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The Kunstkammer : The Collections of Rudolf II

The Kunstkammer : The Collections of Rudolf II

Emperor Rudolf II of Habsburg (1576-1612) was an avid art collector. He had collected the great artworks of Albrecht Durer and Peter Brueghel the Eldar. By that time, there was no art gallery or museum like today. Rudolf owned the most valuable collectables comparison with other impereal courts north of Alps. He was proudful of his collections. Day by day he was more obsessed with the collections and gave fewer attention to the daily court life. The collection of Rudolf II was familier as Kunstkammer or the collection of strange objects.

The emperor only shown his secret treasure to people he favoured or who praised him. As an example, the Venetian ambassador, Piero Duodo congratulated Rudolf II for his military success over the Turks in 1601. The emperor was so pleased that he gave the ambassador a chance to look at the secret treasures of Kunstkammer. There were also other people who got the chance to watch the famous collections. Among them Cardinal Alessandro D'Este, Archduke Maximilian III, the Grandmaster and the Regent were main.

Now we can focus of Rudolf's display system of his Kunstkammer. He transformed the Prague castle to nowadays modern museum. He reconstructed three big hall rooms to display artworks. It was divided by three parts: a) The Spanish Room B) The New Room and c) The Refurbished adjoining Wing with extended rooms. The Spanish Room was actually a expanded picture gallery. The New Room was for sculptural display. Both of Spanish Room and New Room had passage between the images and the sculptures. The viewer could walk through the passage and observe the artworks both sides. The roofs were also embelleshed with illusionistic paintings of famous artists of that time. Among them Pauwel and Jan Vredeman de Vries were notable.The third room which was actually a combination of several small rooms were full of artworks, small sculptures, jewels, rare books and other valuable objects.

If we look at some of the specific works of the emperor's collection, the first is the "Battle". It depicts the battle between the Turks and the people of the emporer. On the top-left of the painting, Jupitar is on the back of the eagle, whereas Bellona throwing thunderbold to the Turkish enemies.

ARCIMBOLDO, Giuseppe, Pairs of Allegories,
1563 and 1566,
Oil on wood or canvas,  
Vienna, Art Museum, Denver, Private collection

There were other images symbolizing the emporers power and allegory of control over the world. The first two 'Fire' and 'Winter' juxtaposed here. Both of these painting were painted by the royal painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Both of the paintings contain the emblem of Habsburg. For example, the Fire wears the Golden Fleece which was the emblem of the emperor. It also contains the coat of arms of the House of Austria. In the second image the winter, there are two imperial symbols can be seen. It wears another Hubsburg emblem, the striking iron from the chain of the fleece. Also there is a 'M' symbol for Emperor Maximilian II, suggests the painting was made for him. The last image depicts Rudolf II as Vertumnus (the frontispiece of this blog), god of all seasons. The fruits and flowers is an allegory of the golden time of his reign. 

Rudolf's curicities was not only a place of imperial collections. It was a microcosm of the greater universe. It was really a microscopic view of the greater world. In Rudolf's own voice it was the notion of a theatre of the world. If you want to know more about the early museum and wonderkammer click here.



1. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, ‘Remarks on the Collections of Rudolf II: The Kunstkammer as a Form of Representation’, Art Journal 38, No. 1 (Autumn, 1978) 22-28.

2. Arnold, Ken. Cabinets for the Curious: Looking Back at Early English Museums, London: Ashgate, 2006.

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Viewer’s Comments 1

Mustafa 18Mar 2021

Nice post