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European Court Culture Programme

Introductory lecture in class: Court and Society in Feudal Europe

The first lecture will prepare the ground for the programme as a whole by introducing the terms of “court” and “empire”. It will start with the ancient Roman Empire before moving on to a series of rebirths of empire during the Carolingian and in the early modern period. The aim is to explain the role of the court in feudal society and briefly to present its manifestations in preparation of the scheduled programme. The emphasis will be on the Holy Roman Empire under the Habsburg dynasty and on the role of the Wittelsbachs as one of the leading aristocratic families within the empire.

Introductory lecture in class: The Court: Administration and Bureaucracy

Court life needed to be administrated by a vast body of personnel. Life was organised from morning to night, it comprised regular events as well as special festivities, visits and legations. Contacts with other courts needed to be maintained by letters and diplomats and each piece of writing was copied and filed to keep track of correspondence, commissions and acquisitions. The lecture will thus look into the administrative workings of a court, including special administrative personnel such as the keeper of the wardrobe or the court librarian.

Introductory lecture in class: The Court as Stage: Architecture and Etiquette

As everyone knows, an emperor, king or duke lived in beautiful castles and palaces with their families. These residences also housed the court and accommodated particularly privileged visitors. Members of the royalty and aristocracy, however, not only used magnificent buildings as their living quarters, they also presented themselves on such a virtual stage defined by architecture and etiquette in an on-going competition between peers. The aim was to prove oneself a worthy member of one’s class and to be able to claim dynastic ambitions set out by the ranking system of a feudal society.

Introductory lecture in class: Court Patronage: Art, Architecture and Music

An important element of aristocratic self-presentation was patronage. Even before the early-modern period, a prince and his family felt obliged to sponsor artists, scholars or clergymen and to commission works of art, architecture and music. In some cases, members of the aristocracy took such a keen interest in the arts and sciences that they trained as architects or draughtsmen or went on excursions intended to extend the knowledge in the natural sciences. Some were gifted musicians, playing several instruments and composing works of music that are still performed to this day.

Introductory lecture in class: Collecting and Display: Material Props at Court

Activities of collecting and display constituted an important and particular part of court culture. Collecting and collectables offered a prince the opportunity to amass large numbers of valuable objects and to display them in an appropriate architectural framework. Even though not all exhibits were of high monetary value, their importance as wonders of art or nature made them suitable for display. They also played a significant role in courtly diplomacy as gifts exchanged between princely collectors. The lecture will examine the development of display rooms from study to gallery and diverse classes of collectables coveted by collectors. It will also investigate some of the first theoretical writings concerning collecting and display.

Visit to the Munich Residence, followed by discussions in class and prep for the excursions the following week

Our first visit will take us to the Munich Residence of the Wittelsbach dukes and electors. It will serve as example of a princely palace turned from a castle into a magnificent accommodation plus stage for its inhabitants, able to present themselves as politicians, collectors and patrons at the same time. We shall investigate the Residence’s layout and architecture before visiting the splendid state rooms and apartments as well as discussing special features typical of an early-modern palace such as the library or kunstkammer.

Day trip: Schloss Ambras / Innsbruck with the Tomb of Emperor Maximilian

Week Two will take off with a day trip to Schloss Ambras in Austria. Ambras is exemplary for its kunstkammer, armoury and portrait collection gathered to a large part for and by Habsburg archduke Ferdinand II (1529–1595) and house on its renaissance premises. Although the castle has a much longer history, it is particularly significant for its part within the history of collecting. Nearby Innsbruck was the residence of Habsburg emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519) in the late fifteenth century and was chosen by him as the location of his magnificent cenotaph tomb in the Hofkirche; his body is buried in Castle Chapel in Vienna Neustadt.

Excursion to Vienna: visits to the Hofburg, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Castle Schönbrunn, Imperial Crypt

The rest of the week will be spent at Vienna, capital of the Holy Roman Empire under the Austrian branch of the Habsburg Dynasty. Here we shall visit the Hofburg and Castle Schönbrunn to gain an impression of diverse architectural styles and court culture from the early-modern period up to the age of enlightenment. A tour of the Kunsthistorisches Museum will further acquaint us with the long history of imperial patronage of the arts, while the Imperial Crypt will offer a point of comparison to the Cenotaph of Maximilian at Innsbruck and thereby demonstrate the care put into an appropriate presentation of feudal society well beyond the threshold of death.

Follow up to the visits of Schloss Ambras and to Vienna. Presentation Topics to be assigned.

Back in Munich we shall discuss our recent visits to the Munich Residence, to Ambras and Vienna and deal with queries that may have arisen during our trips. We shall try to understand better the diverse types of palace architecture and apartment layout, of collecting and garden designs and to classify them in accordance with art-historical periods within the context of European court culture.

As a result of these discussions, each student will choose a particular topic for his/her presentation at the end of the week. Although the emphasis will be on early-modern and baroque courts comparative presentation topics related to the students’ home cultures and or particular research interests are welcome.

Excursion to Nymphenburg Palace, followed by discussions in class

While the students prepare their presentations, two more visits will take place in and near Munich. The first one will take us to Schloss Nymphenburg, the baroque summer residence of the Wittelsbach dynasty. Started in the second half of the seventeenth century, the palace was gradually extended over the centuries and contains a number of buildings in addition to the palace proper. Splendid gardens were added with many of the features (e.g. pavilions, pagodas, arboretum, lakes, botanical garden) to be expected in a baroque/rococo park. Both palace and gardens may be visited. Near Nymphenburg Palace the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory is situated, where high-quality porcelain has been produced since the eighteenth century.

Excursion to Schleissheim Castle, followed by discussions in class

Our final excursion will take us to Schleissheim Castle, which is actually three palaces rolled into one. Here we shall be able to view the set up of the palaces within the castle grounds as well as the stylistic development of palace architecture from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment exemplified by three buildings. Even though primarily set up as places of delight at a distance from the court, these diverse palaces nonetheless illuminate the history of the Wittelsbach family and of its dynastic aims and aspirations over the centuries.