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The Triumphal Arch

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Triumphal Arch
  • Description

    First edition of the Triumphal Arch, printed from 195 blocks on 36 sheets with various scenes glorifying the house of Habsburg and Maximilian's military achievements, the Arch is divided in seven parts: the three gates of Honour, Praise, and Nobility; the central tower; the historical events of Maximilian's reign over the side gates; the busts of emperors and kings on the left the Emperor's kinsmen on the right; the round towers at either end; panels of text under each scene and five columns of text underneath; the word 'Halt' is gilt. 1515 Woodcut


  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1515-1517
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 3570 millimetres
    • Width: 2950 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Signed with coat of arms and dated on the block. Annotated within the arches beneath the German lettering in an eighteenth-century hand in brown ink: 'The [Gate] of the Deserving of Merit/ The Gate of Glory and Power / The Gate of the Nobility' (This is quite possibly in the hand of Joseph Nollekens - compare with his hand-writing in the manuscript notes of his collection in P&D).
  • Curator's comments

    The Triumphal Arch was the only one of Emperor Maximilian's ambitious woodcut projects to be completed during his lifetime, and it remains one of the largest prints ever to be produced. It was intended to be coloured by hand and used as a massive wall decoration, but examples of the complete set are excessively rare and very few examples of the first edition of 700 sets of the print have survived with contemporary colouring (eg Berlin, Vienna, Braunschweig; see J. Sander (ed) 'Albrecht Dürer, his art in context'; exhibition catalogue, Frankfurt, Städel Museum, 2013, no. 13.7). The inscription on the tablet under the dome above the central arch gives the title and dedication of the work: 'This Arch of Honour with its several portals is erected in praise of the most serene, all-powerful prince and sovereign Maximilian, Elected Roman Emperor and Head of Christendom ... in memory of his honourable reign, his gentility, generosity and triumphal conquests.' The programme was devised by Johann Stabius, who explains underneath that it was constructed after the model of 'the ancient triumphal arches of the Roman Emperors'. Above the central arch, entitled Honour and Might, is a genealogy of Maximilian in the form of a family tree. Above the left arch, Praise, and the right arch, Nobility, are represented events from his life. These are flanked by busts of emperors and kings on the left, and a column of Maximilian's ancestors on the right. The outermost towers on either side show scenes from the private life of Maximilian. The architect and painter, Jörg Kölderer, designed the overall appearance of the structure. Although no other artist's involvement is recorded, it is clear from a stylistic viewpoint that Dürer himself did not carry out all the designs, but concentrated on the prominent ornamental features, including much of the central arch and the right half of the ornamental framework. He sub-contracted the designs for the majority of the historical scenes, the family tree in the centre and the left half of the ornamental framework to his pupils Hans Springinklee (c.1490/95 - after 1525) and Wolf Traut (c.1480 -1520) and most of the scenes on the outer towers to Albrecht Altdorfer (c.1482/5 -1538). The date 1515 which appears on the Arch refers to the completion of the designs; the blocks were cut by Hieronymous Andreä of Nuremberg between 1515 and 1517 (today in the Albertina, Vienna). The huge size and unbalanced structure of the design makes the work difficult to comprehend, and tends to overwhelm the excellence of some of the individual cuts as well as detract from the lesser quality of others. This lack of uniformity was due in part to the large numbers of people involved and the inherent difficulties of printing a single image from 195 blocks. It is also a reflection of Maximilian's close involvement; as with all his projects, he was much more interested in content than in form and closely monitored the detail to go into the design at the expense of its overall appearance.

