Archive for the ‘Renaissance’ Category

Jakob and Elisabeth reunited after 150 years

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

The Mauritshuis museum has acquired the portrait of Jakob Omphalius, reuniting him with his fiancée Elisabeth Bellinghausen 150 years after the diptych celebrating their union was granted an unwanted divorce.

The oil-on-panel double portrait was painted by Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder (1493-1555) in 1538/9. Bruyn was the leading portait painter for the elite of Cologne, founder of a the first school of portraiture in the city. His realistic style was inspired by artists like Hans Holbein the Younger, and like Holbein, he was meticulous in capturing the details of their luxurious clothing and jewelry. He specialized in diptychs of engaged and married couples. Even though portraits formed the bulk of his output, Bartholomäus Bruyn did not sign them. He signed his religious art only, and attributions of his portraiture spring from stylistic comparisons with the signed pieces.

As is typical of his couple diptychs, the couple in the Mauritshuis are painted against a plan blue background. The groom looks right, the bride left off the frame, towards each other, and a marble ledge or counter begins in the man’s portrait and ends in the female one. This couple was engaged, not yet married, as attested to by the sprig of bittersweet, symbolizing a fiancee in the visual vernacular of Cologne portraiture.

The portrait of Elisabeth Bellinghausen was donated to the Rijksmuseum in 1912. At that time, only the author of the painting was known, not the identity of the sitter. In 1951, the portrait went on display at the Mauritshuis on long-term loan from the Rijksmuseum. Mauritshuis curators identified her as one of the daughters of University of Cologne law professor Peter Bellinghausen by the coat of arms on the back of the panel, but he had four daughters and there was no hint of which one this young lady might be.

The breakthrough came in 2004 when curator Ariane van Suchtelen discovered an old black-and-white photo of a portrait of a man that matched this one at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) and an 1896 auction catalogue listing both portraits for sale. They were unidentified and misattributed to Jan Gossaert. The catalogue had handwritten notes by art historian  Hofstede de Groot which included sketches of the coats of arms on the back of the portraits. Curators were able to trace the coat of arms and discover the identity of the man: Jakob Omphalius, a prominent lawyer and law lecturer at the University of Cologne. He was married to Peter Bellinghausen’s daughter Elisabeth and together they would go on to have 13 children.

The happy couple were now recognized as such and known by their proper names, but the whereabouts of Jokab’s portrait were unknown since it had lost been documented at auction in 1955. In May 2019, a “portrait of an unknown man” was sold at a small Paris auction to a Geneva art gallery. The curator of a German museum saw it was the long-lost Jakob portrait and alerted the Rijksmuseum which alerted the Mauritshuis. With the financial support of the national lottery, foundations and a private donor, the Mauritshuis was able to purchase the portrait of Jakob Omphalius and reunite him with his bride.

New frames for the portraits of Jakob Omphalius and Elisabeth Bellinghausen have been made, based on another example by Bruyn. As a result, the portraits once again look like a diptych as they were originally intended (the original frames had been largely lost).

The portrait of Elisabeth has previously undergone extensive conservation treatment at the Mauritshuis. The ‘diptych’ will be displayed in the museum until 4 October, after which time the portrait of Jakob will also undergo extensive treatment in the museum’s conservation studio. The paintings, which now both form part of the Dutch national art collection, will then once again be on view as a diptych in the Mauritshuis.

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15th c. wood panel painting conserved

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

The Detroit Institute of Art holds in its collection a small egg tempera on panel work by 15th century Venetian painter Antonio Vivarini. It’s a scene from the life of Saint Monica, long-suffering mother of Saint Augstine, in which she coverts her pagan husband Patricius on his deathbed. This was not originally a stand-alone panel painting. It was part of the predella (small action scenes in the footer of an altarpiece whose main panels feature large-scale individual figures) of a polyptych which is no longer extant. It was cut out of the frame leaving the bottom of panel is therefore wider than the top.

The original altarpiece is believed to have been in the Church of Santo Stefano in Venice. The church was extensively rebuilt in the early 15th century at a time when the cult of Saint Monica reached its zenith in popularity. When construction was completed around 1440, there was a chapel with an altar dedicated to St Monica in the left aisle. Francesco Sansovino, writing in 1581, noted that the altarpiece in the chapel had been painted by Giovanni and Antonio Vivarini (phrased as brothers, but Giovanni d’Alemagna was actually Antonio’s German brother-in-law). In the 17th century, art historian Carlo Ridolfi described Vivarini and his brother-in-law’s art in the chapel as a statue of Saint Monica standing surrounded by “picciole historiette” (wee historylets) depicting scenes from her life.

