Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
from Amazon

* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

This delightful portrait from 1519 captures emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg. He was in Nuremburg for a short period at the time and so go to know the artist Albrecht Durer personally. Several study drawings were created first before he commenced the main artwork that we find displayed here.

Sadly, the emperor would pass away before the artist had finished the painting and so he would never have got to see this charming piece. There are several elements to this piece that make it so memorable, from the lifelike touches of the emperor's clothing to the heraldry and text which is placed at the top of the painting. The tone of green for the background also seems to be an inspired choice, combining well with the brown tones of his coat. Durer was highly skilled in several genres, not least portraiture and some of the detail in this painting is extraordinary, producing a lifelike quality that will enable us to go back in time to very early 16th century Germany. In recent years there has been a growing interest in German artists, just as any popularity can fluctuate over time and Durer will always remain at the forefront of discussions of this wide theme.

The artwork itself was produced on a piece of lindenwood of 74cm long by 62cm wide. Portraiture was a key genre of the Renaissance era, with landscape art still some centuries away from being taken seriously. In most cases artists would be instructed by powerful people to create flattering portraits of themselves in order to help cement the particular person's legacy. Without the modern media that we enjoy today, one's appearance would be lost immediately after death unless you were able to call upon the aid of a respected artist. Additionally, to have yourself linked to some of the biggest names in the art world also helped to boost your own reputation. Despite that, Emperor Maximilian I surely can't have imagined that he would be being dicussed so many centuries later thanks to a painting which he never actually saw himself.

Maximilian I of Austria died in 1519, shortly before this painting was completed. He was a big supporter of the arts and had actually met Durer around seven years earlier and would eventually be placed on the payroll as the emperor started to understand the brilliance of this creative genius, who he put to work on a number of different projects. Prior to his death, Durer had produced several drawings of the emperor which he used as the basis for a number of artworks, including the one found here. This process was not unusual as getting figures such as this to sit when required would often not be possible and so one would have to do the best they could within whatever circumstances came about. Some have suggested that the leader's problems in later life can be spotted through his somewhat solumn expression within this painting, although we don't know for sure how much was altered between the original sitting and this later artwork.

Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I in Detail Albrecht Durer