/ Essays / 2008 / No.11: What does the Tomb of Emperor Maximilian I. and its Reading Women

Friederun Hardt-FriederichsEssay No.11August, 23 2008

What does the Tomb of Emperor Maximilian I. and its Reading Women

What does the tomb of a famous emperor has to do with reading women, you may ask yourself reading this headline.

Well, entering the Court Church, named by the Austrian people (Volksmund) “Schwarzmanderkirche“, in Innsbruck, I did not have any idea, too, but as soon as I was coming closer to the tomb I changed my mind.

The Tomb of Emperor Maximilian I.

Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia
Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia
Duchess Mary of Burgundy, Queen Elisabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol and Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria
Duchess Mary of Burgundy, Queen Elisabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol and Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria (from left to right)
In the middle of the nave of the basilica the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I. (1459 – 1519), (note 1) is situated, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Yet his bones have not found their rest in this tomb up to now. They were buried according to his last will in the St.George’s Church in the castle of Wiener Neustadt. He had imagined this in a different way, when at an early stage he had given the order to create 40 bigger than life-size bronze statues representing his ancestors, relatives and heroes as companions for his funeral parade (Totengeleit). Yet, only 28 of these statues have been finished and are giving now company (Trauergeleit) to the cenotaph in the Holy Cross -or Court Church. Long after the death of the emperor the Court Church including a Franciscan monastery was built between 1553 – 1563 to house the tomb, but still then the planned 40 bronze statues have not been finished.
The black statues raised on a socket are lined up right and left between the columns respectively in groups of four, and are dominating the nave with their mere number and superhuman seize (up to 250 cm). Pacing off the two rows you will find the female statues within each group of four being next to the jube. In front of the entrance of the choir at each side are to be found two sculptures, one of these represent the unhappy Queen Juana of Spain.

The great bronzes

Out of the 28 great bronzes are 8 images of women. Four women are holding an open book in their left hand (the right hand is reserved for holding the candle), one of them is apparently reading in her open (prayer ?) book.
Now my curiosity was raised completely. Who have been these women?
Some of them carry information. The supervising student is trying hard to recall the names, but to be better off I preferred to buy the small booklet by Erich Egg, (Note 2) which I can rely on now.
Holding a book as attribute are Duchess Mary of Burgundy (1457 – 1482), Queen Elizabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol (1263 – 1313), Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria (1465 – 1520) and Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia (1394 or 1397 – 1429) (Note 2) The other statues of Women are besides the already named Juana of Spain Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1396 – 1443), Archduchess Margaret of Austria (1480 – 1530) and Empress Maria Bianca Sforza (1472 – 1511).
All pictured women, with or without a book, are dressed in precious dresses after the fashion of their time; noble cloth, jewellery, crown or head-dress refer to their social position. Their faces show individual expression and are created after artwork like paintings or engravings or after the still living person itself. Therefore the sculptures are most likely similar in appearance to the persons. Emperor Maximilian I. had attached the utmost importance to the fact that the bronze statues might reflect the highest similarity of the persons. Already in 1502 he asked the painter Gilg (Giles) Sesselschreiber of Munich to make sketches for the large ancestral figures using historic portraits.

The male bronze statues (Note 3) were given the regalia of power like crown, globus cruciger, buckler, sword and coat of arms, which was also given to some of the women. They wear their suit of armour or like the women the splendid typical robes of their country (region) and time demonstrating their social position for example as king or duke.
Each statue was modelled with extreme elaborateness, the minutest details of armour or cloth are reflected without any repetition of the suits of armour or the elegant robes of the noble women. The knowledge of these costumes may be enhanced by the elaborate sculptures and a treasure trove for details and design in fashion for the couturier. The robes fall in opulent drapery, showing extravagant embroidery adorned with pearls. Brocade, silk, velvet and lace are created in such a delicate way that they might let forget their hardness of bronce.

