from King Edward III. I might just wear my Three Lion/Fleur de Lys livery tomorrow to work…
Nice work, however, there is quite an error in your work. You say Maximilian’s father was the first Habsburg on the throne, which is quite incorrect. The first Habsburg to assume the throne of Holy Roman Emperor was Rudolf of Habsburg, who ruled 1273-1291- the first ruler after the “Great Interregnum” following the fall of the Hohenstaufen. His son, Albert I, ruled from 1298-1308. Friedrich the Fair was a co-regent 1326-1330 (an “anti-king before that).
The Habsburgs then could not regain the thrown for over 100 years (the other elector nobles wanted to block their power). In 1438, Albert II assumed the throne for one year, although he was not corwned emperor. This move, however, did put the imperial throne (even when not so named) squarely in the hands of the Habsburg family, who would never relinguish the throne until Fracis II dissolved the empire in 1804-1806 to proclaim the Habsburg Austrian Empire. Albert II’s son, Friedrich (Frederick) ruled from 1439, regaining the title of emperor in 1452, but having the same powers even before then. Maximilian reigned next. Followed by Karl (Charles) V.
sorry for typing errors: “relinquish,” “Francis” “crowned”