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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 November 2012
British author and historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, was a true renaissance man with interests in historical periods from the medieval period to the 20th century. He is best known for his post WW2 book, "The Last Days of Hitler", but his literary output was astounding. A very good biography of Trevor-Roper, "An Honorable Englishman", was published a couple of years ago by Adam Sisman.

This book, "Princes and Artists", is a reprinting of four speeches Trevor-Roper delivered in 1974 at the State University of New York at Purchase, New York. (SUNY at Purchase). The speeches are accompanied by black and white photos of the art he referred to in his talks. I wish the pictures - or at least some of them - had been reproduced in color but maybe that would have made the book too expensive. I was familiar with a few of them - particularly the Durers - having seen them in various museums, and I know they are little short of spectacular.

Hugh Trevor-Roper was brought to the United States to deliver these speeches on the artists patronised by several Hapsburg emperors and rulers in the 16th and 17th century. He, the expert historian, made no claims to be an art historian, but did an excellent job tying the artists and their output to the lives and rules of their Imperial patrons. He begins his lectures by talking about Maximilian I, the grandfather of Charles V, and shows the Durer 1519 portrait of the elderly emperor holding a pomegranate. That divine portrait, seen today in the state museum in Vienna, with the gorgeous green background. Maximilian was the first Hapsburg "collector", and was followed by grand children and great-grandchildren.

The first two, Charles V and his son, Philip II, are much better known than the third subject, Rudolf II, ruler of the German or eastern side of the Hapsburg Empire. A mystic, a coddler of Protestants in his supposedly Catholic empire, Rudolf moved his court from Vienna to the beautiful city of Prague. There he acted as patron to astronomers, scientists, and artists of all sort, as he tried to figure out the world around him. He was a bachelor but had several illegitimate children by various mistresses. He imported "brains" from the more rigid courts who found the free-thinking Rudolf a man ahead of his time.

The artists, scientists, and occultists he patronised included Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, as well as Giuseppe Arcimbaldo who painted pictures of fruit and once showed Rudolf as a composite of vegetables. He also favored the artist Pieter Brueghel, well known for his earthy paintings. Brueghel's paintings, in particular, would have been a spectacular addition to the book if they had been printed in color. Trevor-Roper careful description of Rudolf and his court located in the above-the-city Hradancy Castle made the sacking of the Castle by Swedish forces in the 30 Years War and the taking of Rudolf's "treasures" back to Sweden all the more tragic.

Readers of this book should have a basic, thorough knowledge of the Hapsburgs of the time. If you want to see some of the portraits and paintings in color, go to Wiki. The Arcimbaldo portrait is shown in color on the Rudolf II entry. Between Trevor-Roper and Wiki, the reader will get an excellent view of the Hapsburgs and their artists and collections.
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