Portrait of Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria
Portrait of Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria
Portrait of Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria

Prague Court Workshop
c. 1360


Dom Museum Wien
On loan from St. Stephen's Cathedral


Oil paint
Rudolf IV

On view

Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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The first portrait in half-frontal view

Rudolf IV, the energetic duke of Austria, was ever concerned with the political ascent of his family. His portrait is a prototype of European painting.

The portrait shows a three-quarter (half frontal) view of Rudolf IV, in a crown and an oriental gold-embroidered cloak against a dark background. The Habsburg duke is depicted with full blonde hair, a delicately painted moustache and goatee, and strikingly long eyelashes. His mouth is slightly opened, the eyelids drooping. The work has some inconsistencies in perspective: the mouth is placed slightly too far left while the nose is rather shown in profile which results in an irritating overall impression. However, this must be seen in relation to the painting’s epoch; after all, this is the oldest known portrait in three-quarter view, which therefore had no models to follow. The ruler is represented here, presumably for the first time, on a panel specifically prepared for the purpose, his portrait no longer canonical and typified, as was customary in the Middle Ages, but individualized—as can be gleaned from the slender shape of the head and the protruding chin. The work, whose creator we do not know, is considered a prototype of the modern genre of portraiture and thus is of the highest significance for art history. What seems certain is that it was created in the duke’s lifetime, according to recent research around 1360.

What hits the eye is an inscription on the top of the frame, reading “Rudolfus Archidux Austrie etcetera.” The duke always claimed for himself the title of “Archduke of Austria,” although he had no official right to it. Had there been room enough, he would most certainly have listed all his other titles and possessions, which now the “etcetera” stands for. One can almost sense how hard Rudolf works to present himself as “Archduke” everywhere; hence the fantastic crown, which, with the gem-set half-arch and the cross, is indeed reminiscent of the imperial crown. Text (inscription) and image (crown) are mutually affirmative here, giving the portrait a political dimension.