Art Through Time: A Global View
History and Memory Art: The Triumphal Arch of Maximilian I
Fascinated with the new technology of printmaking, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519) used the technique of woodcut to record his accomplishments for posterity.
One of his many monuments in paper (others include a triumphal procession), The Triumphal Arch is composed of 192 woodcuts that, when arranged together, form an illusionistic arch standing twelve feet high and ten feet wide. The celebrated Nuremberg artist Albrecht Dürer oversaw the execution of the project, and designed a portion of the woodblocks along with his assistants Wolf Traut and Hans Springinklee, and the Regensburg artist Albrecht Altdorfer.
A summation of the emperor’s life and accomplishments, the iconography of The Arch was dictated by Maximilian, who conceived of it as an everlasting memorial to himself; this much is noted in one of the many inscriptions found throughout the two-dimensional architectural monument. The imagery on the arch is highly complex, but focuses on Maximilian’s ancestry, political allegiances, marriages, familial bonds, and major battles, as well as his personal triumphs and endeavors.
For Maximilian, eager to solidify the authority of his family dynasty (the Habsburgs) and assert himself as heir to great emperors of antiquity, the paper monument was meant to evoke of the triumphal arches of Rome. Maximilian’s version of the Arch of Constantine or Titus was on a smaller scale and of lesser permanence, but it also had advantages. Because it was made up of printed sheets, The Arch of Maximilian was cheap, reproducible, and easily disseminated. The emperor distributed copies of The Arch to aristocracy throughout the vast territory to which he laid claim. When he died in 1519, The Triumphal Archwas the only one of the monumental print projects to be completed.
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Wood, Christopher S. “Maximilian I as Archeologist.” Renaissance Quarterly58.4 (Winter 2005): 1128–1174.