Feminist art history has recovered early modern women patrons of great importance, most notably in the ground-breaking exhibition, Women of Distinction (Mechelen, 2005; organized by Dagmar Eichberger), devoted to Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria. Recently a Habsburg sequel, Women. The Art of Power (Schloss Ambras, 2018; a team effort by Eichberger with Sabine Haag and Annemarie Jordan Gschwend) attended to Margaret of Austria but also to Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal, and to the subject of this current monograph, Mary of Hungary. This book builds on an early substantial exhibition, devoted to Mary alone (1993; Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch), with a substantial catalogue by Bob van den Boogert and Jacqueline Kerkhoff: Maria van Hongarije. Koningen tussen keizers en kunstenaars 1505–1558.
What made this particular Habsburg regent such a significant cultural force Building on previous scholarship, these assembled conference papers display considerable expertise, devoted exclusively to Mary of Hungary. They discuss the regent’s life and works, moving from biography to the arts (including music), and including both her direct patronage and collecting. This small monograph, sparsely illustrated, builds up from focused individual articles, so the interested student will also need to use the lavish 1993 catalogue (and its own fine essays).
Sister of Emperor Charles V and political wife of Hungarian King Ladislaus II of Hungary and Bohemia following the great Congress of Vienna in 1515, Mary was widowed in 1526 and remained unmarried, thus acquiring an agency that she never relinquished. After helping her brother Ferdinand to succeed her late husband as elected king in the region, from 1530 she followed her aunt Margaret of Austria in serving for a quarter-century as loyal regent of the Netherlands for her emperor-brother. Mary’s court in the ducal palace of Coudenberg in Brussels became the site of her patronage and pageantry along with her palace at Binche (not discussed).
Part One of this volume focuses on Mary’s personal relationships. First, M.J. Rodríguez-Salgado, professor of international history at the LSE, considers Emperor Charles V, Mary’s brother and overlord. For him Mary substantially contributed to an imperial image, especially through her commission of celebratory tapestry cycles (here the reader should also consult the all-important 2015 study by the late Iain Buchanan, Habsburg Tapestries). In her essay, “Like Aunt like Niece?”, Dagmar Eichberger brings her incomparable expertise about Margaret of Austria, to emphasize Mary’s own continuing cultivation of the Habsburg family dynasty but also a love of music, painting, and literature. Eichberger also notes what inventoried items (especially tapestries) went into retirement with Mary to Spain and what legacies (especially family portraits, but also earlier Netherlandish paintings) she left behind in the Low Countries. The final essay in Part One, by Jordan Gschwend, focuses on a rediscovered early biography (1553) of Mary of Hungary by Alessandro Nogarola, who served as a favored courtier across her regency. As her agent with Charles V, Nogarola writes about the political sagacity of the regent while also representing the cultural life of her court. Even in this consistently high-quality anthology, this essay particularly stands out for its fresh material, a major contribution to our knowledge about Mary of Hungary.
Part Two begins with editor García Pérez’s critical assessment of our state of knowledge about Mary’s patronage, linking her visual programs with their larger political purposes. She also points to issues for further consideration, such as building on Eichberger’s study to assess how Mary’s collections in Spain helped to shape court culture there as well as her place in the wider court patronage of Habsburg women, especially her sisters Catherine and Eleanor at their respective courts.
Mary’s commissions from Titian marked one of the milestone collaborations for both artist and patron. Miguel Falomir, director of the Prado Museum but also a major expert on Titian, has most recently (in his 2014 exhibition, Las Furias), discussed four Titian mythological canvases taken by Mary from her palace at Binche to Spain. Here he discusses how Mary engaged the great Venetian painter to advance Habsburg ambitions but also collected his religious works. His focus, however, steeped in the inventories like Eichberger’s, also introduces an unfamiliar, lost work: Titian’s painting of Venus and Psyche, copied by various prominent later artists. Again, this new material contributes fresh insights into Mary, whom he credits with the choice of theme, after their crucial 1548 meeting with Charles V in Augsburg. Falomir even notes, in passing, that Mary had the largest holding of Titian paintings in all of Europe(!). One can imagine with the author how the regent identified with the mortal who triumphs over adversity and eventually wins an apotheosis into Olympus, even over the resistance of the goddess of Love herself.
Next, Kelly Helmstutler Di Dio, the acknowledged authority on the Leoni, considers two bronze portraits of Mary: both a bust (Vienna) and a full length statue (Madrid). She had herself portrayed in garments of a mourning widow like her aunt Margaret of Austria. Thus her personal image, already a political assertion, combines with public display of virtue to reinforce her rulership as a female regent as well as a member of the Habsburg dynasty like other sculptures by the Leoni. Like Elizabeth in England, with the “heart and stomach of a king,” but like many other regents across European dynasties as well, Mary of Hungary modeled sixteenth-century political agency, acknowledging her power as well as her gender (also like Elizabeth and Margaret, she refused to marry after her husband died).
Supplementing Buchanan, Anne-Sophie Laruelle uses her thorough thesis research to present another unfamiliar work among tapestry cycles (out of 38 in her inventory!): The Labors of Hercules (1535). This twelve-piece ensemble (six extant) was the first one purchased by Mary. Manufactured by Willem Dermoyen, its designer remains unknown but close to Bernard van Orley. Of course, Hercules was the mythic model for strength and heroism of most European rulers, especially Charles V, as discussed by Fernando Checa, so this early imagery sparked the avid tapestry patronage and collecting on behalf of the dynasty by Mary of Hungary.
The remaining pair of essays take up literature (José Luis Gonzalo Sánchez- Molero) and music (Camilla Cavicchi), respectively. Unlike Margaret of Austria, whose patronage and grand bibliophilic collecting also included its own literary contribution from Jean Lemaire, La couronne margariticque (c. 1505; Women of Distinction, pp. 220–29), Mary did inspire a tribute from Erasmus himself in a letter (1529) to Margaret Roper (daughter of Thomas More) as a model of learning and the love of reading, and he also dedicated a treatise to her. Significantly, however, she left the bulk of her inherited library behind her when she retired to Spain, in a legacy for Habsburg Burgundy. Traditional Habsburg support for music, already a major contribution by Mary’s grandfather Maximilian I, was continued by Mary, who sponsored both chapel music as well as instrumental dances and songs. Cavicchi very thoroughly charts the roster of musicians in her service, while noting that the favored chanson music stemmed from the court of her sister, Queen Eleanor of France. Mary also collected instruments and played harpsichord herself.
This concluding essay cites a passage (also noted by Di Dio) by Venetian ambassador Bernardo Navagero, which provides a vivid profile of Mary: “Queen Maria is a governor general of all these countries, a woman who much resembles a man because she deals with war-related things, and states her opinions on wars, defense, and all political affairs. She is known to be a very chaste woman, she rides excellently, and hunting and music are her favorite amusements.” This volume adds to that profile, enriching us, through a series of truly insightful researches, with new and deeper insights about Mary of Hungary and the arts.
University of Pennsylvania