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Title The Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612)
Collection English Heritage (Wellington Museum, Apsley House)
Artist Aachen, Hans von (German painter, 1552-1615)
Date Earliest 1576
Date Latest probably 1602

Rudolf II, the son of Maximilian II, born in Vienna and educated at the Spanish court, became Emperor in 1576. Enormously learned and able, he was an outstanding patron of artists, scientists and mathematicians, and his court at Prague, with its Kunstkammer and festivals, became one of the principal cultural centres of its time. Yet Rudolf was politically unworldly and indecisive, and was ultimately forced to abdicate in favour of his brother Matthias in 1611. Here he wears a laurel wreath, breast plate of steel and gold, with the collar and badge of the Golden Fleece, dark trunks and pantaloons and buff shoes, and holds his crown, which is lying on the table on the right.

Born in Cologne, Hans von Aachen bears the name of his father's native town. He was in Italy c. 1574–87, influenced particularly by Tintoretto in Venice, and returned to Cologne in 1588. After some time at the Bavarian court in Munich, he finally agreed to accept Rudolf II's call to Prague and was made court painter by Rudolf on 1 January 1592. He remained a close associate of the Emperor, who raised him to the peerage in 1594 and sent him abroad on several missions. Von Aachen is reckoned among the leading representatives of German Mannerism.

Current Accession Number WM 1509–1948
Inscription front lr 'el emperador Rodolfo'; front l '415'
Subject figure; portrait (Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612)); interior; still life
Measurements 200 x 121 cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas

Catalogued as ‘painter unknown' by Evelyn Wellington, the attribution to Hans von Aachen was suggested by Charles Avery when the painting was shown in the Baroque in Bohemia exhibition, V&A Museum, 1969 (ex-catalogue), and it has been supported by Dr E. Fu;íková (oral opinion) and J. Jacoby (2000, pp. 250–53), although Kaufmann suggested that it was a studio work (1988, p. 154). Certainly, of the three principal court painters – von Aachen, Spranger and Heintz – it was von Aachen and his workshop who produced most of the portraits of the Emperor. WM 1509 is similar, in particular, to the engraving by B. Höfel after a half-length by Hans von Aachen in which the Emperor also wears a breast plate and a laurel wreath – a reference to a victory over the Turks in 1598 – and holds a baton. The same head appears also in Egidius Sadeler's more famous engraving after von Aachen of 1603 (an der Heiden 1970, fig. 135). The soft modelling of the face is parallelled in the oil portraits by von Aachen, and from his workshop (e.g. bust portrait, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; an der Heiden 1970, fig. 132; bust portraits in armour in the Germanisches National museum, Nuremberg, and Donaueschingen; an der Heiden 1970, figs. 133, 136) and is quite different in style from the portrait by Josef Heintz in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Schwarzenfeld 1961, frontispiece). Final support for the attribution is provided by a drawing from the von Aachen workshop which is closely related to WM 1509 (Szépm;vészeti Múzeum, Budapest; an der Heiden 1970, pp. 171, 216, no. B.30, fig. 186). Although it is reversed, with the table on the left, and differs somewhat in the Emperor's costume and posture, it serves to link the composition with the von Aachen workshop. For von Aachen, see also R.A. Peltzer, ‘Der Hofmaler Hans von Aachen', Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, 30, 1911, pp. 49ff.; R. an der Heiden, ‘Die Portraitmalerei des Hans von Aachen', Jahrbuchder Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, 66, 1970, pp. 135–226.

Rudolf's crown, so prominently displayed here, has been described as the finest achievement of imperial design (Evans 1973, pp. 80, 175). Attributed to Hans Vermeyen, it is based on the mitre crown of Maximilian I, which had been melted down by Philip II, but was known from Dürer's depictions, both in his portraits of Maximilian and on the summit of his Triumphal Arch. Rudolf's crown continued to be used as the Imperial Crown of Austria from 1804 until the abolition of the monarchy in 1919 and it is still the centrepiece of the Treasury of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Katalog, 1961, p. 20, no. 55; see also H. Fillitz, ‘Studien zur Krone Kaiser Rudolfs II', Kunstmuseets Årsskrift, Copenhagen, 1950, pp. 79ff., figs. 1–3; idem, Die Österreichische Kaiserkrone, Vienna and Munich, 1959, pp. 22ff., figs. 1–5). It is dated 1602, which provides a terminus post for this portrait. Although the crown is depicted with reasonable accuracy, its narrative scenes are not shown. For Rudolf II, see: G. von Schwarzenfeld, Rudolf II, Munich, 1961; R.J.W. Evans, Rudolf II and his World, London, 1973; T. Da Costa Kaufmann, The School of Prague. Painting at the Court of Rudolf II, Chicago and London, 1988; E. Fu;íková (ed.), Rudolf II and Prague. The Court and the City, London, 1997 (published on the occasion of the exhibition Rudolf II and Prague, Prague Castle, 1997.

Rights Owner Copyright English Heritage
Author C.M. Kauffmann, revised by Susan Jenkins



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