    History of the Arch in the British Museum: Joseph Nollekens recorded in his manuscript notes (in a volume misleadingly stamped: 'Cracherode collection MS Memoranda etc', in P&D library) that this impression of the Arch was 'joined together in five long uprights' when in his possession. On arrival at the Museum in 1834, it was in a portfolio, together with the Triumphal Car, E,5.2. The Arch was joined and backed onto linen during 1894 (see Sidney Colvin's account of P&D activities published in the BM returns (Central Archives), printed 2nd July, 1895: 'Albrecht Dürer's great woodcut of the Arch of Maximilian, in 92 sheets, has been joined and mounted on linen for exhibition'). In 1903, Dodgson described it as 'attached to a roller and hung in the exhibition room' (when the department was located in the east wing of the museum, and exhibitions took place in rooms currently numbered 43,44 and 45). It was presumably included in the exhibition of Dürer's drawings, engravings and woodcuts in the autumn of 1909 (no catalogue, see Colvin's report to the Trustees, 28th January, 1910). Dodgson did not include it in the Dürer exhibition at the BM in 1928. It was glazed and framed for display inside the newly opened prints and drawings gallery (room 90) in the Dürer exhibition 1971, prior to which it had been stored folded (confirmed in July 2012 by Eric Harding, Head of Paper Conservation at the BM until 1987). From 1971-1987, it was on display outside the entrance to Room 90; firstly at the top of the staircase to the left of the entrance (when ascending the staircase) and subsequently on the wall opposite the gold lift. It was moved to room 12 (ground floor, south side of the museum) in 1987 in order to accomodate the lower ceiling for the new Japanese gallery on the level above Prints and Drawings. In 2014, it was removed from the wall in room 12, the frame and glazing were destroyed and it was displayed in a specially constructed show-case for the exhibition in Room 3, 'Dürer's Paper Triumph'.

    Lit: G.Bartrum, German Renaissance Prints, exhibition catalogue, London, British Museum, 1995, no.37; G.Bartrum, 'Dürer and his Legacy', exhibition catalogue, London, British Museum, 2002, no.139; for a discussion of the genealogy of the Arch and illustration of various details, see L. Silver, 'Marketing Maximilian: the Visual Ideology of a Holy Roman Emperor', Princeton, 2008, especially pp 51 ff.; T. Schauerte in E.Michel and M.L. Sternath (ed) 'Emperor Maximilian and the Age of Dürer' exhibition catalogue, Vienna, Albertina, 2012, cat.no124.


  • Bibliography

    • New Hollstein (German) 22-103 (Springinklee, for discussion of the blocks by Springinklee) bibliographic details
    • Meder 1932 251.1 bibliographic details
    • Dodgson 1903, 1911 I.311.130 bibliographic details
    • Schoch 2001-04 II.238.1 bibliographic details
    • Bartsch VII.149.138 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (Not yet placed)

  • Exhibition history

    1971 BM,'The Graphic Work of Albrecht Dürer', no.235
    1995 Jun-Oct, BM, 'German Renaissance Prints, 1490-1550', no.37
    2002-3, BM, Dürer and his Legacy, no. 139
    2014, 11 Sept.-16 Nov. BM, Room 3, 'Dürer's Paper Triumph'

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Bequeathed by Joseph Nollekens, subject to a life interest to Francis Douce, 1834. William Ottley reported the arrival of the Douce bequest to the Trustees on 10 July, 1834: 'within these last two days a large volume containing a collection of the prints of A. Dürer (E,2.) and a portfolio containing the Triumphal Arch of Maximilian, and the Triumphal Car of that Emperor (E,5.2) by the same artist, have been received in the Print Room;'. Jane Roberts has pointed out that an impression of the Arch was in the collection of Charles I (recorded in Abraham Van der Doort's inventory of 1639, and in a subsequent inventory as 'An Arch.tryomphall. by Albertdure printed, Sold to Col. Webb 22 Oct. 1649' for £2; see Oliver Millar in the 'Walpole Society', XXXVII 1958/60, p.174 no.15, and XLIII 1970/2, p.312 no.219).

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


First edition of the Triumphal Arch, printed from 192 blocks, with various scenes glorifying the house of Habsburg and Maximilian's own achievements, the Arch is divided in seven parts: the three gates of Honour, Praise, and Nobility; the central tower; t

First edition of the Triumphal Arch, printed from 192 blocks, with various scenes glorifying the house of Habsburg and Maximilian's own achievements, the Arch is divided in seven parts: the three gates of Honour, Praise, and Nobility; the central tower; t

Image description



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