Collections > UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Honors Theses Collection > Collaborative Court Art and the Utility of Reproduction in the Reign of Emperor Rudolf II

At the court of the Holy Roman Empire in Prague, in the period immediately preceding the Thirty Years’ War, sculptors, painters, and printmakers gathered from across Europe to serve as court artists for one of the greatest patrons of the era, Rudolf II. The court artists primarily created art for the emperor, who placed the works into the imperial Kunstkammer, which contained his collection of naturalia and exotica as well as fine art of the contemporaneous period and of the Renaissance.1 Rudolfine artists freely repeated elements of their work and whole compositions, exchanged ideas with other painters, and collaborated with printmakers who disseminated their art throughout the continent. In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, copying served a practical purpose as a substitute for original works of art when they could not be acquired. Prints entered collections and art workshops, where they were additionally used as tools for instruction, providing examples of otherwise obscure works for students to imitate.2 Theorists, drawing on an antique rhetorical tradition, proposed that copying was only acceptable in the work of fully trained masters when hidden or when used as a display of the artist’s genius in willfully taking on the manner of an older artist. Among artists, however, copying was a common tool for education, self-promotion, and income. Although art theorists like Karel van Mander tended to neglect prints and their makers, in practice the status of printmaking grew increasingly throughout the sixteenth century as collectors accumulated the creations of a variety of artists. The Rudolfine court encouraged a culture of exchange in the close associations of the artists, who used copies and reproductions as a source of income and as a way to promote their art and elevate their social standing. The emperor’s court art particularly derived from the collaboration of contemporaneous artists and the incorporation of earlier examples of famous works of art to promote his position as emperor. Rudolf commissioned a large quantity of propaganda and works with political iconography from his court artists, who often worked together and drew on one another’s works to fulfill the emperor’s political needs. Much of Rudolf’s propaganda spread throughout Europe through reproductive prints made as a collaborative effort or was created as the result of copying or emulating the works of earlier artists available in the Kunstkammer. In this thesis, I argue that the proliferation of reproduction and the frequency of collaboration in the creation of Rudolfine court art catered to the needs of both the artists and the patron.