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Anna of Austria, Duchess of Bavaria (1528-1590) - A Jewellery Connoisseur in Renaissance Bavaria

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Jakob Seisenegger, Portrait of Anna of Austria, Duchess of Bavaria, 1545, oil on canvas, 190 × 94,5 cm, Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck © Kunsthistorisches Museumsverband

Anna of Austria, Duchess of Bavaria (1528-1590), pictured here in all her glory by the Habsburg court painter Jakob Seisenegger, was an influential consort and counter reformer, but her sharp eye for rare jewels and insatiable taste for expertly crafted jewellery warrants a closer look.

Born in Prague in 1528, Anna was the eldest daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria (1503-1564), brother to Charles V, and the Jagiellonian Queen Anna of Bohemia and Hungary (1503-1547). She was the third of fifteen children and at age seventeen was married off to Albrecht V of Bavaria, the oldest scion of the Wittelsbach dynasty. From 1550, Anna and her husband Albrecht resided in Munich at the Residenz palace and this is where they commenced their inveterate collecting activities. Anna and Albrecht were a united couple. They were both staunch Catholics leading the charge in the counter-reformation, but the ducal couple was also unified in their collecting endeavours. Albrecht V and Anna of Austria were highly concerned with augmenting the splendour of their Bavarian court, which was famed throughout Europe. During their rule, the court in Munich experienced a flowering of the arts. For example, together they patronised the famous Flemish composer Orlando de Lasso (1532-1594), founded the Munich Antiquarium and laid the foundations of what today is the Bavarian State Library. The ducal couple bankrolled the most expensive court orchestra headed by Lasso and employed a number of influential art agents including the antiquarian Jacopo Strada and the intellectual Samuel Quiccheberg, who wrote a famous treatise on the genre of the Kunstkammer with particular reference to the Bavarian collections.

Above all, Anna and her husband Albrecht V were avid collectors of precious stones and they amassed one of the most prized collections of jewellery and jewels of the sixteenth century. Anna’s collection was immortalised in an illuminated book of jewels, a visual jewellery inventory known as the Kleinodienbuch. Anna’s extant Kleinodienbuch contains 71 pieces of jewellery including agraffes, brooches, pendants, belt pouches and even a set bezoar (a gallstone formed in the intestinal system of a goat, which was believed to be a powerful antidote against any poison) (Fig. 1). Each piece was portrayed with painstaking precision (front and back) in its original size by the Munich court artist Hans Mielich (1516-1573). As we can glean from Mielich’s miniatures, Anna’s collection was once studded with some extraordinary pieces. Her jewellery collection included a pendant from the Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), specifically from the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kotte (Fig. 2) along with pieces of Indian jewellery executed in the kundan technique. Today Anna’s Kleinodienbuch is preserved in the Bavarian State Library, where it has been recently digitised and can be consulted online by scholars and jewellery enthusiasts alike:

For anyone interested in learning more about Anna’s sumptuous jewels, especially her Ceylonese pieces, we recommend reading the publication of our dear friend and Renaissance jewellery expert Huge Miguel Crespo published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Gemmology, issue 38 (3), September 2022.

Contribution written by Dr. Adriana Concin

Copyright © 2021

Fig. 2: Hans Mielich, Bezoar set in a gold case decorated with coloured enamel and rubies, Jewel book of Anna of Austria, 1553-1555, gouache on parchment, 20 x 15 cm, BSB Cod.icon. 429, Bavarian State Library, Munich.

Fig. 3: Hans Mielich, Sinhalese pendant studded with rubies and a suspended pearl, Jewel book of Anna of Austria, 1553-1555, gouache on parchment, 20 x 15 cm, BSB Cod.icon. 429, Bavarian State Library, Munich.

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1 Comment

I love this portrait. I was going to have a huge print of it in my bathroom but the design took a different turn! I like her face with only the slightest Hapsburg lip but the material of her dress is superb. So happy to have discovered your website.

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