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Bernhard Strigel (Memmingen 1460-1528)
PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN (LOTS 8, 9, 11, 49 & 50)
Bernhard Strigel (Memmingen 1460-1528)

Portrait of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1459-1519), half-length, in a red mantle, wearing the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, holding a letter, against a damask curtain, a mountainous landscape beyond

Details
Bernhard Strigel (Memmingen 1460-1528)
Portrait of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1459-1519), half-length, in a red mantle, wearing the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, holding a letter, against a damask curtain, a mountainous landscape beyond
oil on panel, marouflaged
21 5/8 x 15 in. (55 x 38 cm.)
Provenance
Dr. G. Gronau.
with Galerie St. Lucas, Vienna, April 1935.
with Paul Bottenwieser, Paris, 1935.
with A. Seligmann, Rey & Co., New York.
Lore and Rudolf Heinemann, New York, by 1936; (†) Christie's, London, 4 July 1997, lot 31 (£78,500), when acquired by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Combining an air of Imperial grandeur with a degree of informality, this depiction of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, by Bernhard Strigel is an archetypal Renaissance court portrait. The panel was identified as a work by Strigel as early as 1935 by both Ludwig Baldass and Max J. Friedländer, and the attribution has never since been challenged. It can be dated on stylistic grounds and on the basis of the sitter’s age to circa 1508, the year of the official proclamation of Maximilian as Emperor, which saw a surge in the production of his image.

Maximilian of Hapsburg (1459-1519) was an enlightened monarch: through the use of military might, diplomatic skill, and an advantageous matrimonial policy, he managed to secure vast territories, from the wealthy Netherlands, Hungary, Bohemia and Spain, to add to his already large domains in Austria, thus establishing the Hapsburgs as the most powerful dynasty in Europe. Maximilian was also a great humanist and a patron of the arts, commissioning works from many of the most celebrated painters of the day, most notably Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach. He chose Bernhard Strigel, an artist especially celebrated for the verisimilitude and elegance of his portraits, to act as his official court painter. In an inscription on the reverse of Strigel’s Portrait of the Cuspinian Family, of 1520, the artist is compared to the mythical painter Apelles, while Maximilian is associated with the Greek conqueror and protector of the arts, Alexander the Great.

As court painter, Strigel created two official images of the Emperor. The first type emphasised Maximilian’s military prowess and valour through an elaborate display of Imperial regalia, an example of which can be found in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Augsburg: Maximilian is shown in gilded armour wearing an imposing crown and clad in a jewel-trimmed cape, holding a sceptre and sword. The present portrait belongs to a second, more lively and intimate type. Shown in half-length against a damask curtain with an opening to the right on to an Alpine landscape, the Emperor is dressed in a brocaded doublet and deep red mantle, his crown has been replaced with a split-brim hat. He holds a scroll in his left hand and raises his right in an oratory gesture. This more informal image shows Maximilian as: ‘a private man, that is a prince rather than an emperor’ (Larry Silver, Marketing Maximilian, New Jersey, 2008, p. 209). This portrait may originally have been paired with a likeness of one of Maximilian’s wives, Mary of Burgundy, or later Bianca Maria Sforza.

Maximilian does not relinquish all of the signs of his office in this portrait: the profile format, which adds a certain distance and gravitas, has Imperial connotations, recalling the profile portraits of Roman Emperors on antique coins and medals; while the pomegranate motif that adorns the brocade in the background, although quite common at the time, may have been intended to symbolise both the diversity and unity of his Empire. Maximilian was portrayed holding a pomegranate in a portrait by Albrecht Dürer of 1519 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). Maximilian is also shown wearing the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the chivalric order created by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1430. Maximilian had inherited the title of Grand Master of the Order upon his marriage to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. The prominent display of the collar in this portrait might have been intended to reinforce Maximilian’s claim to the territories of his late wife and the legitimacy of their incorporation into the Hapsburg realm. Keenly aware of the importance of creating and controlling his own image, Maximilian found in Strigel an artist able to express the complex iconography of power.

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