Artistic Collaboration

The Arch stands nearly 12 feet tall but, incredibly, was originally conceived as a painted miniature. Court painter Jorg Kolderer, who worked out the overall architectural design, intended the composition to be quite small. To his surprise, the project began to grow.

Johannes Stabius, Maximilian's historian, biographer, and court astronomer, translated and expanded the idea into a giant woodcut. The enormous shift in scale provided ample space for a complex design packed with references to Habsburg history, Christian iconography, and the ancient world. The symbolism assumed a highly educated audience, who could fully understand the symbolic meanings and references.

Albrecht Dürer, one of the most famous artists of this time, was hired in 1512 to oversee the artistic execution of Stabius' design. Dürer recruited Hans Springinklee, Wolf Traut, and Albrecht Altdorfer to design many of the small scenes detailing historical events and Maximilian's achievements. They drew directly onto smooth wooden blocks.

Around 1515, after two years of work, Dürer handed the blocks with completed drawings over to Hieronymous Andreae and his workshop of wood-block cutters, who converted them into 192 individual woodcuts. The whole print was complete in late 1517. Sadly for Maximilian, the Arch's propaganda value was short-lived—he died in 1519. It was bad timing for Andreae, too: he spent 11 years trying to get paid, and succeeded only because he kept the blocks hostage.