Exhibition – Print Making in Prague: Art from the Court of Rudolf II

Jan Muller, after Bartholomeus Spranger. Bellona leading the Imperial Army, 1600. Engraving.© The Trustees of the British Museum


If you're at the British Museum visiting the Stonehenge exhibition, you should also take the time to pop into Room 90 to see another smaller, but equally important collection – Print Making in Prague: Art from the Court of Rudolf II.

Rudolf II (1552–1612) was one of the most important art patrons of the Early Modern period. While his reign was considered politically disastrous due to religious turmoil and war with the Ottoman Empire, his reign transformed Prague into a cultural hub for art and artists. Rudolf managed to collect a vast amount of art work over the course of his 36 year reign. He amassed thousands of paintings, sculptures, rare objects, and prints. Print Making in Prague showcases a but a small portion of his impressive print collection. This is the first time it has ever been put on display for the general public.

So what does Rudolf II have to do with ancient history you might ask? Many of the prints displayed at the exhibition are grounded in ancient Greek and Roman myths. Rudolf, like many rulers of this period, wished to associate himself with the might and the glory of the Roman Empire. These prints with their ancient motifs were central to his imperial style – he drew heavily on Roman mythology for his political propaganda. For Rudolf, it was important to demonstrate the continuity of ancient Rome with the Holy Roman Empire so he commissioned prints to reflect his stature and power by aligning himself with the rulers and mythologies of the ancient past. For example, he commissioned a print of Bellona Leading the Imperial Army (1600) by Dutch engraver and painter, Jan Harmensz Muller (1571–1628). Bellona is the Roman goddess of war and this print depicts her blowing a trumpet and leading the army behind the Hapsburg standard. It was used to rally troops and boost morale, while also symbolizing her blessing of luck on the Holy Roman Empire for their victory against the Ottoman Empire. Other ancient print highlights include Hendrick Goltzius' (1558–1617) Wedding of Cupid and Psyche (1587), Bacchus and Ceres (1597) by Batholomeus Spranger (1546–1611), and another stunning engraving by Muller entitled Mercury Abducting Psyche (1602).

These are but a few of the many beautiful Rudolfine prints and engravings to admire on your next visit. The exhibition just opened and is running until August 28, 2022. Admission is free.

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