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Bust - The Emperor Rudolph II

The Emperor Rudolph II

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Prague (made)

  • Date:

    1609 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Vries, Adriaen de (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Relief in bronze

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case WN

This bronze portrait of Rudolph II is the last in a series of three that Adriaen de Vries produced at the Emperor's court workshop in Prague. Two signed busts of 1603 and 1607, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, preceded it.

The relief is signed under the left edge 'ADRIANVS FRIES·FEC:'; the sitter is identified by another inscription, 'RVD:II·ROM·IMP:CAES:AVG AET:SVAE:LVII·ANNO·1609' ('Rudolph II, Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, aged 57, in the year 1609'). The lion mask on the pauldron (the plate of armour covering the shoulders and upper arms), the supporting imperial eagle and the allegorical reliefs on the cuirass, depicting Hercules holding up the world and Minerva with a trophy of arms and a statue of Victory, allude to the Emperor's military and political power.

Adriaen de Vries was born in The Hague probably in about 1545, and like many of his fellow countrymen he went to Italy to gain experience. There he worked in Florence in the workshop of Giambologna and as court sculptor for Duke Carl Emmanuel I of Savoy in Turin. By the 1590s he was back north of the Alps, in Augsburg, Germany, where he executed the bronzes for the Mercury and Hercules fountains between 1597 and 1602. In 1601 he was appointed court sculptor to Rudolph II, before moving to Prague the following year.

This portrait was recorded in the inventory of Rudolph's Cabinet of Curiosities at Prague by 1611, but before 1652 it had entered the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden, having been confiscated - together with many other sculptures by de Vries - as war booty during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

Physical description

Relief in bronze on a background of black marble. The head and shoulders of the Emperor, facing to the right, bareheaded and in armour, wearing the Golden Fleece on a plain chain. The shoulder-piece is a lion-mask, the plate beneath it has a relief of Herkules carrying the globe; below, on the corslet, is a goddess reclining on a trophy of arms, holding a statuettte of Victory, and on the base is an eagle.

Place of Origin

Prague (made)


1609 (made)


Vries, Adriaen de (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Relief in bronze

Marks and inscriptions

Adriaen de Vries made [it]

Rudolph II, Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, aged 57, in the year 1609


Height: 67 cm, Width: 61 cm, Depth: 4 cm, Weight: 80 kg

Object history note

Historical significance: This is the third of Adriaen de Fries' portraits of the Holy Roman Emperor, two signed busts of 1603 and 1607 in Vienna having preceded it.

Descriptive line

Bust in bronze, by Adrian de Vries, North Netherlandish, signed and dated 1609

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 191p., ill. ISBN 1851771883.
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1860. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 3
Larsson, Adrian de Vries, Vienna, 1967, pp. 48; 121-122, cat. No 30
Radcliffe, A. "Adrian de Vries". In: The Sculpture Journal, IV, 2000, p. 189
Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume II: Text. Sixteenth to Twentieth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, p. 699
Penny, N. Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum, II, Oxford, 1992, p. 133.
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 152
Scholten, Frits, Adrian de Vries 1556-1626, Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 1999.
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.





Subjects depicted

Cuirasses; Lion masks; Eagle (bird); Pauldrons




Sculpture Collection

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