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Imperial Orb

Unknown1150/1210

Treasury, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Treasury, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

The globe consists of gold foil over a resinous mass to give the chased
hollow object additional strength. The four intersecting bands and
upper pole of the globe as well as the cross with its fleur-de-lys-shaped
extremities are decorated with jewels and filigree work. At the centre of
one side of the cross is an intaglio from late antiquity; otherwise the two
sides are largely the same. The original rows of pearls on the equatorial
band of the globe has been lost. In the ancient world, the form of the sphere had a triple meaning: it was an image of the cosmos and the earth and also a symbol of the concept of universal power. With the addition of the cross, the symbol of power was reinterpreted in the Christian sense. The Imperial Orb with the cross rising from it stands for the rule of Christ over the four
parts of the world that were known at that time. Thus the Imperial
Orb – like the Imperial Crown and the Imperial Cross – expresses the
central idea of Christ as the ruler of the world and of the emperor as
his representative. The Carolingians were already using such imperial insignia created on the model of the early Byzantines; from the 11th century imperial orbs were made of non-precious materials and used as burial objects. Into the 18th century the imperial regalia included three imperial orbs, but two of them were lost while being taken away to hide them from
revolutionary troops in 1796. For stylistic reasons, the present Imperial
Orb can be dated to the end of the 12th century, and Cologne is the most
likely place of origin. It remains unclear whether these insignia were
created for a Hohenstaufen ruler – for example, Henry VI (coronation in
1191) or Philip of Swabia (coronation in Mainz in 1198) – or for a rival
of the latter, the Welf Otto IV (coronation in Aachen in 1198).
© Masterpieces of the Secular Treasury, Edited by Wilfried Seipel, Vienna 2008

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