Allegory of Virtues and Vices at the Court of Charles V

Hans Daucher German

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 520

Early commentators identified some of the well-known historical figures that Hans Daucher carved so precisely on this honestone relief in the year 1522. Riding a horse, whose rich trappings are emblazoned with the arms of the house of Hapsburg, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500 – 1558) leads his retinue across a bridge with laurel-crowned Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) at his side (symbolically, since Maximilian was recently deceased). Prints and medallions have aided in the identification of other figures. Standing behind the two emperors is Maximilian’s court jester Kunz von der Rosen; Count Palatine Frederick II rides the horse emerging from the gateway of the bridge tower; and Willibald Pirkheimer, the Nuremburg humanist and friend of artist Albrecht Dürer, strides among the equestriennes to the right of the tower.[1] In contrast with the orderly procession on the bridge, horsemen and knights struggle to survive in the raging currents of the river below. The rebellious Reformation leader Franz von Sickingen is one of those who have plunged into the river. On the hills beyond the bridge at left, bowmen emerge from a tent to witness a joust, while on the right riverbank, men and women carouse at a banquet.

Several scholars have offered historical interpretations of the scene. Karl Giehlow suggested, for example, that the Turkish knight emerging from a tent is a reference to the conquest of Belgrade in 1521 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who continued to threaten the east European kingdoms in the year the relief was carved.[2] Georg Habich saw a theme of imperial triumph over insurgency in the scene, citing the rebellion of German Imperial Knights in Augsburg in 1522, a revolt that would be quelled, however, only in the following year with their deaths.[3] Philipp Maria Halm focused instead on the inscription reading "A Sketch of Virtues and Vices" prominent on the tower at the exact center of the relief.[4] For him, the inscription underscored the allegorical nature of the scene, and the date 1522 included in it simply referred to the year the sculptor completed his task. Halm related the relief to a woodcut by the German printmaker Georg Pencz, dated about 1530, and to a poem by the Meistersinger Hans Sachs, dated exactly 1530, both of which concern the climax of the story of King Arthur and the Adulterers’ Bridge. In this tale the chaste king and his knights successfully cross the bridge, which lacks a parapet, while the maritally unfaithful fall into the river.

In a 1956 article Leopold David Ettlinger reviewed these interpretations and others.[5] Asserting that none of the proposed historical allusions could explain the relief in its entirety and remarking that the story of King Arthur and the Adulterers’ Bridge could have little bearing on the relief’s meaning because Charles V had not yet wed in 1522, he stressed the more general allegorical significance of the scene. Daucher’s compact carving, he said, relies on medieval and Renaissance romances, such as the tale of Amadis of Gaul, in which knightly valor and virtue are tested by crossing a bridge or passing through a narrow gate. The "bridge test," in his view, is a secular retelling of the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great (540 – 604) and especially the chapter on the Bridge of Dread, which only the virtuous can cross on their journey to the next world. According to Ettlinger, Daucher conflated these traditions in his allegory of Emperor Charles V and his retinue, most of whom, it is gracefully implied, will pass the test of virtue, though some must inevitably stumble and come to grief. The scene vividly recalls the triumphal processions beloved of Renaissance rulers, in which their glory and their exercise of dominion over towns and vassals are celebrated.

Daucher was masterly in carving fine-grained stone into detailed depictions of rulers, such as Emperor Maximilian on Horseback as Saint George (ca. 1520 – 25, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and of religious subjects, such as his Mary in the Hall (1520, Städtische Kunstsammlungen, Augsburg), which capitalize on architectural motifs and clothing accessories to captivate the viewer.[6] Into this relief’s small format he packed dozens of figures, many of whom can be identified by tiny facial features and costume details, and animated them with varied expressions and postures. It is likely that he relied on a single graphic source for the basic scheme. The four-arched bridge with its central tower and the contrasting scenes of parading and foundering horsemen are very close to the Pencz print; perhaps both artworks depend on a single earlier design. In the desperate gestures of those lost in the river —  some upended in armor, one with arms raised pleading for help, others swept under the bridge —  ​Daucher’s keen artistic invention is most apparent. This relief was prized by no less a figure than the great patron of art Emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576 –​ 1612), who kept it in his splendid Kunstkammer in Prague.

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, In the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 18, pp. 62–65.]


1. Thomas Eser. "Augsburger Kalksteinreliefs des frühen 16. Jahrhunderts: Hans Daucher ein Zeitgenosse Dürers." Weltkunst, June 15, 1991, no. 12, pp. 1770–73, p. 1771, reviews these identifications made by earlier commentators.
2. Karl Giehlow. "Dürers Entwürfe für das Triumphrelief Kaiser Maximilians I. im Louvre: Eine Studei zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Triumphzuges." Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 2, no. 1 (1910–11), pp. 14–84, p. 58.
3. Georg Habich. "Beiträge zu Hans Daucher." Monatsberiche über Kunst und Wissenschaft 3 (1903), pp. 53–76, p. 59.
4. Philipp Maria Halm. "Studien zur Augsburger Bildnerei der Frührenaissance. II. Hans Daucher." Jahrbuch der Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen 41 (1920), pp. 283–343, pp. 306 – 11.
5. Leopold David Ettlinger. "Virtutum et Viciorum Adumbracio." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 19, nos. 1–2 (January–June 1956), pp. 155–56.
6. Eser 1991, p. 1773 and fig. 9, p. 1770 and fig. 2.

Allegory of Virtues and Vices at the Court of Charles V, Hans Daucher (German, Ulm ca. 1485–1538 Stuttgart), Honestone (Jurassic limestone), traces of gilding, German, probably Augsburg

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