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Europe800px-Rudolf_IV

This is Rudolf IV of Austria (1339 –1365).  He was the first Archduke of Austria…or of anywhere (like some sort of 14th century rapper, he invented the rank of Archduke for himself, in case you were curious where that ponderous title originally came from) and he was also Duke of Styria and Carinthia from 1358, as well as Count of Tyrol from 1363 and first Duke of Carniola from 1364 until his death in July of 1365. Rudolf IV’s megalomania and grandiose plans laid the foundations of Vienna’s future greatness (and Austria’s).  The future imperial city was a backwater without even an episcopal see before Rudolf started building cathedrals, modernizing his duchy, and inventing fancy titles for himself (he invented some counterfeit royal charters too). In this post, however, we are concentrating not on on his historical importance to Habsburg dynasty building, but on his splendid portrait, the first half frontal portrait in Western Europe.  Like much of Rudolf’s legacy, the archducal crown of wild vines, arches, and jewels, was seemingly invented.  The intimate and introspective style of the work was partially borrowed from the master painters of Byzantium, but was also an Austrian painting innovation.  Like Rudolf’s reign it forshadowed wonders to come.

This is the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.  The story of the crown’s creation has been lost in myth but it was most likely constructed by a jewelsmith somewhere in Western Germany during the late 10th century (probably during the reign of Otto I).   The Imperial Crown, was kept in Nuremberg from 1424–1796.  In 1796, Napoleon was marching on Nuremberg.  The crown was moved first to Regensberg before Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, had the crown “temporarily” removed to Vienna.  After Napoleon’s crushing victory at the battle of Austerlitz, Franz dissolved the Holy Roman Empire (but held onto the crown, which became a historical relic).  The crown was returned to Nuremberg by Nazis after the Anschluss of 1938.  When American forces took Nuremberg, the U.S. graciously returned the crown to Austria (although it would probably look very nice in the Smithsonian).   At present the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire is with the Austrian Crown Jewels which are kept under guard at the Hofburg in Vienna, “until there is again a Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation”.

The crown is constructed from eight plates of 22 carat gold (which is why the metal never tarnishes and glisters with an otherwordly buttery glow).  It is ornamented with 144 precious stones—sapphires, emeralds, and amethysts en cabochon (faceting was unknown in the tenth century) as well as more than one hundred pearls.  The twelve largest gemstones on the front represent the twelve apostles. There are four cloisonné enamel pictures executed in the Byzantine style which show scenes from the bible (three plates portray Old Testament kings and the fourth pictures Jesus with two angels).  To quote a Czech website, the crown is indeed “a unique artistic masterpiece of the Romanesque era.”

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