When Maximilian of Austria (1459-1519) was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1508, he became ruler in name of vast territories. However, in practice he lacked the power and money to govern them. He used woodcuts to project his image abroad and to impress future generations.
On the scroll above the head, Dürer has added the titles of an ancient Roman emperor in Roman lettering (compare the 'black letter' or Gothic script of the printer's name below). Maximilian wears the Order of the Golden Fleece over a richly brocaded cloak trimmed with pearls. These items of dress are scarcely indicated in the original drawing
Maximilian's highly individual features, shown in a three-quarter view, closely follow the drawing. But the sensitive lines that model the hollows around his eyes, his mouth and the folds of his cheek are quite different. Dürer used his life drawing as a reference, but for the print he created a new range of lines to describe the features of the face that was appropriate to the woodcut technique.