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Entrance of Emperor Rudolf into Basel in 1273

Franz Pforr, 1808-10
Historisches Museum, Frankfurt


Albert Boime offers a political interpretation of Pforr’s Entrance of Emperor Rudolf into Basel in 1273 :

“The patriotic symbolism in this work is painfully obvious: the emblem of the black double-headed Hapsburg eagle that signified defiance of Napoleon appears in the center of the composition on the back of one of the emperor’s knights. Rudolf inherited his father’s vast estates in Alsace and increased his domain by assuming possession of Strasbourg, Basle, and other lands of western Switzerland….[H]e was elected German king at Frankfurt on 29 September 1273….Rudolf first learned of his election to the German kingdom while besieging Basle. Thus Pforr depicts the ruler entering Basle in triumph after having been awarded the kingship in the artist’s own hometown of Frankfurt. That Pforr would have dreamed of German dynastic hegemony at this moment is related to Napoleon’s blunt treatment of Frankfurt when the Prussian war broke out: Napoleon compelled the inhabitants to pay a war tax the equivalent of four million francs, and Frankfurt lost its autonomy as a ‘tree city.’…

Pforr himself had experienced the similar humbling of Vienna when studying at the academy. Napoleon rode into Vienna early in May 1809, occupied the city, and then defeated the remnants of the opposition at Wagram during the first week of July. In the interval, he fought a major battle against the Austrian archduke Karl and General Johann von Hiller on the Marchfeld – the same historic field where Rudolf von Hapsburg conquered King Ottokar [King of Bohemia].  In May 1809, the academy was forced to close as a result of the French occupation. [Pforr’s Rudolph subjects] were concrete responses to Bonapartist suppression of the Academy of Vienna and French subjugation of the Austrian Empire.”

Albert Boime, Art in an Age of Counterrevolution 1815-1848 (Chicago-London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004), 40.


Cordula Grewe comments on the significance of Pforr’s self-portrait in Entrance of Emperor Rudolf into Basel :

“This fusion of nobility and the artists’ personal world finds its ultimate expression in the cameo appearance of Pforr, who imagines himself as a valiant squire among Rudolf’s entourage (Pforr enters the picture on the far right as a young man with black beret, who looks back over his shoulder). Pforr’s self-portrait reminds us of the Lucasbrüder’s [Nazarenes’] tendency to identify with their subjects…and to use them as means of reflecting upon their personal situation. Such commentary could include artistic expectations as well, as in Pforr’s case, where the advent of a new Rudolf comes with the hope that a genuinely Christian government would also herald an era of sustained patronage….Pforr’s mixture reflects the Nazarenes’ general obsession with temporality, as it serves to fold biblical into post-biblical time and, further differentiating the play of temporalities, to forge a link between medieval past and actual present. Pforr’s self-portrait marks the intersection of these various time axes. His horse carries him forward in Rudolf’s wake…on his way toward the procession’s final destination, the town’s medieval cathedral. Yet, while Pforr’s body moves toward a moment of historical completion, his gaze disengages with this view into the glorified but lost past of perfect piety. As the only figure in the painting to look backward, he gazes toward the right, fixing his eyes upon a point beyond the picture frame. Pforr looks into the future. In him, the picture’s two central aspects converge: his gaze unites the insight into God’s order (typology) with an understanding of the moral lessons that can and should be learned from history (a history past and yet available through the archetype).

Cordula Grewe, Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism (Burlington, VT-Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 51-2.


Cordula Grewe explains the relevance of Pforr’s painting to contemporary politics:

“In its emphatic medievalism the picture predates the Lucasbund’s subsequent Raphaelite turn, a turn generally mourned as the death-sentence for the movement’s aesthetic potential. The Entry of Rudolf of Habsburg, however, is not only significant in stylistic terms; it also stands out for its hermeneutical complexity. Pforr’s image seems the first among the Lucasbrüder’s compositions to explicitly visualize figural relationships and, through a juxtaposition of medieval and Old Testament history, articulate a typological structure of post-biblical time.

When Pforr turned to the thirteenth-century figure of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1808, the Austrian dynasty was widely perceived as the chief defender of German independence against Napoleon. It also had the reputation of being particularly pious, and for centuries, the Habsburgs had carefully nurtured the myth of a specific pietas austriaca. This concept, dynastic rather than national, rested on the assumption that God had purposely chosen the House of Austria as the protector of Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire and had done so because of the merits of its ancestors. The founder of the Habsburg dynasty, Rudolf of Habsburg, played an important role in this construction. His exceptional Christian piety, firm belief in the power of the holy cross and devotion to the Eucharist were literally legendary. The last aspect, the Habsburgs’ exceptional Eucharist piety, was a core element of the pietus austriaca and, according to the dynasty’s mythos, the basis for the House’s blessedness. The most effective topic of the Habsburg pietas eucharistica was the encounter of Rudolf with a priest carrying a viaticum (the Eucharist administered to the dying), a legend that Pforr recorded in 1809/10.”

Cordula Grewe, Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism (Surrey, UK-Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2009), 53-4. 


Mitchell Frank points out the intentional inconsistencies in setting and costume:

“Pforr rejected mere appearance and strove for truth (the motto of the Brotherhood) by developing a linear and planar style which he associated with the authenticity of earlier painting.

While Pforr referred to the Middle Ages through his linear style, he did not use a specific medieval painting as his model. Moreover, the works owe more to the sixteenth century than the thirteenth: there are similarities between Pforr’s Entry into Basle and sixteenth-century German single woodcut sheets depicting tournaments and processions, and Pforr dressed his figures in sixteenth- rather than thirteenth-century costumes. As well, he decided not to use the drawings of the Basle town hall that his friend Johann David Passavant had sent him, because its architectural features were not appropriate for this picture. “ 

In a 1 June 1808 letter to Passavant, Pforr wrote: “Many thanks for the sketches of the Basel city hall. Unfortunately it was not possible to use them due to the architectural style.” 113, n. 63.

Mitchell Benjamin Frank, German Romantic Painting Redefined. Nazarene Tradition and the Narratives of Romanticism (Aldershot, UK-Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001), 94-95.

Similar Subjects by Other Artists:

Johann Peter Krafft, The Triumphal Entry of Franz I After the Peace of Paris, 16 June 1814, 1833-37 (Belvedere Museum, Vienna)

James Ensor, The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889, 1888 (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

About the Artist

Born: Frankfurt-am-Main, 5 April 1788
Died: Albano (near Rome), 16 June 1812
Nationality: German