Maximilian I (22 March 1459 – 12 January 1519) was King of the Romans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1493 until his death. He and his father Frederick III, were part of what was to become a long line of Holy Roman Emperors from the House of Habsburg. During his lifetime, Maximilian commissioned several great works to commemorate his successes and secure his legacy. To this end, he is quoted as saying “The money I spend for the perpetuation of my memory is not lost.”
Der Weisskunig or The White King is a chivalric novel and thinly disguised biography of Maximilian I. It was written in German by Maximilian and his secretary between 1505 and 1516. Although not explicitly identified as such in the book, Maximilian appears as the "young" White King, with his father Frederick III represented as the "old" White King. The text recounts their dealings with contemporary characters whose identities are disguised but easily decipherable. These include the Blue King (the King of France), the Green King (the King of Hungary) and the King of Fish (representing Venice). Maximilian is depicted as a virtuous ruler favored by God. The book is now mainly remembered for the 251 woodcut illustrations, made in Augsburg between 1514 and 1516, the principal artists for which were Hans Burgkmair and Leonhard Beck. Only a few proofs were completed between 1514–16 and the full work remained unpublished. It was not until the blocks were rediscovered in 1775 that they were first published as a complete book in Vienna.
View more selections from Der Weisskunig in our current Old Masters exhibition by clicking here.