The sculptor Suzanne Peiffer (Note 4) has told us already about the complicated and time-consuming manufacturing process of a bronze figure beginning with the first sketch, followed by the model and ending finely with the cast. This gives us a rough idea of the specific difficulties the artists and founder had to master at the beginning of the 16 th century when they received by Emperor Maximilian I. the big order for 40 huge sculptures, the bigger than life-size statues of his ancestors, the statuettes of 100 Saints of the house of Habsburg as well as 34 busts of the Roman Emperors. Apparently the realisation of this large project was not possible to do in a rush because bronze statues of this size have not been cast outside Italy yet. First of all the already mentioned painter Gilg (Egidius) Sesselschreiber made a rough drawing which then the carver Sebastian Häusserer used for the life-size wooden models. „These models were then cut apart, coated with clay and wax, dipped into bronze and brass and finally welded together with iron rods inside to reinforce them. This complicated technique and the lack of casting practise led to delays. In 1518 Stefan Godl, a caster from Nuremberg, took over the task of casting the big statues from Sesselschreiber.” (Note 2). In Innsbruck he did cast them in one piece without a wooden model, according to the method of the lost cast. As a result Godl and his modeller Leonhard Magt completed 18 statues. In the meantime failures, Godl’s death as well as financial difficulties brought the production of the large sculptures to an end in 1550; this happened long after the order given by Emperor Maximilian I. and long after his death. But the realised 28 large sculptures are enough for an impressing escort for the late Emperor even though for an empty sarcophagus.

Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia

Hand of  Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia
Portrait of Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia
But let us have a closer look at the statues. Duchess Zimburgis of Masovia keeps her book open with her ringed forefinger that she might find her reading point much easier, what might express the immediacy of the moment. The sculpture, started with a height of 231 cm in 1511, was, still during the lifetime of Emperor Maximilian I., immediacy designed, modelled and cast by Sesselschreiber and his staff, in 1516. Its impression of being late Gothic might be influenced by a contemporary portrait, which the artist might have seen. The Polish princess was the grandmother of Maximilian and the wife of Ernst, „The Iron Duke“ (1377 – 1424), who like her son, Emperor Friedrich III. (1415 – 1493), became part of the funeral procession. It is told that the lady was extremely strong despite her pettiness in the execution, which can not be hidden by the opulent drapery of her cape and puffed up sleeves as well as the roomy skirt. She would have been able to bend horseshoes by her hand, to crack nuts with her fingers, to drive nails into the wall with her bare hand, to pull out iron nails from the wall with her bare hand and much more are telling us the legends. Well, why shouldn’t she hold then with sturdy grip the prayer book with gloved fingers. Besides her rumoured extraordinary physical strength she would have had a raised lower lip, the so-called „Habsburger Lippe“, which up to now she has passed on as mother of the Habsburg clan. The bronce statue does not show this attribute at all. Unfortunately we do not learn anything about her knowledgeableness or education, but believe she must have been very literate as she came from a Polish ducal line.

