Charlemagne - King of the Franks
This is an extract from one of Albrecht Dürer's panel paintings (Emperors Charlemagne and Sigismund) that was commissioned by Nuremburg's city council. These were ordered for the Treasure Chamber in the Schopper House, where the imperial regalia were kept the night before they went on ceremonial display on the Friday after Easter. For the rest of the year the regalia were housed in the Church of the Hospital of the Holy Ghost. Dürer was probably commissioned for the portraits in 1510 and received his final payment three years later. His panels are believed to have been ordered to replace two earlier works, now lost, which had been painted soon after the regalia were brought to Nuremberg in 1424.
The half length pictures are larger than life. No likenesses are known of Charlemagne, who ruled from 800-14, and Dürer therefore invented his portrait, presenting him frontally in an imposing posture. His interpretation of Charlemagne's appearance was to influence depictions of the Emperor until well into the nineteenth century.
The painting of Charlemagne include the appropriate coats of arms, the German eagle and French fleur-de-lis and the inscription around the original reads: `Charlemagne reigned for 14 years. He was the son of the Frankish King Pippin, and Roman Emperor. He made the Roman Empire subject to German rule. His crown and garments are put on public display annually in Nuremberg, together with other relics.'
Dürer prepared studies of the individual pieces of the regalia and reproduced them with great accuracy. Charlemagne wears the imperial crown and brandishes his sword and orb. The annual display of the imperial regalia ended in 1525 and Dürer's panels were then moved to the city hall. Since 1880 they have been on loan to the Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg. As for the regalia, the Habsburgs later took them to Vienna where they remained in the imperial treasury, except for a brief period when they were seized by the Nazis and returned to Nuremberg.