Rudolf II and the Material Culture of the Holy Roman Empire

How did an emperor’s interest in collecting art connect with representations of his cultural and imperial legacy? In her new article (now live on the Cerae website), Miranda Lee Elston explores Rudolf II’s fascination with the religious works of Albrecht Dürer – she introduces her article, and her research more widely, for us here…

I am a Ph.D. candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill. My research interest focuses on the way English architecture is experienced and imagined through both image and text. In my dissertation, “Spatial Interaction: Architectural Representation in Early Tudor England,” I explore how early the Tudor built environment connects to the cultural-political spaces they envision by examining early sixteenth-century literary and pictorial examples. Specifically, my dissertation project aims to fill a gap in scholarship between sixteenth-century English art and theories of spatial representation through an interdisciplinary approach using digital technology gain a more nuanced understanding of the visual culture of the Tudor architectural space as culturally tethered to political and moral identity. More broadly, my research focuses on Northern European art and architecture. I am interested in how sixteenth-and-seventeenth century European societies understood and interacted with the world around them through art and architecture. As part of my interests, I seek to explore how cultural exchange impacts the broader visual culture of the period, specifically through the English imagination of the Americans during the sixteenth and seventeen centuries.

The topic for my article came out of research I undertook for a graduate seminar on The Court of Rudolph II at UNC-Chapel Hill. Through this research, I became interested in the ways Albrecht Dürer’s altarpieces were celebrated after his death, specifically in the context of the Rudolfine court. The bases of my research intersect with two focuses of mine, that of the ways art is interpreted in different contexts and collecting theory. My paper explores the question of how and why Emperor Rudolf set about collecting works of art by Dürer that were initially intended for a religious devotional context and how his interest in Dürer’s religious works can be connected to representations of Rudolf’s cultural and imperial legacy. I argue that within the Rudolfine court, Dürer’s altarpieces functioned as representations of Rudolf’s cultural legacy through the appropriation of religious images of his imperial claim and lineage. Through the shifting veneration of the artist, a new material culture of Empire was established through the collecting habits of the Rudolfine Court.

Miranda Lee Elston

UNC-Chapel Hill

Feature image: Feast of the Rosary. Albrecht Dürer, Sternberg Palace collection, National Gallery, Prague.

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