German Patrons of Venetian Carnival Art: Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol’s Ambras Collections and the 1579 Travel Journal of Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria

Katritzky, M. A. (2016). German Patrons of Venetian Carnival Art: Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol’s Ambras Collections and the 1579 Travel Journal of Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria. In: Münch, Birgit Ulrike; Tacke, Andreas; Herzog, Markwart and Heudecker, Sylvia eds. Von kurzer Dauer? Fallbeispiele zu temporären Kunstzentren der Vormoderne. Kunsthistorisches Forum Irsee (3). Petersberg, Germany: Michael Imhof Verlag, pp. 126–142.



The Republic of Venice’s ephemeral civic festivals celebrated and built on the reputation of its unique maritime location and urban setting, and its exceptional tolerance of marginalized minorities, such as Greeks, Muslims, Jews, Protestants or unmarried women. Europe’s gateway port for pilgrimages to Jerusalem and trade with the Ottoman Empire, Venice was also a destination worth boasting about in its own right, The Venetians developed their winter carnival along the lines of a grand court festival without the court. Their lavish sponsorship of spectacle, and use of masked costumes freeing participants from constraints of identity, gender and status, elevated it to a fashionable ephemeral highpoint accessible to anyone with wealth. What its own quack street pedlars pioneered in miniature, by employing performers to attract custom, Venice, city of merchants, perfected on the grandest possible scale, using its carnival to encourage, support and supply a vastly expanded market for portable visual souvenirs. By the eighteenth century, when the Grand Tour was a routine rite of passage for the European and British nobility, the Venetian carnival was firmly enshrined with other celebrated Italian tourist experiences, in magnificent illustrated guides such as Giambattista Albrizzi’s ‘Forestiero illuminato’. Even before that, the Venetian carnival’s immense opportunities were recognized by German-speaking art patrons such as Duke Anton Ulrich, who built up his celebrated Braunschweig collection of Venetian paintings during repeated visits to Venetian carnivals of the 1680s. The renowned curiosity cabinet of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol (1529–95), at his summer residence, Castle Ambras near Innsbruck, contributed substantially to Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. With particular reference to the Ambras collection, and to the travel journal of Ferdinand II’s nephew Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria recording their visit to the 1579 Venetian carnival, the focus here is on carnival-inspired visual souvenirs in the decades around 1600. Numerous early modern texts and pictures document German experiences of the Republic’s carnival, whether by Italian, German or Northern artists, brought back by German-speaking patrons from the Veneto, or commissioned on their return. Determining the provenance of my first two categories, large-scale paintings and enamelled glass, is often challenging. A third category, mostly commissioned in Germany, includes wall and ceiling paintings, jewels, automata and court festival costumes. Fourthly, the Venetian carnival generated a huge range of cheap print and ephemeral art in both Italy and Germany. Notably, formulaic printed and painted series of Venetian costumes and customs were produced for binding into the pocket-sized friendship albums (alba amicorum) which so many Nordic, Baltic and German-speakers (and even the odd Frenchman or Scot), took on their travels, and circulated widely on their return.

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