Costume Albums in Charles V’s Habsburg Empire (1528-1549)
This dissertation addresses the development of the costume book in the rapidly globalising world of the sixteenth century, concentrating on two costume albums produced in the second quarter of the sixteenth century and whose owners and creators shared close ties to the imperial court of Habsburg ruler and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-56). These richly illustrated albums were among the first known and surviving attempts to make sense of cultural difference by compiling visual information about regional clothing customs in and around Europe and further abroad. Their method of codifying sartorial customs through representative costume figures became a prevailing method through which to examine human difference on an increasingly vast and complex geo-political stage.
Yet to have been satisfactorily investigated is the significant role that Habsburg networks and relationships played in shaping these costume albums and their ethnographic interests. The Trachtenbuch, or costume album, of Augsburg portrait medallist Christoph Weiditz (c. 1500-59) is a primary example, constituting a work of keen ethnographic observation which depicts customs and cultures largely witnessed first-hand when the artist travelled to Charles V’s Spanish court in 1529. Of equal interest is the second primary example of this dissertation, the costume album of Christoph von Sternsee (d. 1560) the captain of Charles V’s German Guard. Sternsee’s album, introduced to scholarship for the first time in this study, illustrates diverse cultures and costumes encountered across the imperial Habsburg lands and its neighbours.
The emperor’s far-reaching sovereignty propelled Christoph Weiditz and Christoph von Sternsee across the Habsburg lands as they each attempted to benefit their careers and gain prestige from imperial patronage. Their costume albums testify to an empire that encouraged interactions between ambassadors, agents, merchants, military officers, and courtly elite of diverse cultural backgrounds, against a backdrop of shared political, religious, commercial, and military interests. This milieu facilitated the transfer of knowledge and developed methods of visual communication and human representation that were shared and reciprocally recognised.