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Jade at the Court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague

One of the persisting mysteries concerning nephrite jade in Europe is the origin of lapidary quality green jade used by Milanese jewellers and lapidaries from about 1520 to 1690 first in Milan and then in Prague for the manufacture of stemmed cups of extraordinary beauty. These artists and their contemporaries in Paris and Augsburg (Germany) left us, now in the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Musée d’historie Naturelle and the Le Louvre in Paris as also in the Landesmuseum of Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart (Germany), next to carvings in rock crystal, prasem, heliotrope, jasper, lapis lazuli and similar semi-precious stones, also examples carved from green jade. All these objets d’art have a rich and documented history and are traceable back, over more than 400 years, to an individual artist or workshop.


Stemmed cup in nephrite jade made by Ottavio Miseroni between 1603 and 1607 for Rudolf II and described by Anselmus de Boodt as made from Lapis Nephriticus (Now in the KHM in Vienna)

Around 1850 the origin of the nephrite jade used by the Alpine Neolithic Lake dwellers to manufacture axe blades and similar tools was hotly debated and a European nephrite or jadeite source was rejected by not few scientists of that time. For example H. Fischer and others, although confronted with numerous leads, rejected the notion of an European source favouring importation from the Far East during tribal migrations and ignored the European manufacturers of these cups in jade.

In 1885 Traube discovered massive Nephrite in-situ in Jordansmühle, now in Poland, and thus an indigenous European source of jade was a reality. However up to now, no study has yet been made for the identification of the origin of the nephrite used for these Renaissance jade cups.

I will pursue this topic and hope to persuade the relevant Museums to look into this matter.

In the meantime I want to introduce you to a great patron of Renaissance art and customer for such jade cups, Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, to Anselmus de Boodt, his personal physician and gemmology expert as also to Ottavio and son Dionisio Miseroni, his lapidaries. They where residing in Prague which, from 1578 to 1612, was de facto the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

Rudolf II, of the German line of the Habsburg Dynasty, is one of the most fascinating European Emperors. His personality traits and family drama, together with a deep interest in science and arts, yielded numerous facts and stories which I want to acquaint you with.


Rudolf II, Anselmus DeBoodt and Dionisio Miseroni, the son of Ottavio, the protagonists of the following stories

Anselmus de Boodt, a son of a rich Flemish wool and cloth merchant, fled the religious struggles between Catholics and Protestants, the Spaniards and the Dutch on the Lower Countries. He left his hometown Bruges, the art capital of Northern Europe, to reach the court of Rudolf II and become one of his physicians in 1584. There, in an environment where alchemy flourished, his interest turned to gemmology and lapidary science. He assembled the existing knowledge on gems and minerals in a 600+ page book “Gemmarum et Lapidum historia” which was published in Latin in 1609 in Hanau/Germany, subsequently translated into French and published 1644 in Lyon/France with the title ”Le Parfait Joaillier”. In this book, three chapters deal with the medicinal properties of jade or the Lapis Nephriticus and its sources. He has also witnessed in Prague the making of a stemmed cup in nephrite jade for his master. This cup is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and thus assures the historic correct link between Lapis Nephriticus of 1609 and nephrite jade in 2006.


The Hradschin Castle of Prague – the living quarters of Rudolf II, Anselmus de Boodt and of the Miseronis’s

This and other cups in jade have been made in Ottavio Miseroni’s lapidary workshop in Prague. Ottavio has been called 1588, from his native Milano, to Prague by Rudolf II to become the court jeweller. Together with his three brothers he established the most famous lapidary and jewellery workshop of the Renaissance Europe and with his son Dionisio, borne in Prague in 1607, left us over one hundred jewellery and lapidary masterpieces now visible in museums and private collection. It was Dionisio, elevated to the rank of the guardian of the Imperial Treasure, which saved part of these inestimable treasures from the Swedes, when, after the outbreak of the 30 year war, the protestant troops raided and plundered the castle of the Catholic Emperor in Prague and Dionisio refused under torture to reveal parts of it whereabouts.

Part 1 Rudolf II (1552-1612)

Emperor and Patron of Science, Arts and Alchemists

1.1 The Year 1576

In this fateful year Henry III is the King of France just four summers after his brother Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Medici instigated the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew against the Huguenots.


Henry II of France, Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England

Philip II is King of Spain and mired in costly wars against the Turks, France, England and the Lower Countries and only few success stories, such the arrival of treasure galleons from the Americas, the establishment of Spanish settlements in Florida and in the Philippines, brighten his days.

Elizabeth I is confronted with the Northern Rebellion and has forced Mary, Queen of the Scots to abdicate and holding her interned at the Sheffield Manor in South Yorkshire.


The painters Titian, El Greco, an engraving of a doctor during the Black Death epidemic and Francis Drake

Titian, the famous painter dies in August in Venice and the Greek painter known as El Greco settles in Toledo. The Black Death ravages Milan and Northern Italy.

Francis Drake has returned to England from pillaging Spanish colonies and galleons in the Caribbean and is getting his ships, the Pelican, the Elizabeth, the Benedict, the Marigold and the Swan ready to sail around the world.

The Portuguese Paulo Dias founds in January the town of Luanda in the Angola colony and starts shipping ever increasing numbers of slaves to the sugar cane plantations of Brazil.

In India, Akbar the Great expands his rule from Kandahar in the West, to Kashmir in the North, to the Bengal’s in the East and is busily building his palace in Sikri around the tomb of a Sufi saint which had prophesied the birth of his heir.


Mogul Emperor Akbar the Great, the Shogun Nobunanga Oda and the Ming Emperor Wanli.

In Japan, during a period of nearly constant internal wars and political intrigues, one of the key warlords, Nobunanga Oda, starts the building of the extravagant castle of Azuchi near Kyoto before being nominated, 6 years later, Shogun by the Emperor.

In China, the 13 year old Ming Emperor Wanli, guided by his minister Zhang Zhuzheng and his mother Lishi is giving China a brief moment of glory before his withdrawal from state affairs and neglect of administrative duties precipitates the dynasty into a severe crisis which Shunzhi, the first Qing emperor puts to an end in 1644.


Emperor Maximilian II of the German Holy Roman Empire and father of Rudolf II

In summer 1576 Maximilian II, German Emperor of the Austrian Branch of the Habsburg Dynasty, son of Charles V and brother of Philip II of Spain, is on the way to Regensburg (Ratisbona), in Southern Germany to settle his succession.

He wants to have his son, already King of Hungary and of Bohemia also crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the Diet of the Great Electors. However already sick, he falls severely ill and on October 12 he dies with Rudolf at his deathbed. Rudolf is confirmed two weeks later Emperor and crowned on November 1st, 1576.

1.2 Rudolf II – From a joyful youth to a troubled Emperor

In the late 1500 the European kingdoms and empires were buckling under the stresses of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, the personal animosity between the ruling monarchs and the growing opposition of landowners against the absolute powers of the Rulers.


The political map of the European continent around the time of birth of Rudolf.


Central Europe and the German Holy Roman Empire which Rudolf II inherited.

The Emperor Rudolf II of Austria (1552-1612) was born in Vienna on the evening of July 18, 1552 as the eldest son of Maximilian II of Austria (1527-1576) and Maria of Spain (1526-1603)


Emperor Maximilian II (1527-1576) and Maria of Spain (1528-1603), daughter of Charles V, the parents of Rudolf II.


Philip I the Beau or Felipe el Hermoso, King of Spain and Juana la Loca, daughter of Isabella of Castile, the grand-grandparents of Rudolf II.

