Rudolf II’s ‘Wunderkammer’ and fascination with the exotic


The Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II (1552–1612) was one of the most important patrons of art from the House of Habsburg. He resided in the castle of Prague where his collection took the shape of a Wunderkammer, a chamber of curiosities that reflected the richness and diversity of the universe in microcosm. Paintings and decorative arts were displayed alongside scientific instruments and exotic animal specimens. The main bulk of his collection forms today a major part of the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Wunderkammer

In the years of 1607 to 1611, the Court painter and administrator of the Imperial collections, Daniel Fröschl, listed natural objects including chameleons, crocodiles, fish and a bird of paradise. If a stuffed specimen could not be obtained, Rudolf had the animal painted. There were even images of unicorns, dragons and mandrakes in his collection. It was in this context that the painter Hans Savery II travelled to Prague with his uncle Roelandt. Savery’s painting entitled ‘A wooded landscape with exotic birds‘ includes pelicans, peacocks, ostriches, swans, a parrot, a turkey and a dodo and thus exemplifies the Emperor’s fascination with the exotic in nature.

Hendrik Aerts, who worked in the studio of Hans Vredeman de Vries, also travelled to Prague, together with his master and his son Paul. Hendrik Aerts demonstrates de Vries’s theories superbly in the work titled ‘An Allegory of Love and Death‘. This painting of an imaginary courtyard with its mannerist architecture and the typical vanishing point is very much Rudolf II’s taste not only for the natural and fantastical, but also for the sciences.

Works by Hans Savery the Younger and Hendrik Aerts will be up for auction on 25 April 2017. These artworks give insight into Rudolf II inquisitive mind and show his thirst for knowledge.

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