The “Kolowrat-Wedding” of 1580:
Let’s bring it to life!
When a man and a woman fall in love
… it is a big intimate moment.
They will get married sooner or later, and their privacy will become public.
Especially in late 16th century Europe, when bride and groom were courtiers of an ambitious Habsburg prince and his wife.
This was the case of a certain Kolowrat and his beloved Catherine. The event took place in Innsbruck in 1580.
It was a splendid feast with many famous people participating.
More than 200 years later a chronicle about the history of Innsbruck reports:
“Magnificent carnival festivities in the Neustadt and the princely castle in Innsbruck …”
“The detailed description of this is kept in a special book in Ambras Castle.”
The initiator of these festivities was the Tyrolean sovereign Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria, who resided in Innsbruck.
He used the wedding of his chamberlain Kolowrat as an opportunity to organise a spectacular courtly tournament, …
which he in turn dedicated to his beloved wife Philippine Welser.
Around the middle of the 16th century, allegorical tournaments embedded in a frame story became popular, and Archduke Ferdinand was a particular lover of such events
… like his great-grandfather Emperor Maximilan I, the so-called “last knight”.
Ferdinand loved to create elaborate allegorical festive programmes for these events.
... So his imagination was set in motion ...
– to vary the motto of the Olympic Games.
His great-grandfather had set the example, the great-grandson, however, wanted to surpass him.
A few decades earlier, Maximilian I had given idealised expression to his power through the monumental printed works of the Triumphal Arch and the Triumphal Procession. But what the Emperor would once have told only in printed pictures, his great-grandson now actually brought to the stage of the city of Innsbruck.
We still admire similar public events such as the inauguration of the Olympic Games or during carnival celebrations.
The pageants organized prior to the tournaments of the Kolowrat-Wedding are recorded in magnificently coloured engravings.
“It was me, Sigmund Elsässer, painter, who executed the engravings.”
Sigmund Elsässer is documented as a court painter in Innsbruck from 1579 to 1587.
The magnificently illustrated description of the festival is part of the famous Kunst- und Wunderkammer – “Chamber of Art and Wonders” – of Archduke Ferdinand at Ambras Castle.
… where Archduke Ferdinand housed all kinds of remarkable objects. The domestic and exotic natural products and creations of human craftsmanship represent the whole world. Parts of the collections can be seen today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
We shall now take a closer look at this original document to learn about the extraordinary event on the occasion of the wedding of Ferdinand’s courtier Kolowrat.
They list the number of runs, the use of weapons, the disguise and finally the prizes awarded to the winner. The participants were noblemen from the court of Archduke Ferdinand II, including the groom Kolowrat. They appeared in disguise and can be identified by their coat of arms.
The “true description and illustration” – Wahrhaffte Beschreibung und Abcontrafectung – identifies Archduke Ferdinand as the author of the programme:
He is said to have “developed the ideas himself after much princely reflection” and to have directed “experienced painters, sculptors and other artists” to produce a sophisticated princely quintain and an open tournament.
Four Seasons & Four Elements
The noblemen entered the field on strange animals and triumphal chariots disguised as ancient deities and heroes, the Four Seasons and the Four Elements.
The second-born son of Archduke Ferdinand II and his first wife Philippine Welser, Karl von Burgau, represents Hercules, riding on a seven-headed Hydra.
There seems to be no doubt that the Archduke derives his power and authority directly from Jupiter, while also claiming the deity’s virtues – justice and piety – as his own.
Archduke Ferdinand is also making reference to his personal family situation.
The differences in rank between father and son are thus transferred to a mythological level.
Hercules was the son of the immortal god Jupiter and the mortal Alcmene. He, however, managed to ascend to the heaven of the gods due to his heroic deeds – a perfect role for Charles, who could now play it in public at least in the fictitious setting of a court festival staged by his own father.
The oval medallions above show Philemon and Baucis.
Aeneas on the Galley
Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans, who has just disembarked in Italy, had learned that a great tournament was to take place in Innsbruck, in which he wanted to participate with his companions. Count Wilhelm von Zimmern takes on the role of Aeneas. There is also a pyrotechnical effect on the galley: fire and smoke pour out of a mask on the prow.
Further sensations are offered by the following picture with the Strophadic Islands, home to wild animals and the dreaded harpies, the winged beasts with female features.
Venus & Cupid
The Goddess of love, Venus – embodied by Paul Zernitz, also insists on accompanying her son Cupid to the wedding tournament in Innsbruck.
Finally, different nations, fraternities and professional guilds compete against each other in 13 individual foot combats, enacted as so-called Klagen – lawsuits.
Did this all take place in reality, just as the pictures would have us to believe?
Can you imagine real eagles drawing a chariot? … or real leopards crossing the city with the silent paws of a cat? … that real crocodiles, furies, giants and others are part of the spectacle?
We know that for the actual event draught animals like donkeys and horses – and even humans dressed up as animals – did that job.
“Here come two big fish with silver scales; inside are two men / they pull a silvered seashell”
Nevertheless, the depictions transmit an impression of reality, not least through their arrangement.
In addition, with the help of the pictures and texts, such ephemeral events as pageants and tournaments, as well as the messages they convey and their significance, are preserved for posterity.
Scrolls were already considered old-fashioned at the time of Archduke Ferdinand.
However, the choice of this medium reflects the antique-like content of the pageants. It is the linear-additive sequence of the single pictures to create a coherent image of an “animated” procession, that allows the viewers to experience it both in space and time.
And today? We – posterity – are interested in bringing the contents to life and making visible what is hidden in the historical documents: Festival participants dressing up as allegorical and mythological figures, people or animals taking on the roles of exotic and fantastic creatures, or festival floats and machines offering pyrotechnical spectacles and other show effects.
From the point of view of conservation, graphic works, such as those of Elsässer, are among the most fragile objects in museums.
Gabriel Bodenehr der Ältere nach Matthäus Merian, Die Ertzherzogliche Haupt und Residenz Statt Innsbrcuk, Im Tyrol, Augsburg, 1704-1720. Innsbruck, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Bibliothek, Sign. FB 7089. © Tiroler Landesmuseen
Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Rio de Janeiro - Cerimônia de abertura dos Jogos Olímpicos Rio 2016 no Estádio do Maracanã. via Wikimedia published under the Creative Commons License. © Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil
Sergio Luiz, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro via Wikimedia published under the Creative Commons License. © Sergio Luiz
Alle übrigen Bilder: © KHM-Museumsverband
Special thanks to Rudi, Carmen, Nicoletta.
Title: “The Kolowrat-Wedding” of 1580: Let’s bring it to life!”
Author: Veronika Sandbichler (Ambras Castle, Innsbruck).
Web Design: Kunsthistorisches Museum – Visual Media, Vienna
English Translation / Proof Reading: Veronika Sandbichler / Alexander McCargar