Both his parents were grandchildren of Philip I, the Beau and Juana "The Mad" of Castile. Like her, Maria of Spain had a tendency to melancholia. She gave birth to 14 children, but her behaviour towards them was always somewhat distant. All her life, Maria remained thoroughly Spanish and kept close contact with her brother, Philip II of Spain.


Canvas painted 1553 by Giuseppe Archimboldo and now in the Ambras Castle in Innsbruck Austria depicts, alongside Emperor Maximilian II and his wife Maria of Spain, their eldest daughter Anna (born 1549); Rudolf (born 1552) and, in the cradle, Ernst (born 1553). Their clothing is in keeping with Spanish fashions of that century. The image to the right shows Rudolf in detail

Rudolf had 9 brothers of which only Archduke Ernst (born 1553) and later Governor of Austria and of the Low Countries, Emperor Matthias (born 1557) and his rival and successor to the Holy Roman Emperor crown, Maximilian III (born 1558) and Administrator of Prussia, Albrecht VII (born 1559) Archduke and Governor of the Low Countries, and Wenzel survived early childhood.


Rudolf’s brothers Ernst, Matthias and Maximilian


Rudolf’s brothers Albrecht and Wenzel

Of the 6 sisters, Anna (born 1549) became the fourth wife of Philip II and Queen of Spain, Elizabeth (born 1554) the wife of Charles IX and Queen of France whereas Margaret (born 1567) entered the Convent of the Royal Barefoot Sisters in Madrid. Eleonore (born 1568) died at the age of 12 in Prague. The others died with less than one year of age.


Rudolf’s sisters Anna, Elizabeth and Margaret

When Philip II, the Spanish King, urged Maximilian II to send his sons to Spain to complete their education at the strict Catholic court of Madrid, the liberal Maximilian II was reluctant to let them go and postponed their departure repeatedly.

Their mother Maria however, together with other members of the family, insisted they should go hoping thus that they may be not “infected” by the religious tolerance their father showed in Vienna toward Protestants.

In March 1564, the twelve year old Rudolf arrived in Spain, accompanied by his younger brother Ernest, the young Wolfgang von Rumpf and Count Adam von Dietrichstein, the envoy of Maximilian II at the Court of Spain. In Barcelona he and Ernst were met by the grave, black-clad Philip II, who immediately took them high up into the mountains to the gloomy monastery of Montserrat.


Philip II of Spain and the Cloister of Monserrat near Barcelona

Afterwards, they travelled to the summer palace of Aranjuez, where they spend the summer. Philip was ill with fever but his young sister and Elizabeth de Valois, his wife, rode out hunting with Rudolf and Ernest. In the evenings Philip invited the boys to his bedside to dance before him, or to show him their skill at fencing.

Rudolf also met Philip's unbalanced and mentally ill son Don Carlos (1545-1568) . In January 1568 Philip II had the youth locked up and from then on it was forbidden to mention Don Carlos in conversation or even in prayers. In July the Prince died under mysterious circumstances, followed in October by the Queen Elizabeth.

The Spanish Court with its strict etiquette was now gloomier than ever.

In this atmosphere, where rigorous court etiquette, strict Catholicism and the Inquisition dominated, Rudolf and Ernst studied Latin, Spanish, German and History with a particular emphasis on Humanism and Renaissance and other parts of the “septem artes liberals”.

They practiced fencing, dueling, wrestling, horse riding, swimming and other physical education to ready them for their imperial future.


Don Carlos (1545-1568), the unbalanced son of Philip II and the summer palace of Aranjuez near Madrid.

Early 1570 Rudolf and Ernst travelled with Philip II through Southern Spain and the numerous castles and landscapes made a lasting impression on Rudolf and influence his life as collector and builder. Later that year Rudolf's two youngest brothers accompanied their sister Anna (1549-1580) to Spain, where she was to become her Uncle Philip's 4th wife.

The following spring, at the occasion of their Uncle Archduke Karl II to Maria von Bayern, marriage, Maximilian II seized the occasion to call Rudolf and Ernest back home to Vienna.

Years later Rudolf recalled: "I was seized with such joy the following night that I could not bring sleep into my eyes." The years in Spain had marked Rudolf deeply for life.


Maria of Portugal, Queen Mary I of England, Elizabeth de Valois and Anne of Habsburg and sister of Rudolf, the four wives of Philip II.

The good-natured Emperor Maximilian II found his sons much changed after their long stay in Spain. He noted the "Spanish humours" they had acquired gravity and cold pride that so resembled their uncle Philip's. He ordered his sons to "change their bearing", but it was already too late to change their personalities. Maximilian was worried for his dynastic succession because he was suffering from failing health, heart troubles, excruciating pains of gout and bouts of kidney colic.

He arranged to have Rudolf elected and crowned as King of Hungary on 25.9.1572 and King of Bohemia the 22.9.1575. For this he summoned the German Prince-Electors, the Catholic Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier and the Count of Palatine, the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg, to meet in Regensburg to have Rudolf crowned King 1.12.1575 and then Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, too. However the election of Rudolf as Emperor was not assured as the Secular Faction, predominantly Protestant was opposed to the Catholic Habsburg.


Ratisbona or Regensburg on the Danube in a 1570 engraving


Regensburg today viewed from the same direction

In the summer of 1576 Maximilian II called a new Diet and set out for Regensburg with his family. On the way he became indisposed and fell ill again. At first he seemed to recover but then Maximilian´s health took a grave turn for the worse. At his bedside, his wife Maria of Spain urged him to see the court priest and his sister Anna hurried from Bavaria to join in the pleas that he takes the Catholic rites.

When the Spanish ambassador boldly said: "I can see from your condition, your majesty, that it would be time", Maximilian cut him short with "You are right, Mr. Marquis, I have not slept well and would like to rest a little."

On October 12 Maximilian II died with Rudolf at his dead bed. Two weeks later the Prince-Electors confirmed Rudolf as the new Emperor and he was crowned on November 1.


The portrait by Martin Rota of the 26 year old Rudolf II in 1577 and one year after his crowning as Emperor of the German Holy Roman Empire.


The Holy Roman Empire crown, dating from 968, with which Rudolf II was crowned in 1576 in Regensburg. This crown is not a property of the Emperor but is kept by the Great Electors and used only during the crowing ceremony.


The “Private” Crown of Rudolf II which he had ordered in 1602 to be made for him by the goldsmith Jan Vermeyen in Prague. Anselmus de Boodt assisted in the selection of the jewels. In 1804 it became also the crown of the Austrian Empire. It is decorated with enamels, four gold panels with raised scenes of Rudolf II triumphs, 8 diamonds, pearls, red spinels , rubies and a sapphire all set in gold. A red velvet cap functioning as cushion completes the layout. The crown is 28cm high and has a diameter of 22cm diameter.

Since his return from Spain, however, Rudolf suffered from dark moods and after his crowning they continued to deepen.

Modern historians trace this mental instability to the hereditary traits members of the Habsburg dynasty had acquired because frequent intermarriage. Rudolf’s father Maximilian II and mother Maria of Spain were, for example, cousins and the Habsburg´s used marriages much more than wars as a tool to gain and keep control over wide stretches of the European continent, Mexico, much of the South American Continent and the Phlippines.

Those were politically troubled times. Germany was divided by Protestant and Catholic factions and the Turks, first under Suleiman the Great and then under Murad III, Mehmed II and Ahmed I, were pressing through Hungary toward Vienna. These wars against the Turks were an enormous financial drain and the Emperors were forced to seek financial assistance from local nobles and the Church, which undermined their absolute powers.