The chapel was moved to the right aisle in the 18th century but the altarpiece did not move with it. The new chapel got new art, and the old was given away to an Augustinian lay community who cut it up and sold it piecemeal. Art historians in the 20th century have traced the scattered components, identifying five panels of the lost altarpiece in museums around the world: The Marriage of St Monica is in Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia; The Birth of Saint Augustine is now in the Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Saint Monica at Prayer with Saint Augustine as a Child is in the Museum Amedeo Lia in La Spezia; Saint Monica Converts her Dying Husband is in the Detroit Institute of Art; Saint Ambrose Baptizes Saint Augustine in the Presence of Saint Monica is in the Accademia Carrara,  Bergamo.

The panel at the DIA is not on public view. (Well, technically nothing is right now, as the museum is closed. It reopens on July 10th.) Its condition is too delicate for display and requires conservation to keep the wood from splitting more and the prevent continuing paint loss. The DIA has posted a fascinating video about the panel conservation, the first episode of the museum’s new Conservator’s Corner series on its YouTube channel. It covers the recent history of conservation and the latest treatment and is a satisfyingly comprehensive glimpse into how the conservatorial sausage is made.

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Stockholm museum will return stolen 16th-century painting to Poland

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

After an appeal from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in Warsaw and a thorough investigation, the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm has formally recommended the repatriation of 16th century painting to Poland.

The Lamentation of Christ by the School of Lucas Cranach the Elder (ca. 1538) is believed to have originally belonged to the 12th century Lubiąż Abbey, about 35 miles northwest of Wrocław, the largest Cistercian abbey in the world. Lubiąż was part of the Holy Roman Empire when the painting was made, and part of Germany from 1871 until the end of World War II after which it became part of Poland along with most of Silesia. In 1880, the painting was acquired by what was then the Schlesische Museum der Bildenden Künste in Breslau (modern-day Wrocław), predecessor to the present-day Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu. It was lost after the war.

The painting was purchased for Nationalmuseum’s collections at auction in Mariefred in 1970, for SEK 4,000.It was sold by the estate of Sigfrid Häggberg. At this date, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was no suspicion that the painting could have been stolen; there were no illustrations of it in the available literature about Cranach, nor had the lists of evacuated objects ever been made public. The provenance information in Nationalmuseum’s inventory states that the painting belonged to Director Häggberg in Mariefred and was previously in Polish ownership.

Nationalmuseum and experts from Poland have now conducted a detailed review of the painting’s history and discovered information that was not previously available. The painting was on a list drawn up in November 1945, with objects that were evacuated from the former Schlesische Museum der Bildenden Künste in Breslau (Wroclaw) and transferred for storage in Kamenz (now Kamieniec Ząbkowick) in Poland. When Soviet troops left the occupied area at the end of February 1946, hundreds of paintings on the list were missing, including this one. Following the painting’s fate more closely is not possible until it appears in Mariefred, Sweden, where it belonged to the Warsaw-Swede Sigfrid Häggberg. During World War II, he was director of L M Ericsson’s two Polish subsidiaries. In 1942 he was arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death, along with three other Swedes, after being accused of helping the Polish resistance movement. Among other things, he had smuggled out documents revealing the Nazi atrocities aimed at both the Jewish and Polish peoples. His punishment was commuted to a life sentence and, after a special plea from King Gustaf V, Häggberg was released in 1944. After the war he returned to Poland to restart work at L M Ericsson. According to Häggberg’s family, he did not buy the painting but was taking care of it for an individual who had given it to him for safekeeping. This person then never returned.

It’s an unusual story for an artwork looted in World War II, as the man who spirited it out of the country appears to have done it on behalf of someone trying to protect it from being pillaged. It depends on who he was “taking care of it” for, I suppose.

The Nationalmuseum’s collection belongs to the country, so the final decision on repatriation belongs to the Swedish Government. Given the evidence that the last legal owner of The Lamentation of Christ was the Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, it’s almost certain that Sweden’s Ministry of Culture will follow the Nationalmuseum’s recommended course of action and return to the painting to Poland.

