Bernhard Strigel, the last known member of a successful family of artists from the Allgäu region of southern Germany, held a succession of honorary civic offices in Memmingen beginning in 1512. A much sought-after portraitist, he was soon appointed imperial court painter and finally raised to the peerage. His painting portrays Emperor Maximilian I and his first wife, Mary of Burgundy (1457–1482), next to their son Philip the Fair, who had died in 1506. Below them are Philip’s sons Charles (in the middle) and Ferdinand (on the left).To the right of them is Louis of Hungary, whom Maximilian had adopted in 1515. The inscriptions give a second meaning to the portraits: they identify the subjects as members of the family of Mary Cleophas, who had been venerated as one of the sisters of the Virgin Mary since the early 15th century. Originally the other members of the Virgin’s family were on the back of the panel (removed in 1919; KHM, GG 6411) and on another part (now in private ownership) of the work, which was originally conceived as a diptych. How the work was commissioned is not completely clear. It is known for certain that Johannes Cuspinian, a Humanist advisor to Maximilian, commissioned the second panel and the back of the first. But perhaps – and this appears more plausible – he commissioned the entire diptych, including the present painting, in 1520, five years after the double wedding that he had helped to negotiate. The selection of figures is certainly a reference to that event. As a proxy for one of his grandsons Maximilian married the sister of Louis, Anna of Hungary, in Vienna in 1515. A reciprocal gesture for the decision taken in 1507 that Louis would marry Archduchess Maria, the sister of Charles and Ferdinand, this successful move on the dynastic chessboard was solemnly celebrated with a double wedding in Vienna and guaranteed the emperor’s successors the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary until 1918.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010