Women, the Art of Power. Three Women from the House of Habsburg translates into English the German catalogue to an exhibition at Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck in 2018. The catalogue explores the collections of three Habsburg patrons and is divided into sections devoted to the daughter and granddaughters of Emperor Maximilian I, respectively: Archduchess Margaret, governor of the Burgundian Netherlands (1480-1530); Archduchess Mary, Queen of Hungary (1505-1558); and Archduchess Catherine, Queen of Portugal (1507-1578). The show’s curators have edited the catalogue: Dagmar Eichberger, an expert on Margaret of Austria; Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, a specialist of Renaissance courts in Austria, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal; and Sabine Haag, an authority on the Habsburg collections at Innsbruck. A handy genealogical chart that pictures members of the Habsburg House through their most famous portraitists is also included.
The catalogue assembles representative samples of the collecting habits of the three related Habsburg women. The dynamics and pathology of collecting cultural capital are shown here as coordinated by a stable of regular artists, and marked by a commitment to genealogy and self-representation that increasingly depended on marvelous possessions from dynastic territories. The backdrop of the Ambras, which still houses the Kunstkammer of Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595), provided a rich context for these women’s own collecting practices. The catalogue’s essays amplify scholarship around reconstructions of period curiosity cabinets, such as the Kunstkammer Wien at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It also complements recent investigations into the Munich Kunstkammer, including Mark Meadow’s and Bruce Robertson’s work on the first formal guidelines for organizing collections, The First Treatise on Museums: Samuel Quiccheberg’s Inscriptiones, 1565 (Los Angeles, 2014) and expands art historical investigations into Habsburg self-presentation, such as Larry Silver’s Marketing Maximilian (Princeton, 2008), and the imperial and ducal gift networks located in Jessica Keating’s Animating Empire (University Park, Pennsylvania; 2018). Perhaps more importantly, however, the objects assembled here help unpack exchanges from the global transactions in early modernity, such as Global Gifts: the Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Biedermann, Gerritsen, et.al., 2019).
The catalogue considers these three Habsburg women as instrumental in forming Habsburg corporate identity. More than mere pawns on the chessboard of diplomacy, each inhabited a substantial civic role in their court’s representation. Margaret of Austria, for example, Regent of the Netherlands (1519-1530), served as governess of its provinces as well as an advisor to her nephew Charles V. Margaret’s collecting interests established the Palace of Savoy in Mechelen as an important site for such institutions as the portrait gallery and the library. Margaret’s library also held one of the earliest assemblages of ethnographic artifacts from the Americas, including those sent to Charles V from Montezuma and re-gifted to Margaret; it was objects in this library that the curious Albrecht Dürer viewed on his visit in 1521. A virtual genealogy of the Habsburgs appeared in the dynastic portraits hung in Margaret’s library and dining room. Margaret’s acquisitions highlight well-worn themes of genealogy, such as her commission to translate her father Maximilian’s romantic autobiography Theuerdank into French. Margaret’s small-scale boxwood and walnut gaming pieces, featured in the exhibition, also offered a bite-sized who’s who of the House of Habsburg, plus assorted other regents and Ottoman sultans.
The catalogue brings together a diverse and rich array of material to reconstruct these women’s patronage: their reliance on precedent as well as their desire to innovate and set their own “official” iconography. Mary of Hungary commissioned portraiture to turn the theme of her widowhood into an asset. Mary desired to direct the iconography of her own portraiture – surprisingly standard across an array of media: print, painting, sculpture – and in the process, she elevated the careers of artists involved in those projects: Titian, Bernard van Orley, and Leone Leoni. Mary’s role as a huntress informs tapestries of the Hunts of Maximilian, destined for Coudenberg palace – especially since these designs catapulted her into woven tableaux with male family members and put her pursuits truly on the level of male self-fashioning. Hunt-related accessories like gilded hoods for falcons and decorative saddle fittings expose the hunt as an activity generative for art-making. Mary’s acquisition of these designs for the tapestries from her court artist Bernard van Orley (c. 1530) positions her as a fountainhead of ideas that would later be thematized across Europe and across media. Jan van der Straet’s (or Stradanus’) exhaustive print cycle, the Venationes Ferarum, Avium, Piscium, first published by Philips Galle in Antwerp in 1578, also shows a series of hunts.
The final section on the patronage of Catherine of Austria, the Lisbon-based wife of King John III of Portugal, adds to our growing picture of a global Renaissance, marked by the diplomacy of gifting. Included here are examples of lacquer work from Japan and China (with helpful technical explanations), Afro-Portuguese ivories, and gems for hat badges, shaped into stereotypical depictions of black Africans. Perhaps more should be said about the slave trafficking in Africans and Amerindians that made some of these exchanges possible and the stereotypes pernicious. Diplomatic exchanges of objects designed for export to Portugal include oliphants and raffia mats from West Africa, and ivories carved in south Asia. The craftsmanship of artisans from India and Ceylon is featured in minutely carved ivories from Goa and Sri Lanka, confected in the shape of fans and caskets that accompanied diplomatic junkets to Lisbon to petition John III for assistance in claims of embattled kingships. Other lavish objects in this section – such as a sapphire and ruby encrusted thimble – embed the cultural syncretism of their global itineraries, and they prove that cross-cultural exchange in early modernity permeated even the most intimate spaces of women. Filigreed bezoar stones that arrived in Lisbon via Hormuz identify Catherine as an avid distributor of such items, as does the transcribed correspondence in the appendix concerning venerated bits of elk hooves; both make interesting reading for those interested in the curative uses of animals, as well as in the programs of dynastic gifting. Intra-Hapsburg diplomacy can also be tracked in this catalogue; many objects arrived at Ambras to convey Phillip II’s gratitude for Ferdinand II’s military assistance in his annexation of Portugal c. 1580.
Scholars of global and diplomatic networks, art historians, and historians of collections will be grateful for this important catalogue by noted authorities on these Habsburg women. The catalogue is user-friendly, accessible, and divided into clear sections devoted to the individual patronesses, their respective inventories, and in some cases particular patronage campaigns through specific media. Helpful technical explanations abound about the production of lacquer, porcelain, and other crafts and provide appreciation of the skills of otherwise anonymous artisans. That genealogical chart of the Habsburg House in the appendix provides handy reference for these women’s Habsburg pedigrees.
Florida State University