Painted by Albrecht Altdorfer (around 1480-1538) and his workshop between 1512 and 1515, the triumphal frieze of Maximilian I. of Habsburg (1459-1519) is an imaginary parade of the most important encounters, events and achievements of the emperor’s life. The frieze has been comissioned by Maximilian I. himself, who was a great patron for the arts of his time. Originally more than 100 meters long, only the second part of the precious vellum paintings has been preserved. Today the elaborately restored frieze is part of the collection of the Viennese museum Albertina, which in 2012 has been presenting the scenes for the first time as continuous series due to a particular exhibition design.
ikono is very happy to having the opportunity of showcasing this gem of Northern alpine Renaissance painting. In close collaboration with the Albertina we produced a 15 minutes journey through the life of the Habsburg emperor, focusing on the details and refinements of Altdorfer’s monumental masterpiece.
Please read the introduction by Dr. Eva Michel, curator at the Albertina’s Graphic Art Collection, for getting more information on this unique rediscovered heritage, and follow the link for gaining an overview over the frieze’s single scenes: Altdorfer’s triumphal procession of Maximilian I., Contents of sheets
ALBRECHT ALTDORFER and workshop
TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION OF EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN I, c. 1512 – 1515
Pen drawings with watercolor and gouache, gold and silver heightening, on vellum;
c. 45 x 95 cm each (total length of surviving sheets 49 – 109, incl. the authors’ page, when lined up as a painted frieze: 53.8 m)
Vienna, Albertina, Inv. 25205 – 25263
By Eva Michel
The Triumphal Procession was commissioned by Maximilian I of Habsburg (1459 – 1519), elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The cycle of originally 109 large-format colored pen-drawings was executed in 1512 – 1515 by the famous German artist Albrecht Altdorfer and his workshop as a frieze with a total length of more than 100 meters. Unlike the woodcut version of the Triumph Procession published from 1516 onwards, the exquisite paintings on costly parchment were certainly intended as an exclusive display copy for the emperor’s own personal use.
This outstanding work exists only as a fragment today. The original first part (sheets 1 to 48) of the Triumphal Procession has been lost, nothing is known of its fate or whereabouts; only a transcript of Maximilian’s written concept of 1512 and two later copies allow it to be reconstructed. The second part – sheets 49 to 109, measuring about 45 by 95 centimetres each – has survived and is preserved in the Albertina Museum in Vienna (Austria), where it was the focus of the exhibition “Emperor Maximilian I. and the Age of Dürer” (September 2012 to January 2013).
The subject of the Triumph dates back to antiquity and to the practice of staging processions to mark the ceremonial entry of victorious Roman generals. It was popularized via humanist literary descriptions and their adaptations during the Italian Renaissance. Maximilian’s Triumphal Procession reveals a new conception of the ancient model, drawing its rhetoric authority into the orbit of imperial aims. The pageant depicted never actually took place, nor does it mark any one victory in the field. It is rather an idealized review of the most important persons and events of the Maximilian’s life, intended to link himself and the House of Habsburg to prestigious Roman origins, to glorify the emperor during his lifetime and to keep his memory alive for all eternity. It displays family and lineage, military campaigns, private pastimes such as jousting, hunting, and music-making, and imperial demonstrations of power in the form of coats of arms and standards. The protagonists are not dressed up in classical garb, but the parade is made up of contemporary lansquenets and knights. The classical elements are thus partly overshadowed by late-medieval entry pageantry and references to Maximilian’s personality and life. The sequence of the sheets and the reading direction run from right to left, against the direction of the procession. This creates the effect of the participants of the Triumphal Procession encountering the viewer moving in the opposite direction.
The beginning of that part of the program that has been preserved in the Albertina marks the depiction of Maximilian’s marriage to Mary of Burgundy in Ghent on 19 August 1477. The golden chariot bearing symbols of the cities and castles is followed by a magnificent display of spectacular battle scenes on painted banners and by chariots laden with trophies and war booty. This fictional showcasing of Maximilian’s military prowess leads to the imperial artillery with its state-of-the-art cannons and artillery pieces and then to the carriages laden with the emperor’s sacred and secular treasures, displayed here to prove that the emperor had riches beyond imagining. The battlefield feats are followed by historic key events in Maximilian’s life, such as the marriage of his son Philip the Fair to Joanna of Castile in 1496. A series of statues of Maximilian’s ancestors underscores his noble descent. They are followed in turn by the prisoners of war, the antique bearers of victory, and the trumpeters and heralds announcing the arrival of Maximilian’s mother on her chariot. The emperor himself, clad in full regalia with crown, scepter, and palm frond (a traditional symbol of victory), is enthroned on a triumphal chariot drawn by twelve white horses. Before him are his first wife, Mary of Burgundy, and their daughter Margaret, and seated in front of them are his son Philip with Joanna and their children. This depiction of the emperor’s immediate family sharing the same chariot was intended to stress the importance that he himself attached to family and to the perpetuation of the Habsburg Dynasty. Following the imperial chariot in order of rank are numerous princes, counts, lords, knights, and lansquenets, a wagon fort and the “kalikutischen Leut,” here represented by the Indians, as an allusion to Maximilian’s hegemonic claims to territories outside Europe. The Baggage Section —a motley group of ordinary men, women, and children— follows the army. Apart from the landscape backdrop to one part of the Baggage Section, the protagonists march against the neutral ground of unpainted parchment. This forces us to focus our attention on the figures and scenes themselves, whose purpose, being cut off from time and place, is to glorify Maximilian in the collective memory.
The impressive length of Maximilian’s purely imaginary Triumphal Procession at over 100 meters raises the question of its original presentation and storage: The parchments seem too small-scale in terms of their imagery for a mural decoration, and too well preserved to have been hung for a long period. Diagonal folds and evidence of rubbing on the surfaces of the parchments seem to have been caused by the rolling them up, which fits perfectly to the rhetoric effect of classical rotuli, thus using an antiquizing format for the antiquizing content. The parchment band could have been used in the manner of a scroll that is viewed manually, with one hand unrolling, and the other rolling up, according to similar principles as prayer scrolls and the Torah. The exquisitness and sensitivity of the material, as well as its dimensions, meant, that the miniature Triumphal Procession – in contrast to the later woodcut version – remained a magnificent treasure, reserved only for the emperor and a small group of selected courtiers. The Triumphal Procession, which in reality never took place, is a celebration of Maximilian’s life and works and thus became a triumph over death and time.
For more information, please consult the catalogue of the exhibition “Emperor Maximilian I. and the Age of Dürer”, ed. by Eva Michel and Maria-Luise Sternath, Albertina, Prestel Verlag, Munich 2012.