Duchess Mary of Burgundy

Hand of  Duchess Mary of Burgundy
Portrait of  Duchess Mary of Burgundy
A sturdy grip we might have expected from a passionate horsewoman also. But Duchess Mary of Burgundy, who died at an early age in consequence of a hunting accident followed by a miscarriage. She holds her prayer book only with pointed fingers, but using her forefinger as a bookmark. She too wears delicate laboured gloves.
The statue dated of 1513 / 1516 happens to be with a height of 218,8 cm a little smaller than the statue of Zimburgis and also was made by Gilg Sesselschreiber and his factory including sketch, model and cast. The preparing drawing could follow the paintings of Mary of Burgundy (Note 5) who was believed to be one of the most beautiful women of her time. Therefore the statue owns a similarity to Mary. The young lady is depicted in the authentic Burgundian costume, an elegant robe of brocade with Burgundian bonnet.
Mary of Burgundy, the first wife of Emperor Maximilian I., was the daughter and single child of Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy, who is also one of the statues. At first, as a small child, until she became 6 years, she lived with her parents in the fortification Quesnoy in the south of the Hainaut. When the parents moved to the Netherlands, because her father became there governor, she was educated by Madame d’Haleweyn in Gent, the domicile of the Earls of Flanders. Her education and instruction was performed according to her social position. Therefore the girl was instructed in religion, history, Latin, needlework , horse riding and hunting. Brought up bilingual she could speak both languages of Burgundy, Flemish and French. Therefore Mary of Burgundy will have known the prayers by heart and a ascertaining look into the prayer book might not have been necessary.
After the death of her father in the Battle of Nancy in 1477, Maria became heiress of the Burgundian Kingdom, to which belonged besides the Dukedom of Burgundy, the Netherlands as well ( Flanders, Brabant, Luxembourg and Holland). Still in the same year she married the later Emperor Maximilian I.. May be this did happen because of political reasons, but both loved hunting, all the more tragic was the fall off the horse during a shared falconry. They say, Maximilian could never cope with her early death. Both their children, the later King Philip the Fair and the later Archduchess Margaret of Austria you will find in the funeral parade.
Maximilian I. has published in memory of his beloved first wife the story of his courtship and “Brautfahrt” in “Theuerdank” with epic verses in 1517.
We have learned about Mary of Burgundy that she was at a high level educated for sure. Naturally you may ask if the attribute of a book which is given as an attribute of a depicted woman really characterise her. With doubtlessness we can believe this in the case of Mary of Burgundy.

Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria

Hand of  Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria
Portrait of Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria
This can be regarded even more for Duchess Cunegond of Bavaria. She is one of the other both noble ladies, who are holding an open book in their hand. Cunegond was the only sister of Maximilian I. and wife of Archduke Albrecht IV. of Bavaria, but we miss him in the row of sculptures. After his death in 1508 she withdrew to a nunnery, the “Pütrich-Regelhaus” in Munich, where she spent her remaining years together with Franciscan nuns (Note 6). She was of profound godliness and lived in utmost plainness in the “Pütrich-Regelhaus”, therefore she left barely a noteworthy bequest for the Franciscan nuns. She is the only one who is looking into the opened book indeed. Apparently she could be characterised by an open book which is just in use. In this way she was portrayed on a window glass of the charterhouse Prüll near Regensburg (Note 7). Her wide reading was therefore known in the public. She had received the profound education for a daughter of a high social rank as it was common in these days. We do know that she owned a small worthy library, some books have remained still, and further that she did annotate by her own hand remarks into the books which she used. In her comprehensive library with manuscripts and prints mostly texts of pious content were found as prayer books and bibles. But also there did exist illuminated manuscripts like the “Book of the adventures of the knights of the round table” (Buch der Abenteuer der Ritter von der Tafelrunde). This book shows even the alliance coat of arms (Allianzwappen) of the couple, Conegond and Albrecht. May be the contemporary novel “Pontus and Sidonia” was one of the books which belonged to her, as it is told she would have named one of her daughters after it. In her treasure of books (Bücherschatz) existed also translations from the Latin language as “De consolatione ad Martiam” by Seneca (Note 8). In this case we meet a very literate lady who indeed took a great influence on the family affairs of the reigning nobility (Adelshäuser) and their policy as she took influence on her direct situation (Umgebung). Fact is, that during the stay of Conegond the writing by the nuns in the “Pütrich-Regelhaus” had grown notable. Well, Conegond was not only educated, as her social rank demand it, but did really read her books as her notes reveal.
The sculpture of 1516 /17 present her yet in contemporary richly decorated robe not as common resident in the “Pütrich-Regelhaus” of the Franciscan nuns. Her decision to live in poverty and Christian humbleness as a widow was not really accepted and she should be kept better in memory as resplendent Duchess. With thumb and forefinger Cunegond of Bavaria is leaving open two pages of the book at once as if she could not await the second prayer which would be to be read still. The Bronze statue has a height of 208 cm and its design, model and cast is associated with Gilg Sesselschreiber and his co-workers Sebastian Häusserer and Christof Sesselschreiber, but there exists a guess, that the design could have been made by Hans Leinberger.