Nevertheless Europe’s economy and population was growing. The rationalization of the production in the textile and the mining industries increased their output and allowed to accumulate considerable wealth by a growing middle class. The influx of gold and silver from the Americas via Spain stimulated the economies in the same time as it impoverished Spain by shifting many of the manufacturing jobs from Iberian Peninsula to other areas on the Continent.


The Sultans Murad III, Mehmed II and Ahmed I were waging the Holy War at the doors of Vienna against Rudolf II and Christianity.

In 1577 Rudolf suffered his first emotional breakdown, became severely melancholic and rarely left the castle.


A model of the old Hofburg in Vienna and a view of it, remodelled, in the 20th century.

The next year he decided to move his residence permanently to Prague in Bohemia to escape the crowds and pressures of Vienna.

1.3 Rudolf II – The Patron of Science, Art and Alchemy

Once crowned and residing in Prague, Emperor Rudolf II intensified the gathering of astronomers, humanists, physicians, artists, craftsmen and antiquarians around him.

He became the foremost collector or the Paul Getty of his times. The “Kunstkammer”, or literally the chamber of arts, was to be a mirror of the Universe, a microcosm in which center the Emperor was himself. He thus not only collected ancient statues and paintings but assembled avidly also contemporary art of his century. The Kunstkammer was the place where specimens from different domains of nature (Naturalia), of artistic expression (Artefacta) and from science (Scientifica) were assembled. The extraordinary high level of the collected art has been confirmed by the in-depth analysis of the inventory list of his collections and mitigates the image of Rudolf II being just interested in weird items (Mirabilia, Rara and Curiosa).

Some of the most prominent representatives of this universe of art and science are introduced below and you are encouraged to follow their individual destinies via the numerous links to them on the Internet.

In 1598, upon invitation by Rudolf II, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe set up in the palace gardens his instruments for observing the stars and began to record with high precision the position of the various planets and predict their orbits. Brahe was however still favouring a planetary system in which the Earth and not the Sun was the centre. These observations were carried out 13 years before Galileo discovered the telescope and where made with the unaided eye.


Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) and a painting, showing Brahe explaining to Rudolf II his still geocentric world system.


Tycho Brahe’s equipment to determine the positions of the planets and stars and the Chandra X-ray satellite image of the remnant of the supernova explosion which Tycho witnessed in the constellation of the Cassiopeia.

When Rudolf's cousin, Archduke Ferdinand of Styria, banished the Lutheran Johannes Kepler from his province due the Counter-Reformation, Rudolf II gladly welcomed him at his court.


Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) the astronomer, which 1601 becomes the assistant and successor to Tycho Brahe at the court of Rudolf II.

As Imperial Mathematician, Kepler inherited Tycho's responsibility for the Emperor's horoscopes as well as the commission to produce was to become the Rudolfine Tables or the almanac for predicting the position of the planets in the sky. Working with Tycho's extensive collection of highly accurate observational data, Kepler also set out to refine his earlier astronomical theories but was forced to abandon them based on experimental evidences. Instead, he began to define the first astronomical system to use non-circular or elliptical orbits. He completed its elaboration in 1606 and published it in 1609 as Astronomia Nova or New Astronomy . Astronomia Nova contained what would become the first and second laws of planetary motion. In October 17th 1604, Kepler observed, as his Mentor Brahe did on November 11th 1572 in the constellation of the Cassiopeia, a supernova explosion which was subsequently named Kepler's Star.

In 1611, Kepler published (as a letter to a friend) a monograph on the origins of snowflakes, the first known work on the subject. He correctly theorized that their hexagonal nature was due to cold, but did not ascertain a physical cause for this.


Johannes Kepler’s original drawing depicting the location of the Stella nova explosion , in the constellation of the Serpentarius, marked with an N (8 grid squares down, 4 over from the left) and a Hubble Space Telescope view of the remnants of it.

Next to these epoch-making astronomers, Rudolf II has been also able to engage some of the most outstanding artists of his epoch to work in the ateliers of the Palace. When they were not residing in Prague he was sending emissaries all across Europe to purchase their most prestigious works for him.

One of the most famous artists in his duty was Hans von Aachen. He began painting in Cologne as a scholar of the Flemish master E. Jerrigh. He then moved to Italy in 1574 to study in Rome and Florence, but eventually settled in Venice. He initially became a scholar of Kaspar Rems but soon decided to develop his mannerist technique on his own, by studying Tintoretto and Michelangelo's followers. During all of his life though, he was influenced by the style of Bartholomeus Spranger and Hendrick Goltzius who dominated the art scene in Germany at the time.

He returned to Germany in 1588 and there won renown as a painter of portraits for noble houses. He painted several works for Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria. He married in Munich with Regina, the daughter of the composer Orlando di Lasso. From Munich he came into contact with the Imperial Court in Prague. In 1592 he moved to Prague where he was appointed official painter and gentled by the Emperor in 1594.


Self-portrait of Hans von Aachen (1551-1615) and his “Triumph of the Truth under the protection of Justice”.

Hans von Aachen has been also able to buy for the imperial collections the famous antique torso of the Ilioneous by Praxiteles. This torso became a memento of Rudolfian collections of its kind. It remained at Prague Castle until 1782 when it was auctioned off for mere 30 Kreuzer by less than discerning administrators of the Emperor Joseph II. Today it can be seen in the collection of the Glyptothek in Munich.


Portrait of Joseph Heintz the Elder (1564-1609), by Hans von Aachen, and Heintz’s painting of the “Rapt of Proserpine

Joseph Heintz received his early training from a painter and from his father, an architect-mason. From 1584 to around 1591, Heintz was in Italy, where he joined a circle of German and Dutch artists in Rome. He also studied ancient art and copied paintings by Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Polidoro da Caravaggio. In 1587 he travelled to Florence and Venice, absorbing the styles of Tintoretto, Titian, and Paolo Veronese.

In 1591 Emperor Rudolf II summoned Heintz to Prague, naming him "portraitist and court painter " and ennobling him in 1602. Heintz continued to visit and work in both countries, drawing and copying Italian works of art while serving as Rudolf's art agent and making his own pictures. Heintz's paintings included religious images, portraits, and, following the emperor's taste, erotic mythological themes. Agitated figures, shallow depth, and a cool-toned, colorful palette characterize his very personal style.

Heintz spent his later career primarily as an architect, mainly in Augsburg and Prague. He designed the east facade of Augsburg's new customs house, basing his architectural forms on his father's ideas and on contemporary architecture in Rome, Venice, and Lombardy.


Rudolf II, much changed and at the age of 42, wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece, Portrait made by Joseph Heintz the Elder in 1594 and now located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna

One of the famous painters of Rudolf II was the Italian Giuseppe Archimboldo. He was born 1527 and has been first active in his hometown of Milan (Italy) designing with his father the stained glass windows of the Cathedral there. He moved to Vienna and became the preferred painter of Rudolf’s Grandfather Ferdinand I and of his father Maximilian II. His renown is mainly due to his originally conceived painting, wittily composed of vegetables, fruit, flowers, etc. He thus created allegories of the seasons, elements, and others.


