The Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I is a significant work of art by the renowned German artist Albrecht Durer. This oil painting, completed in 1519, is currently housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. The portrait was created posthumously, following the death of Maximilian I on January 12, 1519, who was born on March 22, 1459, and served as the Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his passing.
Durer’s connection with Emperor Maximilian I began in the spring of 1512 when the emperor visited Nuremberg and became acquainted with the artist. To honor the emperor and his lineage, Durer conceived the large Triumphal Arch woodcut, for which he received an annual stipend of 100 florins. Later, during the Diet of Augsburg in 1518, Maximilian summoned Durer to create his portrait. Durer met the emperor in his castle and initially made a pencil drawing on June 28, 1518, in the emperor’s small room. This preparatory sketch later served as the basis for the final oil panel, which introduced some variations from the initial drawing.
The portrait is notable for its symbolic elements, including the large pomegranate held in Maximilian’s left hand, representing cohesion in diversitya fitting emblem for the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor is depicted in three-quarter view against a green background, with his arms resting on an unseen parapet. His attire includes a gown with a wide fur collar and a broad-brimmed dark hat adorned with a brooch. The aged yet noble face of Maximilian, who was 59 at the time of the portrait, is framed by grey hair.
In the upper left corner of the painting, the Habsburg coat of arms and the Golden Fleece chain are visible, accompanied by a lengthy inscription detailing the emperor’s titles and achievements. The inscription serves to underscore the emperor’s stature and the legacy he left behind.
Albrecht Durer’s Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I stands as a testament to the artist’s mastery of portraiture, capturing not only the physical likeness but also the political and symbolic significance of the Holy Roman Emperor.