DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Emperor Maximilian I

Oil on lindenwood, 74 x 62 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Maximilian I of Austria (1459-1519) became head of the Habsburgs in 1493 and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1508. He was a learned ruler with a strong interest in the arts. Dürer first met him during a visit to Nuremberg in 1512 and was commissioned to work on the gigantic woodcuts of The Triumphal Arch and The Triumphal Procession, as well as decorations for Maximilian's prayer book. In 1515 he was awarded an annual payment of 100 florins by the Emperor.

On 28 June 1518 Dürer had sketched Maximilian during the Imperial Diet at Augsburg. He inscribed the drawing: `This is Emperor Maximilian, whom I, Albrecht Dürer, portrayed up in his small chamber in the tower at Augsburg on the Monday after the feast day of John the Baptist in the year 1518.' In the relatively informal sketch Dürer captured a hint of the fatigued resignation of the 59 year-old ruler.

Maxmilian I died on 12 January 1519 and Dürer then used his drawing as the basis for a woodcut and two painted portraits, one in tempera (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg) and this one in oil. These finished works are formal portraits and lack some of the human character which comes out in the original sketch. In the oil portrait, the Emperor is dressed in an elegant fur, which Dürer has painted with great care. Instead of an orb, the Emperor holds a broken pomegranate, a symbol of the Resurrection and Maximilian's personal emblem. At the top of the picture is the Habsburg coat of arms with the double-headed eagle and a lengthy inscription on Maximilian's achievements. The Emperor looks aloof and withdrawn, an expression of his dignity.