Self-portrait of Giuseppe Archimboldo (1527-1593) and his 1591 portrait of Rudolf II as “V ertumnus” or God of the Seasons and that of Gardens and Fruit Trees, kept now in the Skoklosters Slott, Bålsta (Stockholm)

Part of Archimboldo's duties included planning parties for the imperial families. These were gala affairs with gilded carriages, fountains, powered wigs, parades, flocks of birds, music and pageantry. Giuseppe invented many special effects for these parties. For one affaire he invented a gigantic, elaborate hydro-mechanical music instrument which acted like a modern color organ. Archimboldo called it the "harpsichord of color.

The Dutch painter Bartolomäus Spranger came from Antwerp. He worked as a court painter of Rudolf II from 1581. He settled in Prague, becoming member of the Malá Strana (Lesser Town) painters' guild in 1584. A year later he married the daughter of the goldsmith Mikulas Müller. His workshop was in the imperial palace and Rudolf frequently visited and admired his paintings reproducing persons end events of the Greek Mythology.


Self-portrait of Batholomäus Spranger (1546 – 1611) and his famous painting of “Adonis and Venus

Rudolf's collections included also the works of the painter and draughtsman Roelandt Savery
He was born in Courtrai but studied in Amsterdam under Jacques Savery who was probably his brother. Around 1604 he entered the employment of Emperor Rudolf II and spent about eight years in Prague, where he became one of the emperor's favourite artists in the symbolic mannerist mode that Rudolf II particularly liked. Savery specialized in precise depiction of animals, observing from life some of the more exotic species in the emperor's menagerie. He painted at least twenty variations on the theme of “Orpheus and the animals” , and his famous “Paradise” in the National Gallery in Prague is another example of his fantastic melanges of exotic and domestic birds and beasts. He also produced some fine mountain landscapes, the fruit of travels in the Alps and Tyrol (1606-08) at the emperor's behest. His exquisite flower paintings are among the earliest of their kind, although not so frequent in his prolific output.

After working for Rudolf's successor, Matthias, in Vienna (1612-16), Savery returned to the Netherlands and settled at Utrecht in 1619, where his fame and ability brought him many admirers and followers.


Roelandt Savery (1576-1639) and one of his twenty variations of his painting “Orpheus and the animals”

Another artist was Egidius Sadeler, a court painter from 1597, whose numerous copper engravings are notoriously known, even if not many of us are aware of the artist.


Egidius Sadeler (1570-1629) and one of his copper engravings showing Rudolf II


Joris Hoefnagel (1541-1601) and one of his naturalistic still life painting

Self-taught artist Joris Hoefnagel was a pivotal figure in the history of art from the Lower Countries, both as the last important Flemish manuscript illuminator and one of the first artists to work in the new genre of still life. A true Renaissance man, Hoefnagel wrote Latin poetry, mastered several languages, played a variety of musical instruments, and sold drawings, in addition to making topographical drawings, maps, oil paintings, and illuminations .
Born to wealthy merchant parents, Joris Hoefnagel travelled to England, France, and Spain in his youth, recording his experiences in topographical drawings. These were later used as models for a six-volume atlas. In the autumn of 1577, after Spanish troops had invaded Antwerp and destroyed his fortune, Hoefnagel journeyed south with cartographer Abraham Ortelius. During this trip, Albert V, duke of Bavaria, hired Hoefnagel as a court artist . It was at this time that Hoefnagel completed his first major work, a multi-volume book of natural history miniatures . In 1591, Hoefnagel was appointed court artist of Rudolf II. Hoefnagel again demonstrated his astounding technical skills when he added illuminations to a manuscript completed thirty years earlier by the celebrated scribe Georg Bocskay. Anselmus de Boodt, fellow Flemish, learned from him in Prague the art of naturalistic illustrations.


Pieter Stevens (1567-1624) and his “winter landscape”

Landscape painter and draftsman Pieter Stevens has started his artist career in Antwerp, for he was a free master there in 1589. Early drawings depicting ancient monuments in Rome and Naples were probably copies of works by Jan Brueghel the Elder, rather than proof that Stevens went to Italy. In 1594 Stevens was appointed court painter to Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, where he may have known Roelandt Savery. There he specialized in depicting peasant festivals and mountain scenes. The court workshop reproduced Stevens's landscape designs in pietra dura for furniture decoration. In Prague, Stevens's interest in light and atmospheric effects expanded these themes, which later became popular in Dutch art of the 1600s. He also developed landscape as an independent genre, without figures or animals. His coloristic tendencies were clearest in his drawings, when he changed his media from pen and dark ink against deep blue washes to brush and soft tones. He was probably influenced in this influenced by Jan Brueghel the Elder's 1604 visit to Prague, for Brueghel used a similar wash technique. After Rudolf's death, Stevens has worked for probably for Charles, Prince of Liechtenstein, Stadtholder of Bohemia, from at least 1620 to 1624. His son and grandsons were also painters in Prague

Rudolf's sculptors included the pupil of the renowned Italian Giovanni Bologna, Adrian de Vries, who worked in Prague in the years from 1601 to 1612. After Rudolf's death he worked for Albrecht of Wallenstein. The most famous works of Adrian de Vries include several portrait busts of the Emperor, his equestrian statues and the sculptures he created for the garden of Wallenstein Palace, which are now in Sweden.


Adrian de Vries (1545-1626) and one of his bronze busts of Rudolf II and the “Rearing Horse” bronze cast.

The most remarkable works of the "Kunstkammer" undoubtedly are numerous items of goldsmithing and stonecutting crafts. Rudolf II managed to employ in his service outstanding craftsmen from Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. One of the foremost was the gem cutter Ottavio Miseroni, who came from Milan on the 22.1.1588 and worked for the Emperor until his death in 1624 in Prague.


Some examples of Ottavio Miseroni’s lapidary work.

He produced dozens of goblets and bowls of precious stones and quartz, linked by gold, whose most distinct feature is the relief figural and ornamental cutting. He is the author of many cameo cuts and he was the first to develop the technique of mosaic work in relief.


Stemmed cup in the form of a shell made from Nephrite by Ottavio Miseroni for Rudolf II in Prague. The decorations and the figure are in gilded silver and have been added later in Vienna. Object in the KHM in Vienna

The goldsmith and sculptor Paulus van Vianen from Utrecht started in the imperial service in 1603. Before, he worked as a court artist of the Bavarian Elector and in the service of the archbishop of Salzburg. His works include vessels decorated with rich figural scenes.


Jug in Jasper, a joint work by Ottavio Miseroni and Paulus van Vianen (gold decoration) in Prague and his “Diane and Actaeon” silver pate


Jan Vermeyen, another court goldsmith is the author of gold panels and jewellery on the crown of Rudolf II, now in the “Weltliche Schatzkammer” in Vienna.

Gem and glass cutter Caspar Lehman worked for the Emperor from 1588. In 1595 he was knighted by Rudolf II and in 1609 he was granted privilege for this type of glass decoration. He can be considered one of the founding fathers of the Bohemian Glass cutting tradition persisting still today.


Glass cup engraved by Caspar Lehman

Next to his quest for beauty in paintings and sculpture, Rudolf II was also sponsoring in Prague the search of the alchemists for the Philosopher’s Stone capable to turn common metals into gold, the Alkahest or the universal solvent and the Elixir Vitae, by which human life was capable of being prolonged indefinitely

Although Bohemia was rich in metals of all kinds, the need to finance the courts and the costly Turkish wars led many local noblemen to seek the assistance of alchemists to improve their fortune. Beside an evident materialistic quest for riches, the alchemists and their sponsors had also a general desire to master Nature and extract by fire and distillation the chemical secrets God was supposed to have hidden in all matter.