Queen Elizabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol

Hand of   Queen Elisabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol
Portrait of Queen Elisabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol
The other and last of the noble ladies with again an open book, which pages seem to be browsed by a wind gust. She was the daughter of Count Meinhard II. of Gorizia-Tyrol and Elizabeth of Bavaria. She married the Habsburg King Albrecht I., the son of King Rudolf. The sculpture of Albrecht I. is also to be found in the Court Church. Queen Elizabeth of Gorizia-Tyrol gave birth to 21 children and so became the ancestress of the Habsburg. She is to be considered as a strong-minded character with some interest on pragmatic political and economic affairs which tasks she did solve independently and successfully. The salt production in Hallstatt she did promote considerably. When in 1308 her husband, Albrecht I., was murdered because of probate dispute in the Habsburg family she pushed her claim of the punishment of the murders. Though as a queen Elizabeth had determined successfully the Habsburg policy, she went into the cloister Königsfelden, which she had built on the spot where her husband had been murdered.
Needless to say that we can take for granted a thorough education of Elizabeth though nothing is known about her relationship of literature, of books in general. But without profound knowledge of the political and economic affairs, which task Albrecht I. assigned to her or which she had to take on her shoulders after his death, she could not have solved successfully. In that time it was not unusual for a widow to entry in the by herself founded monastery.
The Bronze figure wears a richly pleated but smooth downright robe with fringes on the sleeves. Exceptionally seem the two long braids, which decorate the back. The crown of Elizabeth was lost and the hair decoration was amended like the lower part of the long braid. Probably the lost figure from her mausoleum in Königsfelden (Aargau) did sample. Because of the artistic style and quality the dedication of the bronze with a height of 221,2 cm of 1516 to Gilg Sesselschreiber concerning sketch, model and cast is doubted.

The Book as Attribute

All four female characters holding a book (Note 9) interest us and were created by Gilg Sesselschreiber and his factory. Why just these noble ladies were portrayed with a book and not all or at least some more I can not tell, for their being literate must have been distinct because of their social rank. To which extent Gilg Sesselschreiber could or would have followed guidelines regarding this question must stay without answer. May be the answer could lie in the fact that the four female sculptures without a book were modelled by Leonhard Magd and cast by Stefan Godl, however they were designed by different masters, namely by Hans Polhaimer, Jörg Kölderer as well as Ulrich Tiefenbrunn. The execution of a prayer book as a symbol of an intensive deep godliness in connection of funerary monuments or sarcophaguses is to be found often because of the salvation of the dead and the providing the intercession.

Again we face some unanswerable questions: Why were modelled four out of eight noble ladies of the funeral escort with a book and four of them without a book or any other attribute? The pre-conditions for each the women seem to be given in my opinion. The connection of the prayer book with the funereal-culture is comprehensible. But could be traced a conscious opinion of the artist by the addition of a book? All female sculptures with the attribute of a book were made still during the lifetime of Emperor Maximilian I. Hence could be concluded that in his opinion he wanted these women with a book portrayed to characterise them as literate, knowledgeable and pious? He himself was well-informed, educated and of profound piety and had interest in literature and poetry. He estimated the intelligence of his first wife, Mary of Burgundy, whereas he had described his second wife Mary Bianca Sforza disrespectfully as stupid so it’s told. We do not know in which extend Maximilian I. did control the ongoing work at the sculptures, but it is likely that he did have his part because it was his affair of the heart to make sure the glorious memory of his person as well as of the Habsburg clan. Therefore the book as attribute in the hand of the women (Note 10) was not at all chosen by accident.