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London’s first public theater unearthed

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered remains of London’s earliest purpose-built theater. The site at 85 Stepney Way was being excavated in advance of development when the team discovered a rectangular timber structure 40 by 31 feet made of 144 timbers. There were postholes around it, likely left by the structural posts that sustained the gallery seating. The dimensions of the structure and the evidence of the galleries closely matches the precise descriptions of the Red Lion playhouse found in two surviving legal records from a lawsuit filed by the carpenters who built it.

The Red Lion was originally a farmhouse built in about 1500. Within a few decades it had developed into a sort of speakeasy, an unofficial drinking establishment. In 1567, John Brayne made a deal with the farm owner to build the Red Lion playhouse next to the pub. It was London’s first dedicated public theater — as opposed to a home or inn or fair where theatrical productions were staged on occasion — since Roman times.

Concessions must have been a big money-maker even back then, because ten years after he built the Red Lion, John Brayne and his brother-in-law, actor John Burbage, would go on to build The Theater in Shoreditch, the playhouse where Shakespeare’s plays were first staged. It was built on the site of St John the Baptist Priory and Brayne converted its former alehouse into a tap house for the theater.

After The Theater was constructed, the Red Lion appears to have no longer staged plays. The farmer found another use for the space: a dog-fighting venue. Archaeologists have an unearthed a sad testament to this activity: the bones of dozens of dogs, some with bite marks to their skulls and legs severe enough to be fatal. The teeth of many of the dogs had been filed down, a despicable practice that continues today in dog fighting.

In Tudor London, theatres were politically and culturally ultra-controversial ventures. Indeed, they could only be built outside the jurisdiction of the City of London – partly because the extreme Protestant puritans who often ran the City considered theatres to be “an offence to the godly”, a “hindrance to the Gospel” – and schools “for all wickedness and vice”. Theatre-goers were seen as “the worst sort” of “evil and disordered people” who skipped work “to mis-spend their time”.

In a sentiment that resonates with our own times, they also thought that crowded theatrical events were plague infection risks.

As far as is known, most or possibly all of the plays performed at the Red Lion have been lost. That is partly because many plays in Tudor times were never published in printed form. Indeed the Red Lion’s opening drama – The Story of Samson (playwright unknown) – was almost certainly never printed, possibly because London’s monopoly printing organisation (a guild known as the Stationers Company) refused to print it, potentially on the grounds that a religious topic was being over-visually portrayed.

Indeed, they had extraordinary legal powers of censorship and could even seize unsuitable publications and haul their unfortunate authors before the ecclesiastical courts.

The site was disturbed when a warehouse was built on in the 1960s, but all around the thick concrete foundation (13×10 feet) significant archaeological remains have survived. The only specifically theatre-related artifacts are large quantities of green-glazed ceramic fragments from the characteristic money boxes used to collect the price of a ticket and then smashed at the end of the performance to divvy up the spoils among the company.

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16th c. castle remains found in Kyoto

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

A massive stone wall from a 16th century castle built by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi has been unearthed on the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The remains of the wall and a filled-in moat were discovered under the foundations of the Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace, the compound within the palace complex where emperors lived after they abdicated.

One section of castle wall, constructed in a north-south direction, measures about eight meters in length. The wall measured between 1 meter and 1.6 meters high in places and was comprised of three to four stone layers. Although the upper portion had collapsed, the wall in its prime was likely around 2.4 meters high.

The techniques used to construct the castle wall likely date to the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) based on the careful manner in which blocks of stone were placed.

Researchers theorized that the moat was originally at least three meters wide and 2.4 meters deep.

Its age and owner were confirmed by the discovery of gold-plated roof tiles bearing Toyotomi’s crest in the fill of the moat.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born in 1537, the son of a peasant and infantry grunt. Orphaned at seven, Hideyoshi made his way in the world working as a servant and later as a fighter for powerful daimyō Oda Nobunaga. Within 10 years, he was one of Nobunaga’s most successful generals. Nobunaga was assassinated by enemy samurai Akechi Mitsuhide in 1582. Hideyoshi fought Mitsuhide and won, cementing his power and influence in the Oda Clan and from there quickly rising in the military and political ranks.

In 1585 he attained the positions of Chancellor of the Realm and Imperial Regent (“kanpaku”). He ruled Japan in all but name by this point, wresting province after province from their local potentates to unify the country. He built a number of castles, including the massive Osaka Castle that is today one of Japan’s most important landmarks, and the Jurakudai in Kyoto.