One centre of Alchemy was the southern Bohemian town of Krumau, the actual Cesky Krumlov, where in the castle of Wilhem von Rosenberg numerous alchemists were at work and in which also Anselmus de Boodt made a sojourn before joining Rudolf II in Prague.


Krumau or Cesky Krumlov with the old town and the Rosenberg Castle in a bend of the Moldava River

Wilhelm von Rosenberg, typical Renaissance aristocrat that he was, opened the doors of his court to alchemy and magic. These alchemists and magicians were supposed to provide the Count Rosenberg with enough precious metals, philosopher’s stones, and elixir’s to keep him healthy and young. The most prominent of them where Edward Kelley, John Dee and Antonín Michael from Ebersbach. The latter was supervising the sliver and gold mining activities of the Rosenberg domain and had the specific duty to concoct the Elixir Vitae for him.


Portrait of Wilhelm von Rosenberg and a touchstone oven of the 16th century used to burn silver and unearthed in Krumlov at the # 27 of the Radnicni road.

In 1566 Wilhem Rosenberg was commissioned, by Rudolf’s father Maximilian II, as the leading officer of Bohemian troops which were to intervene in battles against the Turks in Hungary. In 1570 he achieved the peak of his political career that could be achieved by a nobleman in Bohemian lands at that time. He reached the zenith of his diplomatic career in 1572-1573 when he was appointed by the Emperor to lead the negotiations over the Polish throne. He gained the affection of Polish noblemen and was himself nominated as a candidate for the Polish throne.

The building and extension of the Krumau Castle and the sponsoring of alchemist activities were a heavy financial burden and evidently the transmutation of common metals into gold did not occur as hoped.

After Wilhelm von Rosenberg’s death in 1592, the Castle and possessions passed to his younger brother Peter Wok von Rosenberg. However, due to the accumulated depth of the aristocratic family and raising pressure of his creditors, Peter von Rosenberg had to reduce the size of his holding and reluctantly sold Krumau Castle on the 24th of October 1601 to Rudolf II. Few years later the Krumau Castle became the scene of a tragic event in Rudolf II family life, when his eldest and bastard son, Don Julius of Austria the brutally murdered a local beauty there.


Portrait of Peter Wok von Rosenberg, and the Rosenberg Family burial vault in the Vyssi Brod monastery south of Krumau.

In Prague, Rudolf’s alchemists were lodged in the Mihulka Powder Tower near the Hirschgraben on the Hradschin. Popular belief however says that their activities were also carried also in the houses of the “Goldenen Gässchen”.


The Mihulka Powder Tower and the “Goldenes Gässchen” (the Golden Alley) on the Hradschin Castle hill. The writer Kafka lived there in 1908 at Nr 22, the small white house.

Three of the most scintillating figures gravitating around these alchemist ventures where Michael Maier and the Englishmen John Dee and Edward Kelley.

Michael Maier (1568-1622) has been a fleeting moment court physician of Rudolf II and a Rosicrucian apologist. He created with this collection of emblems an alchemical “Gesamtkunstwerk” in image, text and music. (www.amaranthpublishing.com/atalanta.htm) One recognizes in the composition of each of the three-part motets the fleeing Atalanta of the title, Hippomanias pursuing her, and the apple which delays her flight. The 50 emblems used symbolize alchemical principles. Maier used the ideal shapes of the circle (the cyclical process), the triangle (the three principles salt, mercury and sulphur) and the square (the four elements) to represent the preparation of the Philosophers' Stone.


Michael Maier and the front page of his mayor work the “Atalanta fugiens, hoc est, emblemata nova de secretis naturae chymica.

John Dee (1527–1608 or 1609) was a noted British mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, occultist, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He also devoted much of his life to alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy.


John Dee in a 16th century portrait, now at the Oxford University, and some of his “professional” items kept in the British Museum such as the Speculum (mirror in obsidian) and wax seals.

Dr. Dee straddled the worlds of science and magic just as they were becoming distinguishable. One of the most learned men of his time, he had lectured to crowded halls at the University of Paris when still in his early twenties. He was an ardent promoter of mathematics, a respected astronomer and a leading expert in navigation, having trained many of those who would conduct England's voyages of discovery. At the same time, he immersed himself deeply in Judeo-Christian magic and Hermetic philosophy, devoting the last third of his life almost exclusively to these pursuits. For Dee, as with many of his contemporaries, these activities were not contradictory, but particular aspects of a consistent worldview.

By the early 1580s, Dee was growing dissatisfied with his progress in learning the secrets of nature and with his own lack of influence and recognition. He began to turn towards the supernatural as a means to acquire knowledge. Specifically, he sought to contact angels through the use of a "scryer" or crystal-gazer, who would act as an intermediary between Dee and the angels.

Dee wrote the Hermetic work Monas Hieroglyphica ("The Hieroglyphic Monad"), an exhaustive Cabalistic interpretation of a glyph of his own design, meant to express the mystical unity of all creation. This work was highly valued by many of Dee's contemporaries, but the loss of the secret oral tradition of Dee's milieu makes the work difficult to interpret today.

Dee 's first supernatural communication attempts were not satisfactory, but in 1582 he met Edward Kelley, who impressed him greatly with his abilities. Dee took Kelley into his service and began to devote all his energies to his supernatural pursuits. These "spiritual conferences" or "actions" were conducted with an air of intense Christian piety, always after periods of purification, prayer and fasting. Dee was convinced of the benefits they could bring to mankind. The character of Kelley is harder to assess, some have concluded that he acted with complete cynicism, but delusion or self-deception are not out of the question. Kelley's "output" is remarkable for its sheer mass, its intricacy and its vividness. Dee maintained that the angels laboriously dictated several books to him this way, some in a special angelic or Enochian language.

In 1583, Dee met the visiting Polish nobleman Albert Laski, who invited the Englishman to accompany him on his return to Poland. With some prompting by the angels, Dee was persuaded to go. Dee, Kelley, and their families left for the Continent in September 1583, but Laski proved to be bankrupt and out of favor in his own country. Dee and Kelley began a nomadic life in Central Europe, but they continued their spiritual conferences, which Dee recorded meticulously. He had audiences with Emperor Rudolf II and King Stephen of Poland in which he chided them for their ungodliness and attempted to convince them of the importance of his angelic communications. He was not taken up by either monarch.

During a spiritual conference in Bohemia in 1587, Kelley told Dee that the angel Uriel had ordered that the two men should share their wives. Kelley, who by that time was becoming a prominent alchemist and was much more sought-after than Dee, may have wished to use this as a way to end the spiritual conferences. The order caused Dee great anguish, but he did not doubt its genuineness and apparently allowed it to go forward, but broke off the conferences immediately afterwards and did not see Kelley again. Dee returned to England in 1589.


Edward Kelley, a 19th century portrait, the “The donkey at the cradle” house in the Old Town of Prague, the place where it is rumoured that he lived and an old print depicting Kelley and Dee during a spiritual session.

The horoscope drawn up by Dee indicates that Kelley was born in Worcester on August 1, 1555. Kelley's early life is obscure, but most accounts say that he first worked as an apothecary's apprentice. He may have studied at Oxford under the name of Talbot; whether or not he attended university, Kelley was educated and knew Latin and possibly some Greek. According to several accounts, Kelley was pilloried in Lancaster for forgery or counterfeiting and had both his ears cut off. Since then he was hiding this loss under long hairs and a properly placed cap.

