Lute of the Month

Triumph sheet 18 (detail)

Triumph sheet 24 (detail)

The Triumph of Maximilian 1

This vast project of blatant self-publicity was started in 1512 when Emperor Maximilian 1 dictated to his secretary Marx Treitzaurwein the details of what he wanted to be shown in each sheet of the composite procession. The sketches were prepared by Jörg Kölderer who was an architect and designer, and from these, woodcuts were commissioned from artists in Augsburg and Nürnberg as well as miniatures on vellum from artists in Kölderer's studio. The major work on the woodcuts was done by Hans Burgkmair, although Altdorfer, Springinklee, Beck Schäufelein and Huber also may have worked on parts of it. Only two sheets (89 and 90) were done by Dürer.

When Maximilian died in 1519 the work was stopped and only those parts already finished were published in 1526. Most of the blocks survived until 1883, when the last edition was published by Adolf Holzhausen for the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum.

I show details of the two sheets which feature lute-players: 18 and 24. It is quite likely that these show known lutenists of Maximilian's household, another sheet for instance shows a recognisable portrait of his court organist, Paul Hofhaimer. In fact the instructions for sheet 18 specifically mention the master lutenist as "Artus". Has anyone any other reference to him, or indeed does anyone know which one he is?

As has been pointed out by Arne Keller, the pictures show clearly the two different styles of lute right-hand technique, thumb under and thumb out, being used by different players at the same time. In each case the earlier thumb under technique is being used on the larger instrument which is being held in the oud position with the head well down. Thus one might be able use these pictures to date the transition from one technique to the other.

Sheet number 24 shows a pair of lutenists probably playing tenor/treble duets as was common for professional court musicians in the period immediately before this. Keith Polk has done important work on the household expenses of noble families at this time in Germany and Italy which shows that pairings like this were fashionable if you wanted to show your status by artistic display! Some less likely seeming pairings were also common such as lute and sackbut (or trombone)!

Here are the original instructions which Maximilian dictated for each of our two sheets:

18. After them shall be depicted a low little car on small plough wheels: two elks shall draw the car, and a little boy shall be the driver and shall bear the verse inscription.
And on the car shall be five lutenists and rybeben players.
And their leader shall be Artus (master lutenist) and his verse, borne by the boy, shall read:
How he prepared the lutes and viols in the most artistic way for an entertainment by the Emperor's orders.

(Now lutes and viols harmonise
In elegant and courtly wise;
Thus bade by his Imperial might
Have I produced this fair delight,
Blending these tuneful instruments
As well befits such great events.)

The lutenists, viol players, and the boy shall all be wearing laurel wreaths.

24. Again depict a similar small low car with plough wheels, drawn by a dromedary; a boy shall drive it and bear the leader's verse. On the car shall be the "sweet melody," that is: First, a tämerlin; a quintern; a large lute; a rybeben; a fiddle; a small rauschpfeiffen.
The director's name and his verse are yet to be determined.

(And now melodious music springs
From multifarious hums of strings.
By Emperor's wish the members are
The drum, the lute, the sweet guitar,
And harps and fifes both small and large.
To lead this consort is my charge.)

The boy and all of them shall be wearing laurel wreaths.

It is interesting that he uses the term quintern for the small lute as this is the same term and the same pairing with a lute that Agricola shows in 1528. The term quintern probably means a lute tuned a fifth higher (quint) This is the classic treble / ground pairing of the medieval improvising tradition.

If anyone has any comments about these pictures which differ from or expand on mine, please do either email me direct or submit them to the lutenet at
and I will add them to this page.
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