ÜFor much of the twentieth century, the assumption that Emperor Friedrich III. did not rest under his tons of marble grave cover in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. For the first time in more than five hundred years, there are now pictures from inside the Imperial Tomb. The resting place of Frederick III, who ruled for a full 41 years from 1452 until his death in 1493 and was extensive, is the largest single monument in the Vienna Cathedral. And since an “autopsy” carried out in 2013, but only now being presented in Vienna, it has finally been proven that it contains not only the corpus of the emperor, but also the enamelled, gold-plated crown and the imperial insignia.
The tomb of Frederick III, created by the most important sculptor of the fifteenth century, Niclas Gerhaert von Leyden. Adnet’s red marble is, in addition to Riemenschneider’s Heinrichsgrab in Bamberg Cathedral, the most complex medieval imperial burial site north of the Alps. The extensive complex, on which Niclas Gerhaert worked until his death in 1473, has been located at the end of the right aisle of St. Stephen’s Cathedral since 1513, near the Blessed Sacrament on the high altar. In order to counter the rumors that Friedrich was not lying in the grave at all, the cathedral authorities agreed in 1969 to drill a small hole through the thick stone of the grave so that specialists could check whether there was a body inside. With the help of a tiny lamp and a mirror, it was confirmed that the remains of the emperor were inside.
But with the technology from back then it was not possible to take photos through the microscopic opening. The small hole was reopened six years ago to document the interior of the grave in detail with an endoscope camera. However, the spectacular images remained confidential and were only made accessible after a joint research project between the cathedral and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.
A coffin made of glazed ceramic tiles
Franz Kirchweger, a curator of the leading Kunsthistorisches Museum, reports that when he looked at the pictures he felt “like Howard Carter, who was the first to see the wealth in Tutankhamun’s tomb”. The British archaeologist had lit a candle in 1922 through a small hole in the wall of the tomb of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and saw an abundance of golden objects.
The comparison is hardly an exaggeration in view of the shine of the completely gilded grave goods such as the magnificent imperial crown and the brocade pillow with gold threads. Not only was the emperor’s skeleton intact and covered with grave goods, he had also been laid to rest with a scepter and orb. As a great rarity, the cross on the gilded orb is not only elaborately decorated with flowers on all four three-pass ends; It also bears the cross-titus “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” in fine enamel technique over its entire length. Above all, however, the emperor wears his enamelled, gilded miter crown, in the middle of which a kind of bishop’s miter with dreamily beautiful and free arabesque tendrils in green enamel rises, while all the other branches of the coronet curl filigree in the style of Friedrich’s time in vegetal late Gothic branches. The type of Mitrenkrone, which Dürer’s portraits also show, was used by the Habsburg rulers until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.
The high-resolution images also show that the grave has two other special features: It is unique that the coffin was built entirely from glazed ceramic tiles. The inside of the grave is also provided with elongated gold-plated metal plates with inscriptions, on which the achievements of Friedrich and above all that of his son Maximilian are honored, who in 1513, twenty years after the death of his father, his transfer from Wiener Neustadt and the splendid burial in caused this imposing grave to immortalize itself with it.
It is very unlikely that the grave will ever be opened again. This would be extremely difficult logistically, since the lid alone weighs eight tons and opening it would probably damage the grave and its valuable contents. In addition, there is the ethical question of whether it would be appropriate to once again disturb the peace of the dead. With the help of the small hole, however, tiny pieces of the ceramic tiles and a piece of textile were removed for study. The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien will publish a book on the finds in the Kaisergrab on January 21st.