About a year after entering into Dee's service, Kelley appeared with an alchemical book “The Book of Dunstan” and a quantity of a red powder which, Kelley claimed, he and a certain John Blokley had been led to by a "spiritual creature" at Northwick Hill. With the powder whose secret was presumably hidden in the book Kelley believed he could prepare a red "tincture" which would allow him to transmute base metals into gold. He reportedly demonstrated its power a few times over the years, including in Bohemia where he and Dee resided for many years.


A 1570 painting by Jan van Straaten depicting an alchemist laboratory and a modern reproduction in the Alchemy Museum in Kutna Hora outside Prague

In 1586, Kelley and Dee found the patronage of the wealthy Bohemian count Wilhelm von Rosenberg. They settled in the town of Trebon and continued their researches. Kelley ended the fruitless spiritual conferences so that he could concentrate on alchemy, which, under the patronage of Rosenberg, was beginning to make him wealthy.

By 1590, Kelley was living an opulent life. He received several estates and large sums of money from Rosenberg. He convinced many influential people that he was able to produce gold. Rudolf II made Kelley a "Baron of the Kingdom," but eventually he tired of waiting for results. Rudolf II had Kelley arrested in May of 1591 and imprisoned in the Krivoklat or Purglitz Castle outside Prague. Rudolf apparently never doubted Kelley's ability to produce gold on a large scale, and hoped that imprisonment would induce him to cooperate. Rudolf may also have feared that Kelley would return to England.


The Krivoklat Castle (left) where Rudolf II kept Kelley to force him to produce gold and the Hnevin Castle where Kelley died after an attempt to escape.

Around 1594 Kelley agreed to cooperate and produce gold. He was released and restored to his former status. Again he failed to produce, and was again imprisoned, this time in Hnevin Castle in Most. Kelley died in 1597 at the age of forty-two. A tradition has him dying while trying to escape when he used an insufficiently long rope to lower himself from the tower. He fell, broke his leg, and later died from his injuries.

Rudolf II has been also associated with the legend of the Golem, a humanoid created by man, partly because he met on several instances the Rabbi Jehuda Löw ben Bezalel in Prague.

Rudolf II was interested in the Kaballah, the esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures and sought form Rabbi Löw’s, the Maharal or Teacher of Prague, advice and know-how. Rabbi Löw utilized this closeness to the Emperor to lessen the anti-Semitic pressures on his fellow Jews. The legend has it that by incantation once Rabbi Löw stopped the horses of Rudolf II carriage in the middle of the Charles Bridge and released them from the spell only after Rudolf II promised to withdraw the expulsion decree of the Jews from Prague.

The legend of the Golem, of much earlier origin, has been tied to the Rabbi Löw only in the second half of the 18th century probably as a romanticized description of his negotiations with Rudolf II.


The oldest extant Synagogue in Europe, the Altneuschul Synagogue in Prague, Rabbi Löw’s Statue at the entrance of the old Jewish Quarter and his tomb in the Old Jewish Cemetery

Rabbi Löw was supposed to have created this humanoid the 16th of March 1580 from clay of the Moldava River outside Prague. Together with his son and a Talmudic scholar they instilled, with incantations, life to this creature. The Golem was given the task defend the Jewish community in Prague against pogroms by inspecting during the night all people carrying parcels. In these times parcels with bodies of newborns were left in the streets of the Jewish quarter. Next day, the local residents were then accused to have carried out ritual murders and thus liable for fines and expulsion from Prague .

However the Golem was less than a manageable creature and had to be destroyed by its masters by reciting the original life instilling incantations in the exact reverse order and returning it so to clay again.

According to stories a heap of clay in the attic of the Altneuschul Synagogue in Prague is the leftover of the Golem

The enormous size and wealth of Rudolf II collections raised envies and they did not survive intact long after his dead.

First his two brothers Matthias and Albrecht started to pick the best pieces to finance they political activities and soldier armies. In 1615 ox carts loads of them, including 115 paintings from Michelangelo, Titian and Veronese, left for Brussels where Albrecht was residing as Governor of the Low Countries. Due to his needs for funds or maybe also because of their content of apparently frivolous themes, a mayor part of the collection was sold to George Villiers, a “nouveau riche” and first Duke of Buckingham in England. Part of it was repurchased later by Rudolf II successor, Emperor Ferdinand III and returned to Prague.


George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628), Count Carl von Liechtenstein (1569-1627) and Christina, Queen of Sweden (1626-1689), three of numerous recipients of the art collection of Rudolf II.

Other parts were hurriedly transferred to Vienna to avoid their confiscation by the Bohemian Parliament. However the mayor losses occurred in 1631 during the occupation of Prague by the army of the Protestant Prince Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg I. He personally came to make a selection and left for Dresden with more that 50 ox wagon loads of bounty. The next pillage occurred at the end of the 30-year war in 1648, when Swedish troops occupied the Hradschin and left with 150 wagon loads for the court of Christina of Sweden. The queen was however not very enthusiastic and complained in letter to the Count of Bracciano that she had now this big and beautiful collection but would have exchanged it gladly for just two paintings by Rafael.

1.4 Rudolf II – The Recluse, a Family Drama and Abdication

During the 1590s, Rudolf’s melancholic moods with feelings of anxiety and deep gloom became more and more frequent. Numerous observers described his sadness, remoteness and aloofness. He became anxious and agitated, ill tempered and bad-humoured. His exaggerated fear of family interference in his affairs gradually developed into a conviction that someone in his family planned to murder him. His gold was kept locked in chests and as a result sometimes there was no food in the castle kitchens. Meanwhile, Rudolf II withdrew further from the world. He refused to see foreign ambassadors and threatened one of his ministers with a dagger. Narrow-minded papal nuncios began reporting that Rudolf II had become an inaccessible recluse, but more enlightened Protestant emissaries were still received by the Emperor.

This sickness was bordering schizophrenia, a hereditary trait within the Habsburg Dynasty.

Beside frequent mental disorders, the members of the Habsburg Dynasty were also “graced” what was called euphemistically the so called Habsburg Lip.

Rudolf II also had inherited this famous lip as can be seen from paintings (Joseph Heintze) and bronze busts (Adrian de Vries) made of him during his older age.

This particular trait of the face is called more precisely mandibular prognathism and is a disfiguring, genetic disorder where the lower jaw outgrows the upper, resulting into an extended chin.

The condition is colloquially referred to as the Habsburg lip due to its prevalence in that bloodline. The trait is easily traceable in portraits of Habsburg family members.

It is alleged to have been introduced through a female from the princely Polish family of Piasts, the Mazovian branch of the Habsburg. The deformation of lips is clearly visible on tomb sculptures of Mazovian Piasts in Warsaw.


Emperor Maximilian I, King Charles II of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I showing variable degrees of the Habsburg Lip.

Traits such as these were common to royal families and are believed to have been passed on and exaggerated through royal intermarriage which caused massive inbreeding. Due to the large amount of politically motivated intermarriage between Habsburgs, the dynasty was virtually unparalleled in the degree of its inbreeding.

After the death of his brother Ernest in 1595, his brother Matthias became heir to the throne. Matthias had few talents, but he was ambitious and had been intriguing against his elder brother for years. Rudolf II hated him bitterly and took every opportunity to humiliate Matthias and allowed him neither money nor position, or even permission to marry.


Isabel Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II of Spain and Isabel de Valois, the “eternal” bride of Rudolf II which then married 1598 Rudolf’s brother Albrecht.

