How did a political lightweight transform himself into one of the most powerful rulers in European history?

One word: Propaganda.

Maximilian's Guide to Power

Long before there were alternative facts and 24-hour infotainment . . . there was Maximilian I. An unabashed self-promoter, ruthless leader, and political mastermind who harnessed the power of propaganda to tighten his grip on Europe.

Prime yourself on all things Maximilian.


Maximilian's rise to power didn't come out of thin air. After all, he was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor. But the emperor was more of a make-your-own-way parent—Maximilian would have to carve out his own legacy.

So, he set out in want of more: more money, more land, and more prestige. And in a true sign of the times, he turned to the one thing at his disposal to further his reach and his power . . .


Painting of Massimiliano Sforza welcoming his god father Maximilian during his visit to Italy set against a green landscape with mountains in the distance
The In-Law The Wife

Select a corner to experience sixteenth-century family dysfunction at its finest.

The Daughter The Son

Anne of Hungary

In a deal brokered to end a years-long war, Anne was promised to one of Maximilian's grandsons. But at the time of the deal, the grandsons were not of age, so Maximilian graciously agreed to marry 12-year-old Anne in their place. He was 60.

Bianca Maria Sforza

With his allies in Italy at war with France, Maximilian's empire was at risk. In need of a major cash injection, he agreed to marry the Duke of Milan's niece. The money was accepted with open arms; the new wife less so. Maximilian didn't even show up to the wedding.

Philip I

With Italy in the bag, Maximilian next set his sights on Spain. This time, Philip I, his eldest son, was the political pawn. Maximilian married him off to the daughter of monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella . . . and soon, Spain was Maximilian's to control.

Margaret of Austria

Father-of-the-Year clearly wasn't on Maximilian's mind when he used his 3-year-old to settle a territorial dispute with the King of France. As part of the agreement, the toddler's hand was promised in marriage to the king's son. But when she finally came of age, he rejected her. 


When Maximilian had no familial power to wield, he got creative. Haute couture creative. Think of him as the Alexander McQueen of knightly armor. He employed Europe's greatest craftsmen to create the most unique armors, then gifted them to potential allies.

His finances may have taken a major hit, but who said politics was cheap?

Photograph of the Armor for the Joust of War of Maximilian I of Austria made of steel, leather and wooden components


On the frontline, Maximilian's name was synonymous with bravery, honor, and power. But, unless you fought alongside him, he was just the emperor. So he turned to his trusty tool—propaganda—to convince the masses of his might. This time in the form of a jousting variety show.

Maximilian fought. Crowds were hypnotized. His fame grew.

Public Opinion ✓

Illustrated manuscript page showing two knights on horseback fighting in the Italian joust of peace

Alternative Facts

The tournaments helped bolster Maximilian's fame, but he wanted even more. So in a truly epic move, he harnessed the power of the printing press to spread his message, his way. He commissioned pseudo-biographical epics starring heroic alter egos for all the world to marvel at.

Modesty was clearly not his superpower.

Propaganda may have been Maximilian's ticket to power and prestige, but his story, like the man himself, was a complicated one.

The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I will shed fresh light on opinion and deal-making in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century through an unprecedented array of works of art, some of which have never traveled before. Drawn from thirty lending institutions in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, the exhibition includes stained glass, sculptures, tapestries, and manuscripts. And plenty of weapons and armor too!

Curator's tip:

On Maximilian's triumphal chariot, look out for the sun and shield and the Latin captions. "Quod in celis sol, hoc in terra caesar est" is translated as, "What the Sun is in the heavens, the Emperor is on Earth."

Gear up:

Listen to the Audio Guide to be transported into Maximilian's drama-filled world of strategic marriages, epic battles, and chivalric tournaments. Hear dramatizations of letters from those in his inner circle, and the curator's commentary about the exceptional artworks on display.

The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I is now open at The Met.


Plan Your Visit

Exhibition Details

  • Dates October 7, 2019–January 5, 2020
  • The Met Fifth Avenue 1000 5th Ave, New York City
  • The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I Gallery 899
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Supported by

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and the Director's Fund.

© 2019 The Metropolitan Museum of Art