CROWN OF RUDOLF II
LATER CROWN OF THE AUSTRIAN EMPIRE
Inside the arch is the inscription:
RVDOLPHVS II ROM(ANORVM) IMP(ERATOR) AVGVSTUS
HVNG(ARIAE) ET BOH(EMIAE) REX CONSTRVXIT MDCII
(Made for Rudolf II, Roman Emperor,
King of Hungary and Bohemia, in 1602)
This crown is the most important work of the European goldsmith’s art. It was made in Prague in 1602 as the personal crown of Emperor Rudolf II, who had been Holy Roman Emperor since 1576. For this task the goldsmith Jan Vermeyen of Antwerp was summoned to Prague, at that time the imperial residence. One of the most artistically accomplished, beautiful and precious crowns in the world, this one was spared the fate suffered by most other personal crowns and was not broken up after the death of the monarch in 1612.
The emperor’s right to rule is symbolized in three principal elements, distinct in form, décor and significance: the circlet with its fleur-de-lis mounts in the shape of a royal crown (Rudolf II was the king of Bohemia and Hungary), the high ark descending from the imperial crown, and the golden miter symbolizing the pontifical grace of God enjoyed by the emperor, who rules as the representative of Christ on earth. The rows of pearls follow the contours like an illuminating chain of lights. The incomparably precious enamel work is typical of the exquisite art at the court of Rudolf II. The imperial crown and the insignia were kept at Nuremberg and were used only for coronation ceremonies; for all other occasions the emperors had to commission personal crowns, which have survived only in illustrations. The crown made for Emperor Rudolf II expresses his sublime imperial concept and his refined sense of art.
In the four spherical triangles of the golden miter, Rudolf is depicted in his four principal offices and titles: front left, as victor over the Turks (Imperator): front right, his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Regensburg (Augustus); rear left, his ride up the coronation hill after his coronation as king of Hungary in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia); and rear right, the procession at his coronation as king of Bohemia in Prague.
The choice and number of the stones used have allegorical and mystical significance. Eight diamonds decorate the crown: eight is a holy number referring to the octagonal body of the imperial crown; the diamond is a symbol of Christ, the invincible, whom the emperor represents on earth. In technical and artistic achievement, symbolic significance and balance of the individual elements, Vermeyen satisfied the emperor’s highest demands. When Francis II recognized the coming dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the threat posed by Napoleon, he proclaimed the Austrian Empire on August 11, 1804, choosing the old crown of Rudolf II as the crown of the new empire. It was never actually used for a coronation, since this was not considered necessary for the legitimization of the Austrian emperor.