Albrecht Dürer, Kejser Maximilian 1.s Æresport,, 1515

Might and Glory
Dürer in the Emperor's Service

5 March – 21 June 2015

In the exhibition you could experience a true masterpiece by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer: An arch of honour measuring no less than 3.5 x 3 metres. The work is a veritable cornucopia of symbols of power, beautiful ornaments and strange fabulous beasts.

It impresses all viewers with its sheer size and wealth of detail. The many battle scenes, creatures and symbols instantly pique our curiosity. What is the meaning of all this? What messages was The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I created to convey?

Propaganda and self-promotion

Albrecht Dürer created the Arch in 1515 as a commission from Maximilian I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The work is teeming with countless figures and symbols, and all of these motifs serve one particular purpose: to promote the emperor and support the justness of his claim to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

The print shows the emperor surrounded by symbols of countless virtues and talents. One example is a crane holding a stone in its claw – a reference to the emperor’s ceaseless vigilance. We also find a picture of the famous Roman emperor Julius Caesar; Maximilian was keen to be associated with him.

Today, we no longer know the symbolic meaning of several of the features found in the Arch. For example, what is the point of the snail, the monkey and the mysterious dolphin-like creatures?

The ugly pomegranate

Maximilian’s family tree, located right in the middle of the work, clearly tells us that he comes from an ancient and noble family, and the historical scenes include his military victories. The tree itself is a pomegranate tree; if you look closely you will find pomegranates scattered throughout the huge print. The emperor chose the pomegranate as his symbol because it – like him – was not particularly attractive on the outside, but very beautiful inside, filled with well-shaped seeds.

The first-ever example of mass communication

Maximilian I of Habsburg was emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (a complex of territories centred on Germany) from 1508 until the time of his death in 1519.  The Habsburgs were one of the most powerful dynasties in Northern Europe at the time, and Maximilian became one of the most important Habsburg emperors.

In the mid-15th century a media revolution happened: Johann Gutenberg invented movable type. This completely changed the art of printing books. Instead of having to carve your text in a block of wood you could now set any text using individual lead letters and words – which made it easy to change the text. For the first time in the history of the world, conveying a message to many people became easy and inexpensive. Maximilian I was among the first to fully realise how this new technology could be used.

The Arch as mass communication

He commissioned the most acclaimed artist of the age, Albrecht Dürer, to create a print of an arch of honour as part of a grand propaganda project: Maximilian wanted to print numerous copies of the work and send them to his allies around Europe. The objective was to promote and reaffirm his power to the widest possible audience.

About Dürer

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was one of the pre-eminent artists of the 16th century. Art history ranks him as one of the great geniuses of the period on a par with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rafael. Dürer worked with many media: paintings, drawings and prints. His prints in particular (copperplate prints, etchings and woodcuts) helped win him widespread fame throughout Europe.

His giant woodcut The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I forms the mainstay of this exhibition. It is one of Dürer’s principal works and a masterpiece within 16th century art.

About the Royal Collection of Graphic Art

Zoom and discover the details!


Admission fee: DKK 55

Under 27: DKK 45
Under 18: Free

The exhibition is supported by:

Film: What is the reason for conservation?

In the exhibition Might and Glory. Dürer in the Emperor's Service you could discover the grand and newly restored work
The arch og honour by Albrecht Dürer
. In this film Director Mikkel Bogh tells when and why the SMK begins
the delicate work.

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Updated: 26.apr.2018
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