The generations that followed called him The last knight of the Middle Ages, and, while commenting on his wedding policy, King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary is attributed with the saying: “Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube,” which translates as “Other nations may wage war; you, happy Austria, marry!”
He was the Emperor Maximilian I who ruled the Holy Roman Empire from 1493 until his death in 1519 in Wels, a town located in Upper Austria, halfway between Innsbruck and Linz, carrying his coffin on all his journeys across his vast empire four years prior to his death.
He married the hereditary duchess of rich Burgundy, Maria, an extraordinary, beautiful woman with whom he had two children, Philip and Margaret. The latter was to be married to the son of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile who died shortly after their wedding. Philip married the Catholic monarchs’ daughter who inherited the Spanish Empire. Their son Charles V, Maximilian’s grandson, would later be the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, thereby becoming the ruler of an empire on which–he could proudly announce–the sun never sets.
It became clear what was meant by Bella gerant alii tu felix Austria nube when Maria died in 1482 and the poor Maximilian acquired the remarkably wealthy Burgundian inheritance.
Walking through the exhibition “Emperor Maximilian I and the age of D√ºrer” at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, visitors were treated to a great display of works and left fascinated by an emperor who was extremely conscious of his gedechtnus, a Middle Ages word for remembrance that best describes Maximilian’s concern with perpetuating his memory.
According to ancient tradition, Maximilian ordered a triumph drawing measuring 110 yards. While only half of it could be restored, it effectively illustrates his successful wars, his love for the arts, his passion for hunting and a somewhat surprising genealogical table leading back to The Battle of Troya and the old Emperor Charles the Great, founder of The Holy Roman Empire. Visitors could also admire a triumphal arch by Albrecht D√ºrer. Both were also done as wood engravings to make copies to be sold. All the glamour is thwarted by a portrait of Jakob Fugger, the money machine for the tremendous expenses of Maximilian.
The exhibition closed on Jan. 6 after running since last September. You’ll find more information on the exhibit, the works of art, and a companion book here.