The palace whose remains were just found was completed in 1591, the year before Hideyoshi’s death. The current Kyoto Imperial Palace was built in 1855, but it was eighth iteration to be built on the site, a common practice as palaces were constantly burning down and getting rebuilt. Hideyoshi’s castle was adjacent to the imperial palace.

The only surviving records of this castle were written by courtiers who refer to it as “Kyoto Shinjo,” meaning “new Kyoto Castle,” so a generic term rather the actual name of the building. The scant references suggested it was relatively unremarkable, a dwelling surrounded by a defensive wall, but the archaeological remains prove otherwise. The massive wall and the gold tiles point to this having been a grand, opulent structure.

“This is the greatest discovery this century related to an excavation of a Japanese castle,” [University of Shiga Prefecture professor and castle expert Hitoshi] Nakai said.

He added that Hideyoshi likely built it so Hideyori could succeed him to the court rank of “kanpaku,” the title for an individual who served as chief adviser to the emperor. […]

About a decade before constructing the Kyoto castle, Hideyoshi built the Jurakudai palace where he carried out his political duties as kanpaku and also resided. Hideyoshi turned over the Jurakudai palace and kanpaku rank to his nephew, Hidetsugu. But with the birth of Hideyori, Hidetsugu was compelled to commit suicide. Hideyoshi then ordered the Jurakudai palace to be demolished.

Kazuto Hongo, a professor of medieval Japanese history at the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo, said the Kyoto castle showed that the ancient capital still held immense importance to Hideyoshi even after he tore down the Jurakudai palace. […]

Hongo speculated that Hideyoshi built the castle as a means of passing on the authority of the high court ranks he held to his successors. Hongo noted that Hideyoshi was concerned about Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) gaining control of the nation after his death.

He was right to be concerned because that’s exactly what happened.

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Little but luminous in Basel

Sunday, May 10th, 2020

The Kunstmuseum Basel reopens on Tuesday, May 12th, allowing visitors to enjoy a little-known aspect of Renaissance art: small-format stained glass paintings created by Old Masters like Hans Holbein the Younger. Very few of these works survive today, but for a brief period in the 16th century they were wildly popular in Switzerland and southern Germany, donated by organizations and prominent individuals to adorn civic buildings, monasteries, churches, universities and guildhalls.

Beyond its immediate artistic appeal, the genre is of great interest in both a historical and a sociocultural perspective. Stained glass paintings were commissioned by institutions such as the estates of the Old Swiss Confederacy (today’s cantons), monasteries, and guilds as well as individuals. Donating such a work was a common and widely recognized act of social communication, lending lasting expression to alliances, friendships, and honors. That is why virtually every stained glass painting prominently features the donor’s coat of arms. The imagery surrounding this central element varies widely and includes depictions of religious themes as well as personifications and allegories, representations of professions, and motifs and scenes from Swiss history.

The Kunstmuseum Basel has more than 20 of these rare stained glass paintings in its permanent collection, and close to 400 of the preparatory drawings used to create the glass pieces. For the Luminous Figures: Drawings and Stained Glass Paintings from Holbein to Ringler exhibition, curators selected 20 of the most significant paintings and 70 preparatory drawings. Other museums — the Victoria and Albert in London, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, and the Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, Zurich — loaned works for the exhibition as well.

On display are the earliest surviving preparatory drawing for a glass painting (dating to around 1470/80) and striking pen-and-ink prep drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger and other masters. The museum was able to pair up a few of the preparatory drawings with the finished glass paintings, bringing them back together again for the first time in five centuries.

As usual with museum exhibitions, there are a number of associated events on the calendar where people can learn more about stained glass in general and this very specific and localized expression of the medium. One extremely cool event really sets the “luminous figures” in their precise historical and cultural context. It’s a guided tour of Basel Town Hall (built between 1504 and 1514) and the Schützenhaus (the firing range built in the 1560s by Basel’s Riflemen guild that was in continuous use until 1899 and is now a restaurant that I very much want to patronize) which still have their original stained glass paintings in situ.

