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The Tirol's last knight.

* While Austria's eastern provinces have been marking the country's millennium with a major two-venue exhibition `Man, Myths and Milestones' (to be reviewed in full in October's History Today), over in the west of the country the province of Tirol has made its own contribution with an intriguing initiative that highlights the life and times of one of their most colourful Habsburg rulers, the `last knight', Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor from 1493 to 1519.

Officially opened in mid-June (along with the refurbishment for its 500th anniversary of one of Maximilian's greatest achievements, the Golden Roof of Innsbruck) the Maximilian Tirolean Exhibition Trails are geared to individual visitors who want to learn more of the ruler and the Gothic-Renaissance worlds that he bridged.

There are ten `exhibition trails' - divided into one-day itineraries which lead visitors to architecture, paintings and sculpture around the Tirol - each exploring a particular facet of Maximilian's interests or character.

The central starting point for the Trails is the city of Innsbruck which Maximilian made the centre of his rule and from where he set about fulfilling his ambitions to establish a complex scheme of dynastic and marital alliances. The result of these enabled his grandson, Charles V, (nephew of Katherine of Aragon - the connection caused Henry VIII much grief when he was trying to persuade the pope to give him a divorce while Rome was under Habsburg occupation) to become by far the greatest ruler of sixteenth-century Europe with a travelling schedule that would be familiar to any chief executive of a multinational company today.

In Innsbruck the Golden Roof is perfectly positioned at the end of the main square as a gilded stage set on whose balcony Maximilian and his guests could appear during tournaments, spectacles and other ceremonial occasions. Inside, a special display centre `The Maximilianeum' sets the emperor into his context. Items include one of the lead soldiers he played with as a child, indicative of his passion to cut a dash as an icon of chivalry, and a starkly realistic deathbed portrait, with the Imperial head propped up against a pillow, whose typical Tirolean pattern can still be seen in the fabrics and souvenirs sold in shops around the old city centre.

Maximilian was perpetually hard-up and had to conduct many of his enterprises on the `never-never' His final illness was supposed to have been brought on by a fit of rage when the inn-keepers and town council of Innsbruck refused to extend him any more credit for projects such as his extraordinary tomb in the Hofkirche, which is flanked by monumental bronze-cast sculptures, seven foot high.

His indecisive father, Frederick III, King Arthur, Godfrey the first Crusader king of Jerusalem and his wife's father, Charles the Bold of Burgundy (from whom the Habsburgs took over the Order of the Golden Fleece and a patchwork of rich Low Countries territories) are among the figures that stand guard around the tomb. At the celebration service this June, candles were placed, as originally intended, into the grip of these bronze mourners.

Charlemagne and Caesar were also planned to join this pantheon of family and noble heroes, all designed to stress the emperor's chivalric credentials - Durer was among those who worked on the sculptures.

But though he looked back to a mythical past of Round Table derring-do, Maximilian employed the latest technologies and exploited down-to-earth economies in burnishing the image. This comes out clearly on the exhibition trails which include visits to the towns of Hall and Schwaz. `Silver and salt - may God preserve them' the emperor is reputed to have said. The miners of both were a privileged elite holding jealously guarded entitlements granted by Maximilian.

Hall was the salt-mining centre and its medieval buildings to be seen today include the chapel where Maximilian celebrated his wedding to his second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza (whose dowry helped to pay for the Golden Roof), and the original mint which used some of the silver mined in Schwaz (and later the lodes from Spanish Habsburg possessions in the New World) to produce coinage.

Maximilian's coins included the word `Europa' for the first time in 1509 - and today you can mint your own `taler' on a replica of the hand-press machines that turned the coins into the monetary lingua franca of the early modern world - which eventually became the `dollar'.

Maximilian also put new technology to good effect with his Zeughaus, or armoury, back in Innsbruck where the same expertise that was lavished on coins and memorial sculpture was used to produce state-of-the-art artillery to protect the scattered Habsburg possessions.

Each of the ten exhibition trails has its various sites signposted with a prominent weatherproofed board giving details of its history and significance in the Maximilian story - and a comprehensive, but pocket-sized catalogue replicates these, together with detailed descriptions, a sketch map of each route and practical hints on food and lodging. The illustrations are profuse and very sharp, and include some of the delightful `hunting and fishing' scenes from Maximilian's excursions to the Achensee lake - part of Route VII, which also takes in Tratzberg Castle.

Here in a sixteenth-century building, still inhabited by the counts of Enzenberg, and uniquely furnished with original fittings (everything from cradles to handtowels) you can see the amazing Habsburg family tree - a fresco contemporary to the emperor covering the walls with branches and tendrils linking the founder, Rudolf of Habsburg, through to Maximilian and his two wives.

Meanwhile, visitors to Austria can enjoy the wider aspects of Maximilian's world of hunting, fishing, diplomacy and having a good time. His life was streaked by tragedy: his first wife, Mary of Burgundy, was killed by a fall from her horse while out hunting, pregnant with his third child; his son `Philip the Fair' died in his twenties; Philip's wife, Joanna, mother of Charles V, earned her epithet of `the Mad' by carrying her husband's embalmed body around with her on her travels, with frequent inspections. But Maximilian was, nevertheless, a man who enjoyed life - as the rollicking reliefs on the Golden Roof illustrate. `I have danced and tilted lances and enjoyed carnivals. I have paid court to the ladies and earned thanks; for the most part I have laughed heartily'. Like England's `Merry Monarch', Charles II, one feels he would have been a convivial dinner companion.

For all its splendour, Maximilian's tomb is empty: if you want to pay respects to his last resting place, he is buried under the altar of St George's church in Wiener Neustadt, where he grew up. And the final twist - which emphasises how cosmopolitan and European was his and the Habsburgs' world - his heart is not in Austria at all. It was carried, embalmed, to Bruges to be placed beside the body of Mary of Burgundy - a final romantic gesture from Christendom's `last knight'.

Information on the Tirolean Exhibition Trails (sponsored by Tiroler Sparkassen) is available from Verien Tiroler Ausstellungstrassen, c/o Austrian Art Service, A-6020 Innsbruck Burgerstrasse 20. Tel: +43 512 588280. Fax: +43 512 588275. The Maximilian I catalogue (and the Gothic/Baroque & Rococo catalogues) are available (price 350 Schillings) locally or from the Secretariat - E. mail Details on the `Museum with No Frontiers' programme generally are available from Museum ohne Grenzen, Mahlerstrasse 3, A-1010, Vienna, Austria. Fax: +43 1 513 8671.
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Title Annotation:Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor of the Habsburg empire, 1493-1519
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Previous Article:Forge Mill Needle Museum.
Next Article:Times and tides.

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