Dürer’s paper triumph
the arch of the Emperor Maximilian

11 September – 16 November 2014

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Objects in focus

Supported by

Explore the enormous and elaborate triumphal arch by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) – one of the largest and most ambitious prints ever produced.

Celebrated German artist Dürer and his team designed this dense and spectacular image on 195 woodblocks which took three years to cut and print, between 1515 and 1518. It was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (r. 1486–1519) who took a personally close interest in its production. At over 3.5 metres tall, the incredibly detailed arch is both elaborate and immense. Maximilian harnessed the superlative skills of German woodcut designers and printers to advertise his achievements and dynastic ambition for the Austrian Habsburg family to which he belonged.

Scroll or tap on the image to zoom in. Hover or tap 'hotspots' to see descriptions. On touch devices, use the controls (rather than pinching) to move around the image and zoom out.

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The Holy Roman Empire covered the area of modern Germany (as well as parts of Italy, France, Netherlands and central Europe) and was a mesh of church lands, huge princely holdings and independent city states. As Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian was the titular ruler of huge swathes of land from Austria to Spain, but he lacked the power and money to govern them effectively. The three portals of the arch are a reminder of the monuments commissioned by Roman emperors in antiquity as military triumphs, but Maximilian’s considerably cheaper version is printed on paper rather than rendered in sculpture or architecture. It would have been used as wall decoration in the palaces of the courts of Europe to emphasise the power and dynastic ambition of Maximilian and the Habsburgs, with an extensive (and spurious) family tree, and key events from the Emperor’s life.

The display also features other major print projects associated with Maximilian – Dürer’s striking woodcut portrait of the Emperor and his triumphal chariot, which was to form part of a larger work that was never completed.