Saving political face : the structures of power in Hans von Aachen’s Allegories on the long Turkish war
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Hans von Aachen, court artist to the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, created a series of small painting called the Allegories on the Long Turkish War. Von Aachen made the Allegories between 1604 and 1606 and Rudolf II kept them bound in a red book in his Kunstkammer. This series selects events and battles from the Long War against the Ottoman Empire, 1593-1606, to create a flattering propagandistic image of the emperor in order to strengthen his support. Rudolf’s brother, Archduke Matthias of Austria, began plotting against the emperor beginning in 1600. By 1606 he was actively usurping Rudolf’s political power. I examine von Aachen’s visual description of imperial power, the alternate history the Allegories present, and the ways they engage with Neo-Platonic theories to convey validity to viewers. In my thesis, I outline the events of the Long War in order to compare them to von Aachen’s portrayals and to understand how he restructures chronological history to convey his message about Rudolf’s rulership. I briefly analyze each painting but I focus primarily on the eighth scene, the Conquest of Székesfehérvár. Sultan Mehmed III sits opposite Rudolf II in dignified defeat in this painting. I investigate the visual treatment of the sultan through the historical interactions between the Ottoman and Holy Roman Empires and propose the political function served by depicting him as a noble enemy. I finally discuss the way von Aachen uses symbols and allegory to convey a potent message and convince the viewer of its validity. Ultimately, these works should be seen as political propaganda used to combat Rudolf’s brother Archduke Matthias’ political takeover and not as Rudolf’s fantastical escapism from his losing battle against his brother.