Note 1: As the founder of the Habsburgian Empire, which he could extend by means of marriages and inheritances, he had conceived of a plan which was unusual at the time. For the honour and glory of the House of Habsburg he wanted to create a unique monument in perpetuity: A mausoleum for himself, which should be even a political monument of the claim of the House of Habsburg for the leading role in Europe.
Maximilian I. was considered as the last knight at the end of the 15 th and beginning 16 th century, who did fight still in person courageously. He maintained medieval traditions like glamorous courtly living with knight games “Ritterspiele”, jousts, as well as hunting parties. Although he was highly educated, did speak 7 languages, was interested in technical developments of the time, in particular for the technology of weapons, he became the important sponsor of the sciences and arts, in doing so he was anxious to heighten the glory and posthumous fame of himself as well as of the House Habsburg. This request you may find in his desire for preferably authentic reproduction of his individual facial features on paintings and prints as well as in his will and order to have created the bronze statues ordered by him in a very close real sense. Maximilian I. authored the autobiographical works like “Weißkunig”, the stories of his father and his youth, as well as “Theuerdank”, the story of his journey his bride-to-be Mary of Burgundy and the battles about her inheritance. During his 40 years long reign Maximilian I. was involved in a total of 25 warlike conflicts. Hereby did lead his power struggle with the gentry of the Empire to the parliament in Worms in 1495, where a compromise with the gentry was found. Maximilian I. did proclaim the “Eternal Public Peace”, the construction of the superior Court of Justice in the Empire and the census of the Penny of the Empire. For all Maximilian I. was aiming to strengthen and extend, in particular through a policy of marriage and contract, the power of the House of Habsburg as well as its empery. But also he did try to build up an overall order in his Empire with reforms in society and economy.

Note 2: Erich Egg, Das Grabmal Kaiser Maximilians I. Hofkirche in Innsbruck, Innsbruck 1993

Note 3: Because of the completeness the names of the shown men are listed here. (after Egg, q.v. the excellent afterimages and the floor plan of the Court Church with the marked places of the sculptures) :King Albrecht II. (1397 – 1439), Emperor Frederick III. (1415 – 1493), Margrave Leopold III. the Holy (1095 – 1136), Count Albrecht IV. of Habsburg (died 1239 / 40), Duke Leopold III. the Honest (1349 –1386), Duke Frederick IV. with the empty pocket (1382 – 1439), King Albrecht I. (1248 – 1308), King Godfrey of Bouillon (died 1100), King Ferdinand the Catholic of Aragon (1452 - 1516), Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy (1396 – 1467), Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy (1433 – 1477), Archduke Sigmund the Rich (1427 – 1496), King Arthur (6 th century), King Ferdinand of Portugal (died 1383), Duke Ernst “the Iron” of Austria (1377 – 1424), King Theoderic (454 – 526), Duke Albrecht II. the Sage (1298 – 1358), King Rudolph I. von Habsburg (1218 – 1291), King Philip the Fair (1478 – 1506) and King Clovis (465 – 511).
Note 4: Look at Essay Nr 9, 2006

Note 5: Some afterimages of the paintings you can find in the internet.

Note 6: A detailed appreciation accomplishes: Karina Graf, Kunigunde, Erzherzogin von Österreich und Herzogin von Bayern-München (1465 - 1520), eine Biographie, Mannheim 2000

Note 7: The window glass in the charterhouse Prüll near Regensburg shows her with a book in her hand, too: Graf,p. 182

Note 8: Karina Graf, p 182 ff, gives a minutes list of the books in the ownership of Cunegond.

Note 9: Look for the book as attribute to my introduction of the project Reading Woman.

Note 10. The question might be allowed why none of the depicted counts and kings are shown with a book. However for an example an open book is to be found in the hand of the sculpture of St. Maximilian, the name patron of the Emperor, one of the created 23 statuettes of the Saints of the House Habsburg and its relatives. The statue of St. Ermelindis holds an open book in hands too but this does not amaze.

Reader comments:

Angela from beirut, Lebanon wrote on February, 22 2011: hello,

First of all i am very impressed with the insightful and detailed information that you have spent so much of your dedication and time. I am a fine arts student myself and it happens that my masters thesis is about the woman reader in the visual arts, mainly in the Victorian age.As a result, it would mean a lot to me if i could get any essays about this subject and i will gladly put your site as one of my references, for the woman reader is a difficult subject to research and discuss.



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