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Celebrate the raising of the Vasa

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

It’s been 59 years since the pristine wreck of Vasa, the Swedish warship commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf which sank less than a mile from dock on her maiden voyage on August 10th 1628, was salvaged from Stockholm bay. It  broke the surface of the waters on April 24th, 1961, where, floating on pontoons, sprayed constantly with harbour water, it was excavated for five months. For 27 years it was conserved at a temporary location at the Wasa Shipyard. In 1988 it moved into the Vasa Museum and ever since then has been one of Stockholm’s most visited tourist destinations with more than one million visitors each year.

As the museum is closed for the time being, you can celebrate the anniversary with some teletourism. Here is the Vasa Museum’s Director of Research Fred Hocker talking about the complex salvage operation that raised the Vasa while simultaneously giving us a tour of the ship.

Next up, Hocker’s guided tour of the king’s cabin, or rather, a replica of it.

Museum guide Lisa orchestra of carved wooden putti in steerage. I’m embarrassed to say this is the first explanation I’ve heard of why the space was called steerage and I appreciate that a term now synonymous with the cheapest, least comfortable passage possible described the antechamber of the king on the Vasa.

In this video museum Educational Officers Lotta Wiker and Emilie Börefeldt explain how the Vasa was raised, illustrated with models of various stages of the salvage.

That’s just the tip of the contact iceberg. The Vasa Museum broadcasts live streaming video  of tours, stories, concerts from the museum every weekday at 4:28 PM, ie, 16:28, the year the ship was launched to its immediate demise. The broadcasts are live on Instagram and are also uploaded to the museum’s Facebook page. English-language videos air on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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Last-minute visit with Michelangelo

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

On February 25th, the Getty Center in Los Angeles opened a new exhibition, Michelangelo: Mind of the Master, dedicated to exploring Michelangelo’s  sculpture, painting and architecture as seen through 28 of his drawings. It was a huge success with more than 2,500 visitors a day, but less than three weeks later, the exhibition came to an abrupt end when the Getty had to close its doors when Los Angeles issued the Safer at Home order. 

Of the 28 drawings on display, 25 of them belong to the Teylers Museum which has owned them since 1790 when the museum was just six years old. This is the first time its complete set of Michelangelo drawings has gone on tour.

They were first assembled by Queen Christina of Sweden, a passionate collector of art with a particular taste for Renaissance Old Masters whose collection was sold after her death in 1689 to Livio Odescalchi, nephew of Pope Innocent XI. Livio died in 1713 and his heirs sold off Christina’s former collection, by then known the Odescalchi collection, to the Duke of Orléans, the King of Spain, the Vatican library and the National Gallery of Scotland. In 1788, Dutch diplomat, politician and art lover Willem Anne Lestevenon acquired 1700 Renaissance and Baroque drawings by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael and Guercino from the Odescalchi collection for the Teylers Museum.

Michelangelo made sketches and drawings of all of his projects from anatomical studies for sculptures to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the dome of St Peter’s, but he often burned his preparatory drawings. According to Vasari, Michelangelo never wanted to show his work, the process, the roughing. He was concerned people would steal his ideas and anyway he wanted only the refined finished product in public view. Out of an estimated 28,000 drawings he made in his long life as an artist, today only 600 survive.

But try as he might, Michelangelo could not keep future art historians and curators from exploring the work process of the master. What he considered imperfections are today considered a window into his mind and method. That’s what Michelangelo: Mind of the Master explores.

It was supposed to run through June 7th. With only hours to go before the Getty Center was shuttered until further notice, curator Julian Brooks hastily shot a series of videos of the works on display, describing their significance as he would to happy groups of visitors in the now eerily empty gallery. 

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Conserving the Wolsey Closet ceiling at Hampton Court Palace

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Hampton Court was built by Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, the immensely wealthy and influential statesman who served as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. He spent hundreds of thousands of crowns and ten years building a lavish palace worthy to host visiting royalty domestic and foreign. Henry stayed in the state rooms in 1525 and was favorably impressed, so much so that Wolsey gave him the palace in 1528 in the attempt to stave off his fall from grace.

It didn’t work. In 1529, Wolsey’s failure to secure an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon saw him stripped of his offices and properties. He would have probably lost his head too, but he died on his way to London to answer to treason charges in 1530.

Henry promptly set to work expanding the palace. The famous kitchens, the Great Hall with its amazing hammer-beam roof, the gatehouse, its astronomical clock, and enough rooms to accommodate a court of one thousand date to Henry’s reign. Subsequent monarchs, most notably William and Mary with their two Baroque wings, made major additions and alterations to the palace.

