Emperor Maximilian in Splendid Armour and Imperial Regalia

The theme of the inaugural issue of Medieval World: Culture & Conflict opens with an exquisite portrait of emperor Maximilian I (r. 1486–1519) painted by Bernhard Strigel sometime after 1508. The portrait is now preserved in Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck.


The painting shows Maximilian in three-quarter view wearing armour akin to that produced by Lorenz Helmschmid at the royal court, together with the imperial mantle and mitred crown, studded with gems and pearls and lined with gold details. The mantle is held in place by a golden chain with the Order of the Golden Fleece suspended at the centre, indicative of the emperor’s membership in this distinguished group. Maximilian’s right hand holds a cross-shaped golden sceptre, which rests on a lavish pillow in the foreground, while his left hand grasps an elaborate sword.

The emperor is shown in three-quarter view against a red background. The ambiguous setting lends the image a timeless aspect, yet the prominent shadow that he casts suggests his immediacy, as if the portrait was painted in his presence.


Bernhard Strigel and his workshop produced several such portraits of Maximilian donning royal armour and the imperial regalia. As the examples above demonstrate, these images usually capture the emperor seated in an interior setting, against a red brocaded backdrop and with the occasional view into a landscape. His right arm with the golden sceptre rests on a parapet in the foreground.

The Innsbruck portrait, in contrast, displays a lavish red pillow in the foreground and shows Maximilian standing in a more determine and somber manner. In comparing these images, it is clear that no other portrait of emperor Maximilian is as cleverly designed and visually intricate as the painting now in Innsbruck. 

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