Saturday, March 01, 2014

Dürer and the Emperor`s Prayerbook

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Portrait of Emperor Maximillian I
Oil on panel
74 x 61.5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Maximilian I (22 March 1459 – 12 January 1519), the son of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor and Eleanor of Portugal, was King of the Romans (also known as King of the Germans) from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death

It was he who was responsible for the massive expansion of the House of Habsburg which came to dominate the Europe of his time

His grandson Charles succeeded Maximilian as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, and ruled  both the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire simultaneously

He extended the rule of the Habsburgs to the Netherlands, Spain, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, and Italy.

His reign saw the first flourishing of the Renaissance in Germany. 

He used the arts not simply for his delectation and that of the Court but to consolidate and enhance his rule over his vast empire in  Europe

But he also wished to secure his posthumous fame. 

Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Altdorfer and Lucas Cranach were but three of the many jewels in this magnate`s treasury to effect such a project

His empire and wealth are gone. 

His dynasty but a shadow of its former glory. He is dust. He is but a memory, unknown outside  a small band of scholars and in museums and art galleries where his paintings hang shorn of any of the meaning and triumphalism which he wanted and commissioned. 

But we have his prayer book

The prayer book of Emperor Maximilian I (Oratio ad suu[m] proprium angelu[m] ) is a prayer book in the Latin language printed in Augsburg in 1514/15 with a run of ten specimens. 

The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich has now digitised its unique specimen with illustrations by Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder.

What was seen only by the Emperor and his close family and associates can now be seen by the multitude, the descendants of the burghers, villeins and serfs who inhabited his domains and called him or had to call him "Lord"

We see what he and his closest saw when they prayed

Frontispiece (Albrecht Dürer)

Prayer to Saint Barbara (part of)  (Drawing by Albrecht Dürer)

Prayer to Saint George (Drawing by Albrecht Dürer)

Memento mori (Drawing by Albrecht Dürer)

Pope Benedict XVI in a discussion about Purgatory, Hell and Eternal Life  in Spe Salvi said this:
"47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. 
Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. 
This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. 
Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. 
But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. 
Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. 
At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. 
It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ"

What we are looking at in the prayer book is what survives and remains after the blast furnace of time and history and the encounter with the Risen One. It is a depiction of the eternal heartbeat 

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