Most of the original spaces from Cardinal Wolsey’s time are gone. The Wolsey Closet, today part of the 18th century Georgian Rooms, is now the only surviving room from what were once the cardinal’s personal apartments. It too has gone through changes. The linenfold oak panelling is Tudor but not original to the room. The panel paintings on the walls — scenes from the Passion of the Christ — were commissioned by Henry VIII but also later installations in the room. The frieze at the top of the walls repeats Wolsey’s motto taken from Psalm 117 “Dominus michi adjutor” (The Lord is my help) and surely dates to his time, but it isn’t original to the room either. It was in a larger space, trimmed and reset in the Closet as it is today.

The Tudor roses and Prince of Wales feathers on the elaborate ceiling were long believed to be made of leather maché in the Tudor era, but when Historic Royal Palaces conservators began to study the ceiling to learn how best to repair it, they discovered how much they still have to learn about the complicated history of this room. This video gives an all-too-brief summary of what they’ve found so far.

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Unknown Cranach work found in Rylands Library

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

A previously unknown work by the workshop of renowned Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Younger has been identified in the collection of the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library. It is catalogued under the non-descript name of German MS 2. There was no information about it in the book itself. The title page dubbed the volume “Deutsches Stammbuch” (German Genealogies) and dated it 1565. The back cover had the initials P.T. stamped on it.

Dr. Ben Pope of the University of Tübingen realized it was not a genealogy, but rather an armorial, a collection of coats of arms of German noble families, and a splendid one at that at that. It contains more than 1,800 coats of arms from the aristocracy and nobility of the Holy Roman Empire hand-painted in brilliant color and fine detail. He was able to trace its origins to mid-16th century Saxony, right to the top of it, in fact. From correspondence in the state archives in Dresden, Pope learned that in 1565 August, Elector of Saxony, commissioned Lucas Cranach the Younger to make a faithful copy of a ca. 1500 armorial that had belonged to Lucas’ father Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Armorials were essential sources for artists needed to reproduce the arms of noble patrons in their commissions. The earlier armorial was used in the Cranach’s Wittenberg workshop as a reference. August wanted a complete, faithful copy of the armorial and any other coats of arms the Younger might be able to add to the collection. The Elector gave detailed instructions to Cranach, all of which have been followed in the manuscript, and the coat of arms of Saxony is particularly stunning.

As was typical of armorials from southern Germany, this one opens with coats of arms of historic figures, towns and churches representing the idealized virtues and socio-political structure of the Empire. The arms of imperial princely and noble families follow. The arms of private societies formed by lower nobles are also included, and this is rare as they have only been found in four armorials.

Despite its Saxon origin, the armorial has a particular connection to the imperial house of Habsburg. It includes an illustration of the Romreich, the imperial herald, the arms of Emperor Frederick III, those of his son Maximilian, and those of Maximilian’s second wife Bianca Maria Sforza.

Bianca Maria’s arms fill the first page of the Cranach copy, and there is good reason to think that she was at the heart of the original armorial too, as her arms are followed by those of thirty-nine princely ladies of the Empire. This unusual collection of women’s arms depicts individuals living in 1499/1500 and is thus both an integral part of the original material and a clear statement of Bianca Maria’s status as the highest ranking woman in the Empire. This section’s presentation in Rylands German 2 suggests that Bianca Maria is the head of a separate ‘province’, a parallel Empire of women.

Rylands German 2 thus offers insights into a sixteenth-century prince’s heraldic interests and artistic patronage; an artist’s use of heraldic materials in his workshop; the south German armorial tradition of the fifteenth century; and the heraldic and artistic programme of the Habsburg court in the reign of Maximilian. It depicts an Empire of regions dominated by certain princes: some of these regions can be understood as the ‘territory’ of the prince at their head, but others are regional communities connected through the princes to the imperial centre. At this centre we find, surprisingly, not Maximilian, but his often overlooked second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza. This gives cause to reappraise not only her queenship, but also the wider relationship between women and heraldry in the later Middle Ages.

Mark your calendars because starting February 18th, Dr. Pope’s article detailing all of his research into German MS 2 published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library will be available for free, but only until the February 24th. The manuscript will go on display for the first time in its existence next month. German MS 2 has been digitized so if you can’t make it to Manchester, you can up close and high-definition personal with every page of it online.

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