Rudolf himself had been betrothed for years to his Spanish cousin Isabel (1566-1633), but he postponed the marriage year after year also apparently because once a soothsayer predicted him that he will be killed by his (legitimate) son. His mother, who had returned to Spain as a widow, wrote from Madrid begging him to marry, but Rudolf II found one excuse after another to avoid taking the final step.

At the age of 32, the Infanta Isabel was finally wed to Rudolf's younger brother Albrecht, a former-cardinal. When Rudolf found out, he went into a frenzy.

Although Rudolf II was growing more and more recluse he had 5 or possibly 6 illegitimate children named Elizabeth, Julius, Carolina, Matthias and Carolus Faustus

Don Julius, the future lord of Krumlov, is the firstborn but illegitimate son of Rudolf II. The official court papers, fascicule Nr 185, dated 18. January 1606, and listing all other 5 illegitimate children and one of their mothers, Anna Maria Strada, remains silent on his mother. As always in these delicate family matters, the truth is not always what is said.

Another source claims that Euphemia von Rosenthal was the mother of two of above children.

Although Rudolf II had two children, Mathias and Carolus Faustus, with a Strada daughter their mother was not as reported in the “peoples press” as being Catharina but was Anna Maria Strada.

Anna Maria was an illegitimate child of Ottavio Strada, the son Jacopo Strada’s and also an Antiquarian of Rudolf II.

Rudolf II did not marry her but had wed her, to save the appearances, to his Kammerdiener or Personal valet Christoph Ranfft.


The “peoples press” picture by Jan Skramlik published 1887 in the Czech Review Ruch depicting Rudolf II visit to Jacopo Strada and the purported encounter with Catharina

The “Rudolf II weds Catharina” legend was created, as I have found out, as part of a subplot in a historical novel by Josef Svatek (1835-1897) with the name “Astrolog” and published in Prague in 1891. At this moment of time Czech nationalistic feelings made is fashionable to weave historical facts, the Strada father and son and daughter, with a wedding of Rudolf II in Prague.


Josef Svatek the author of “Astrolog” and Catharina Strada’s legend.

These extralegal families where quite an annoyance to the Catholic Church and the Imperial Family at large, because of the fear of diluting the Habsburg grip on the destiny of the Holy Roman Empire.


Portrait of Jacopo Strada (1515-1588) by Titian and the painting “Venus and Cupid and a lute player” also by Titian and most likely purchased by Strada for Rudolf II.

Jacopo Strada was a true "Renaissance Man” a painter, architect, goldsmith, inventor (of machines), numismatist, linguist, art collector and dealer. Above all, he was the imperial antiquarian in service to the Habsburg’s. At the peak of his ambitious career he let himself be painted by none other than the portraitist of kings and popes, by Titian himself with whom he had had business dealings. Titian captured the impressive diversity and animation of Strada in an extremely lively "career portrait” showing Strada in action.

Rudolf II had great hopes for his eldest son Julius and gave him the necessary attention and education and legated him the newly purchased Castle of Krumau. But he becomes a mentally deranged and extremely violent youth with severe drinking problems and eating disorders. Once, in a state of intoxication, had seized a weapon and seriously wounded one of his servants. Rudolf II thus decides to sober him up by sending him, in the summer of 1606, to the Carthusian cloister of Gaming in north-eastern Austria.


A new and old view of Cloister Gaming in northern-eastern Austria where Rudolf II sends his son Don Julius to sober up

The Carthusian order, founded by Saint Bruno in 1084, has very strict rules under which each monk lives in his own cell furnished only with a straw bed, a woollen blanket, a pillow, tools and writing utensils. A very small walled-in garden was generally attached to each cell. The monks left their cells only at rare occasion such as religious celebration days and for the funeral of one of them. Next to several week-long periods of fasting during each year, the monks had three times each week only water, salt and bread. Meat and wine were forbidden and absolute silence a must.

Julius did not enjoy this 180° change in lifestyle for long and in the fall of the same year returned to Krumau.


Cutaway view of Krumau or Krumlov Castle
(see also http://www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/atlas/i_semaza.htm)

Julius' subsequent misconduct was so severe that his frightened servants began to flee his service and life in the Castle became hell. In 1607 and during a period of transitory improvement, he was able to win the graces of a local maiden, Marketa Pichlerova. Marketa was the daughter of the local barber, who lived near the castle. Marketa’s mother initially supported the relationship between her daughter and the son of the Emperor because se believed it would bring benefits to the whole family.

But within few months Julius became so angry with Marketa that he attacked her with a knife and threw her bleeding from the window. She luckily landed on a heap of garbage and manure. While she was recovering in her parental home, Julius pressured her to return to him. When her father refused to let her go, he was thrown in prison and menaced of hanging. After five weeks Marketa’s mother finally acquiesced and led her, on the 17 February 1608, Carnival Monday, back into the Castle.

On the 18th of February 1608 Julius went berserk, began stabbing her, cutting off her ears, gouging out one eye, smashing out her teeth and splitting her skull. He flung pieces of her flesh all around the room. After three hours he recovered from his frenzy and ordered her wrapped in linen and carried away. He personally nailed down the lid of her coffin and had her buried with great pomp in a local cloister. Vaclav Brezan, a local historian, reported the event as follows “on the 18th of February, Julius, that awful tyrant and devil, bastard of the Emperor, did an incredibly terrible thing to his bed partner, the daughter of a barber, when he cut off her head and other parts of her body, and people had to put her into her coffin in single pieces".

This gruesome event evoked shock and a wave of anger in European aristocratic society, and the advantages of being the Emperor’s son no longer applied. Even Emperor Rudolf II had no excuses for his son’s behaviour and wrote an order himself about putting Don Julius into prison forever. Julius was confined in a room below the so called Pelican rooms in the third courtyard of the castle.


Aerial view of Krumau castle and the renovated courtyard below the Pelican rooms where Don Julius was kept confined.

Julius’ schizophrenia became more and more serious. He refused to wash, shave or change clothes and also refused food. Julius kept throwing things around and out of the windows. Towards the end of his life he lived in incredible filth and rubbish. He slept only on carpets and when he felt cold he covered himself with what once used to be his clothes. The servants were so scared of him that no one entered his room, also because of the terrible smell. His state of mental and behavioural misery became nearly identical to that lived through by Queen Juana la Loca, his father’s grand-grandmother at the end of her life in the windowless room of the castle of Tordesillas in Spain nearly 50 years before.

His health deteriorated seriously on the 22nd of June 1609, and not long afterwards, on the 25th June 1609, Don Julius died. The cause of death was said to be suffocation after an ulcer in his throat ruptured. Vaclav Brezan reported „On 25th June, during the night, Julius that bastard, the illegitimate son of Emperor Rudolf II and tyrant of Krumau, being imprisoned in the castle under the Pelican’s rooms, was on the toilet a long time, fell down and sent his soul off. The devil had him strangled."

Don Julius was buried in the Minorite monastery in Krumau and his body was meant to be later moved to a grave befitting the son of an Emperor, but Rudolf II died before this could happen. The location of the grave, build into a wall has been lost until today.


The site of the Minorite Cloister in Krumau in which Don Julius was buried

Over the years, Rudolf's moods swung between animated engagement with the problems of his day and deep melancholia, paranoia and uncontrollable rages. During Rudolf's retreat from public affairs, Wolfgang Rumpf, his chief minister and long-time companion, gradually attained an almost total control over the central administration of the Empire. By 1599, Rudolf became convinced that Rumpf was dealing behind his back against his interest. He forced him to resign, but later he took him back. Around Easter Rudolf fired many of his servants and banished others from court for days. For a couple of months Rudolf's rages subsided, but in July he fled from Prague in panic after an outbreak of the plague. For a year he lived in isolation in Pilsen, while he suffered from a shortness of breath. His attacks of paranoid fears were often followed by weeks of relative calm.

