Chivalry, though often thought to be dead these days, is alive and well in The Met’s new exhibition The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I. This major Museum show brings together more than 180 objects from some 30 public and private collections and is the most comprehensive loan exhibition of European arms and armor in decades.
For those not up on their early modern European history, Maximilian I (1459–1519), the son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and Eleanor of Portugal, was an ambitious European ruler at the dawn of the Renaissance. He became Holy Roman Emperor after his father’s death, and is credited with expanding the House of Habsburg and helping establish the Habsburg dynasty in Spain. He is known to contemporary audiences, particularly in Europe, thanks to the works of art he commissioned and his legacy as the “Last Knight.”
In 1477, 18-year-old Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy, also known as Mary the Rich. Her father, Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, had died months earlier, leaving her as his heir. Upon their marriage, Maximilian became Charles’s successor, and at first, struggled to live up to his Valois predecessor’s legacy. This challenge intensified when Mary died, and so he sought ways to legitimize his rule. He did so by cultivating a persona as a valiant knight both on the battlefield and in tournaments, where he demonstrated his bravery, skills, and chivalric virtues, earning his people’s respect and loyalty.
To chronicle these knightly exploits, he commissioned works of art from such artists as Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Burgkmair, and Albrecht Dürer. These works included the relatively new medium of prints, which could spread word of his feats to a broader audience. He was so invested in these works that he personally oversaw their creation.
As the exhibition demonstrates, the armor he wore in battle played a vital role in the construction of his persona as a great knight. In his quest, he commissioned sumptuous armors from the greatest European armorers of his age. He used armor as means to forge a family legacy as well, commissioning works for his son and grandsons to strengthen their political standing and their dynastic claims.
To complement this riveting exhibition, we’ve designed a brand-new line of knightly items, including rugby shirts, sterling silver jewelry, women’s scarves, glass coasters, and much more. You’ll recognize many original works from the exhibition in these designs, from lavish armors and heraldic glass panels to woodcut prints and illuminated manuscripts.