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George Spearing writes:

The Hiero von Holtorp collection has been subject to an ongoing cataloguing project facilitated by The John Rylands Research Institute. After sifting through the majority of folders and boxes, one location appears to dominate in terms of quality and quantity, the Holy Roman Empire.

The Emperor of this vast territory, Maximilian I (1459-1519), oversaw multiple printing projects that served to commemorate his life and reign. The Rylands Library is fortunate enough to include fragments of these projects, namely the semi-biographical work entitled Der Theuerdank, and the monumental Triumphal Arch.

Theuerdank Received by Ehrenreich.

Theuerdank Received by Ehrenreich.


Der Theuerdank was first published in 1517, and formed what should have been the second installment of a semi-biographical trilogy; however, it was the only volume to be published in Maximilian’s lifetime. The text is an allegory of the Emperor’s journey to Flanders to claim his bride, Mary of Burgundy, written by both Maximilian and his chaplain Melchior Pfintzing. The text, in rhymed couplets is reminiscent of a manuscript in appearance and accompanies 118 woodcuts by Hans Burgkmair, Hans Schäufelein, and Leonhard Beck, of which seventy-seven are by Beck. Theuerdank Received by Ehrenreich (Figure 1) depicts the moment at which Maximilian (Theuerdank) reaches his future wife (Mary of Burgundy/ Ehrenreich). Seen with his companion Ernhold and in knightly armour the image depicts the Emperor as mythic prince, an exercise in reliving his youth and conveying his ability, it may have distracted him from his political failures and ‘melancholia’ of later life.

A similar project existed that served the same purpose, albeit in a less disguised format. The Triumphal Arch (1515) is one of the largest woodcuts in existence, composed of 192 blocks. It was to be sent to the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire, where it could be applied to a support and displayed in town halls or palaces. Historical scenes, patron saints, and genealogies occupy the massive architecture, designed by Albrecht Durer and his followers Hans Springinklee and Wolf Traut (whose work can be found elsewhere in the Holtorp collection). The impressions in the Holtorp collection include historical scenes by Wolf Traut (Figures 2 & 3), and a portrait of Emperor Rudolph I by Albrecht Durer (Figure 4).

torp Box 7/Folder 1/ Sheet 42

Rudolph I by Albrecht Durer

Der Theuerdank and The Triumphal Arch are representative of Maximilian’s pursuit of posthumous glory and what Paul van Dyke has called ‘…a ceaseless greed for distinction’. Both functioned as an advertisement of the Emperor’s accomplishments and chivalry, making clear that Maximilian recognized the potential of both word and image in his campaign of commemoration. As well as these, the Emperor envisaged his tomb to include over 150 statues (including a colossus of himself). He also commissioned genealogies that proved his lineage to Noah, evidence of a historical awareness that always functioned to authorize his leadership and exploits. This campaign is representative of a court and country that was straddling a temporal border, with medieval content such as courtly love and chivalric contests being disseminated through an attractively cheap, multipliable, and modern medium.

Go to the John Rylands Special Collections blog for further news on the Holtorp collection, where you can choose to follow the blog via email updates. For an introduction to the collection in general, follow this link to our first blog post: Holtorp Collection – Look what we found!

[1] G. Scholz-Williams, The Literary World of Maximilian I: An annotated bibliography (St. Louis, St. Louis Center for Reformation Research: 1982), p. 1.

[1] C. Dodgson, Catalogue of Early German and Flemish Woodcuts Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum-Volume II (London, William Clowes and Sons Ltd: 1911), pp. 124-125.

[1]G. Benecke, Maximilian I (1459-1519): An Analytical Biography (London, Routledge: 1982), p. 7.

[1]P. van Dyke, ‘The Literary Activity of the Emperor Maximilian I’, The American Historical Review vol. 11/no. 1 (1905), pp. 16-28.

[1] G. Elwood Waas, The Legendary Character of Kaiser Maximilian (New York, Columbia University Press: 1941), p. 118.