Object of the Week | 19/05/2021

Albrecht Durer print, 1512-1522

Today is the 550th anniversary of the birth of the great German painter and printmaker Albrecht Durer. 

This massive wood engraving extolls the virtues of the most powerful man in Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. Processions like this were public demonstrations of power and wealth and were a central part of 16th century government, reassuring the populace that their ruler was richer and more powerful than neighbouring rivals. Most people at the time were familiar with the symbolism and messages they conveyed.

This engraving shows Maximilian seated in an elaborate chariot surrounded by the four Cardinal Virtues, Justice, Fortitude, Prudence and Temperance with a Winged Victory holding a crown over his head bearing the titles of Maximilian’s military conquests. The chariot wheels represent the virtues required to keep the Empire in motion; Magnificence, Dignity, Glory and Honour. Maximilian’s driver is called Reason and holds the reigns of Nobility and Power. 

When the print was finally completed in 1522, Durer dedicated it to Maximilian’s son, Emperor Charles V who was a formidable supporter of the Catholic Church and opponent of the Reformation.