History Highlights

Triumphs of Maximilian, 1519…one of the largest prints ever produced

This image is an excerpt from a magnificent piece of art that is 177 feet long…commissioned in 1512 and still unfinished by 1519, when its benefactor died. The project was entitled: Triumphs of Maximilian, also referred to as the Triumphal Procession of Maximilian I. The composite image was printed from over 130 separate wood blocks and is one of the largest prints ever produced.

“The German Princes” from the “Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I” by Albrecht Altdorfer c. 1512-1515 

It was one of several works of propaganda, in literary and print form, that were commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation, Kaiser Maximilian I who reigned 1493 to 1519. Unlike his Habsburg descendants, he was always drastically short of money, and lacked the funds to actually stage such a huge ceremonial procession..To remedy this problem, Maximilian instead decided to enlist artists to create an image of a great procession that would serve his purpose in the same way…to project his image as a great emperor, a son of emperors, glorious in victory, and a bringer of prosperity and high culture to his people. The added benefit was that it would capture the grandeur of his reign and long outlive the man. It was designed to be pasted to the walls in city halls or the palaces of princes to create a decorative frieze, an expression of the Emperor’s power and magnificence. Maximilian explained:

“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.”

The subjects on the individual woodblocks forming the procession include: a herald riding a griffin at the start of the work, then a large blank frame pulled by two horses (intended to be carved with the title), followed by a large collection of musicians, many in carts drawn by exotic animals, drummers, falconers and huntsmen accompanied by their prey, two carts containing jesters and fools, fencers, tournament fighters and jousters, 29 groups of standard bearers on horseback carrying the flags of Maximilian’s many titles and territories.

Continuing on in the procession, a cart for Maximilian’s wedding, carriages with depictions of Maximilian’s military victories, a cart for the wedding of Maximilian’s son Philip I of Castile to Joanna of Castile, carriages with Maximilians’s ancestors, soldiers and prisoners of war, and finally Dürer’s 8-block triumphal carriage containing Maximilian himself drawn by twelve horses.

After the carriage come representatives of foreign peoples, including exotic people from Calicut with an elephant, American Indians, soldiers, and then the baggage-train, shown descending from a hilly alpine landscape. The last block shows a wagon laden with cooking-pots and a man carrying rods with shoes hanging from them. 

Hans Burgkmair designed much of the Triumphal Procession, starting in about 1512 and contributing designs for 67 woodblocks. Other contributions were made by Albrecht Altdorfer (38 blocks), Hans Springinklee (20), Leonhard Beck (7), Hans Schäufelein (2), Wolf Huber (2), and Albrecht Dürer (2). The designs were cut from 1516 to 1519 by a large team of block-cutters led by Jost de Negker, including Hieronymus Andreae, Cornelis Liefrinck and Willem Liefrinck.

The procession is now an important documentary source for the details of the musical instruments and the weapons and armor of the period. 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.

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.

States of the Holy Roman Empire in 1510 during the reign of Kaiser Maximilian I



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