The Emperor Needs No Clothes - Who Is In Max’s Innsbruck Tomb?

By all accounts Maximillian I seemed to love life, and why not? He was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1508 until he died in 1515 (although he was never officially crowned by the Pope), so pretty much anything and everything was available to him. Before that he was archduke of Austria where he laid the groundwork for much of Europe as part of the Hapsburg dynasty. Like many of that generation, and up to our present narcissistic beliefs, it was crucial, and I mean crucial, to be remembered after death – to be loved and adored well into infinity. Therefore plans were underway a decade prior to Max’s demise for his memorial; an elaborate marble tomb flanked by dozens of life-size bronze statues in stunning detail that flank Max’s sepulcher.

Just one of the large bronze statues
I visited the Tomb and was impressed by the scope of the monument, but what illuminates the imagination is the near jaw dropping detail. A stately Renaissance-style grill on all four sides of the tomb is topped by the kneeling Maximilian and supported at the four corners by statues of the cardinal virtues. It’s important to remember that this was all done by hand, before computer generated images, 3D printing, or cheap Chinese labor. And this is what is so remarkable about the tomb – the immense handiwork and time it took to complete it. Max’s tomb is housed inside the Hofkirche or “court church,” in downtown Innsbruck, Austria. The church itself is rather unremarkable so this is really about Max and his elaborate tomb. The sides of the marble tomb have 24 hand-carved inlaid panels depicting various scenes from his life such as his wedding and battles carved by Alexandre Colin of Belgium. He died before it was completed so his son carried on with the work of finishing the tomb.

The stunning detail of the marble panels is exquisite
The website, The World of the Habsburgs, which chronicles the dynasty says this about the tomb: “The design represents a combination of classical tomb and medieval funerary cortege and is symptomatic of Maximilian’s concept of art, which sought to revive classical ideals while remaining bound to medieval traditions.” Hum. “The monument was intended to glorify the Habsburgs and legitimize their imperial status by referencing the Roman emperors and their tombs.” Well then, mission accomplished.

Max kneels atop his own tomb
But here is the twist - this elaborate tomb so dutifully created, planned and executed, this staggeringly intricate piece of art - well, Max isn’t buried here. Who is? Actually…no one. There are no bones of Max inside the tomb, or anywhere near it. His remains are in Vienna, not Innsbruck, 300 miles away. So all this work, craftsmanship, time, dedication and toil resulted in an empty coffin. But you can, and should, visit the Tomb of Maximilian for the sheer magnitude of artistry represented here if you are in Innsbruck. It is a reminder that much of what history leaves us is less about political dynasties and nation building, and more about artists who toil in virtual obscurity, leaving behind physical manifestations of their God-given abilities.

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