between 1599 and 1602
Height 49 cm
This small bronze work shows the Austrian Archduke Maximilian III, brother of Emperor Rudolf II, head of the Teutonic Order and governor of Tyrol, wearing the armour of the time. He is mounted on the very horse that, according to an account of 1610, “carried him out of great danger”. The reference is probably to the Archduke’s rescue from the battle of Erlau (Eger) in October 1596. The same account identifies Hubert Gerhard as the sculptor of the figure. It is not known whether the work we see here is his only version of this equestrian image. If so, it may be the one mentioned in the inventory of Maximilian III’s estate: according to that document, an equestrian statuette of the archduke stood as the crowning ornament on top of a cabinet, serving as an “indoor monument”.
In the Middle Ages, with the exception of depictions of saints like the Bamberg Rider, monumental equestrian statues were used only as tomb monuments. It was not until later that the Medici erected equestrian statues of living princes as a means of emphasising their dignity as rulers. Small equestrian statues could also embody that ambition. Thus there are similar equestrian statuettes from Giambologna’s workshop depicting Emperor Rudolf II and King Henri IV, and Gerhard took works of that kind as his model when making this statuette. According to a contemporary source he was living in Florence in 1581, and while there he probably worked in Bologna’s workshop. In that same year he received a number of commissions from the Fugger family, including the famous Augustus fountain in front of the Town Hall in Augsburg. This was the first example of the Florentine fountain type in sixteenth-century Germany.