In June 1600 Rudolf returned to Prague and for a while he went out hunting and attended parties. Soon, however, he started hallucinating and claimed that he had been poisoned or bewitched. He seems to have attempted suicide repeatedly. Once he tried to slash his throat with a piece of broken window pane. In September he dismissed Wolfgang von Rumpf for good. From then onwards Rudolf abstained from summoning the Privy Council or delegating his powers to a Prime Minister. As a result, the government was paralysed. Incapable of making up his mind, Rudolf refused to take any decision. He appeared hardly at all in public and ordered his galleries and walkways covered over so that he could move about completely unobserved. He took his meals alone, every day at exactly the same times in exactly the same room. Priests or prayers of any sort irritated him immensely and he lived in fear of the sacraments.


Rudolf II (left) and his brother and sucessor, Matthias I, reunited on the same fresco in the Spanish Hall of the Ambras Castle in Innsbruck Austria and a Coin minted 1612 to honour Matthias accession to the Throne

In 1606 Rudolf's brother Matthias, met with his other brothers and cousins in the Hofburg in Vienna, because they feared a Protestant take-over of the Empire during Rudolf's incapacity. This palace coup was also facilitated by Rudolf’s inaction against the Turks and a rebellion in Hungary against the Habsburg domination.

The attempts of Rudolf II to deprive Royal Hungary of her constitution and the Protestants of their religious liberties speedily alienated Stephen Bocskay, a noble man of the independent region of Transylvania, especially after the terrible outrages inflicted on his fellow citizens by the Imperial generals Giorgio Basta and Giacomo Belgiojoso from 1602 to 1604.

To save the independence of Transylvania, Bocskay assisted the Turks against the Habsburg. In 1605, as a reward for his part in driving Basta out of Transylvania, the Hungarian Diet assembled at Mediaş elected him Prince of Transylvania. The Ottoman sultan Ahmed I sent a special embassy to congratulate Bocskay and presented him with a splendid jeweled crown made in Persia. Bocskay refused the royal dignity, but made skillful use of the Turkish alliance.


Stephan Bocsay, Prince of Transylvania and the Crown he received from Sultan Ahmed I for helping him against the Habsburg.

To save the Hungarian provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy, Matthias, setting aside his unstable brother Rudolf II, entered into negotiations with Bocskay and concluded the Peace of Vienna on June 23, 1606. The peace guaranteed all the constitutional and religious rights and privileges of the Hungarians both in Transylvania and Royal Hungary. Bocskay was acknowledged as Prince of Transylvania by the Austrian Court, and the right of the Transylvanians to elect their own independent princes in the future was officially recognized.

The fortress of Tokaj and the counties of Bereg, Szatmár and Ugocsa were at the same time ceded to Bocskay, with reversion to Austria if he should die childless. Simultaneously at the Žitava River, the Peace of Žitava was concluded with the Ottomans, which confirmed the Peace of Vienna. Bocskay survived this diplomatic triumph for only a few months. On December 29, 1606 he was reportedly poisoned in Kosice by his chancellor, Mihaly Katay, who was then hacked to bits by Bocskay's followers in the town's marketplace.

Two years later, at the head of an army Matthias in 1608 marched to the gates of Prague and forced in May Rudolf II to sign over Austria to him. On 16.10.1608 Matthias I was elected king of Hungary and in 1611, three years later, also crowned King of Bohemia in Prague. The only title left to Rudolf II was that of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

On November 11, Rudolf put his name to the deed of abdication and flung the pen to the floor.

Matthias gave him a pension and the possession of Hradschin castle in Prague.

There Rudolf II lived with his exotic animals and treasures. Soon his favourite lion and two of his eagles died which was considered an ominous sign as the heraldic animal of the Habsburgs was a double headed Eagle and the Lion represented the Emperor. In December 1611, suffering from an oedema due to congestive heart failure, his health started to deteriorate significantly and he died the 20th of January 1612.

Thus 60 years of a Holy Roman Emperor with roots in Austria, Spain and Bohemia cam to an end together with his exceptional patronage of Science, Art and Alchemy.

When Rudolf II died on January 1612 his body autopsied, embalmed and then dressed with stockings, trousers, a vest and a long coat of silk and satin. His head was covered with a long hat of Spanish style and his feet where in slippers. Afterwards his body laid in state in the audience hall of the Hradschin till February the 6th, when his body was sealed into a cast tin coffin and transferred into the All Saints Chapel. On October 1st occurred the solemn and final transfer into the Royal Crypt of St. Vitus Cathedral.


The Cathedral of St. Vitus on the Hradschin and the sarcophagus of Rudolf II in the background, behind that of Charles IV.


Detailed view of Rudolf II cast tin sarcophagus resting on 10 angel’s heads.

He is remembered by the people from Prague affectuosly as “der Gute Herr” having created, together with his father Maximilian II, the “Golden Prague and animated for half a century one of the focal points of European Art and Culture.

Only about 316 years later, in 1928, the crypt was unsealed and a first cursory inspection of Rudolf II coffin and its content carried out. On the 10th of July 1975 the coffin was opened again in the framework of a scientific investigation of the bone structure of historical figures.

At this occasion all vestimentary and decorative items in the coffin where collected, cleaned and catalogued.

It was then discovered that Rudolf was wearing three rings, one in gold covered wood, a possible reliquary, one in enamelled gold set with an emerald, a diamond, a sapphire and a ruby and the third one in dark green and smooth nephrite jade with an inside diameter of 1.8cm and an outside diameter of 2.4cm!


The three rings worn by of Rudolf II on his dead bed with that in nephrite jade the one in the middle. The rings are now in the Art Collection of the Prague Castle © Photo: Picture Library of Prague Castle.

This gives a further confirmation of the appreciation of Rudolf II for nephrite jade and it is not impossible that he was wearing the ring based on his personal doctor Anselmus de Boodt’s recommendation that Lapis Nephriticus prevents kidney colic’s.


1.5 Acknowledgements

I have prepared this document as historical fresco and as background for two upcoming papers; one the author of the “Perfect Jeweller” Anselmus de Boodt and one on the Lapidary Family, the Miseroni’s both of them involved in Nephrite Jade description and use.

For this I have visited many homepages, museums and publications from which I have freely collected text passages and images for your enjoyment.

I thank all of them in advance for not holding a grudge against me by using their material without their express approval.

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Reader Comments (5)

Greetings Herbert.
Thank you so very much for you article on Rudolf II.
Surprising where our interest in Jade will take us, isn't it.
Bernard Pietsch
February 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBernard Pietsch
An incredible, incredible story. So much detail, so much erudition. Read every single word with so much joy... learned so much,confirmed so much, was surprised and marvelled. This is a great document.
June 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRosa
Perhaps of interest:
The court of Rudolf II, discussion on BBC radio

January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
Maximilian II was the nephew of Charles V, not his son. He was the cousin of Phillip II, not his brother. Maximilian's father was Ferdinand, the brother of Charles V.
June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Jon Kardatzke
A remarkable story. Can someone confirm me the story that Kaspar Lehman,(the gem and glasscutter) has lost the favour of Rudolf II between 1605 and 1608. Is the valet Christoph Ranfft von Wiesenthal the causal relationship of this intrigue ?
September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMuyle Dirk

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