The Triumph of Charles V over the Rulers of Europe

The following is a particularly fascinating painting taken from Manuscript Add. 33733 of the British Library Catalogue ( The full manuscript consists of 12 full-page miniatures of Charles V in color and gold which sought to memorialize his wars and triumphs over both the Christian monarchs of Europe and the Ottoman Turks. The painting below shows the Emperor Charles V enthroned among his enemies (Suleyman the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the dukes of Cleves and Saxony, and the landgrave of Hesse).

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(The latter is a similar painting, drawn by an anonymous sixteenth-century artist, showing that this particular image was quite popular in Western Europe)

In the painting, Charles is triumphantly enthroned on a seat of gold and marble which bears the motto Plus Ultra (also the national motto of Spain), and bears the sword (representative of worldly power) and the golden orb (representing his religious legitimacy and universal dominion). He also sits atop an eagle, representing victory as well as the symbol of the Roman Empire (or, in this case, the Holy Roman Empire). Various Christian princes, as well as the Pope and the Ottoman sultan, are depicted as being tied to him (as if they were captives) while staring up at the Emperor in awe. It is notable that all of these monarchs are shown in their full pompous attire and bearing the heraldry of their kingdoms (the exception is the German prince whose arms lie on the ground, signifying his complete and utter powerlessness in the face of Charles’ might). This is intended to emphasize their greatness in order to underscore the supreme status of Charles as Emperor (the King of Kings) for having triumphed over them.

The following paintings, which are also interesting in their own right, show the defeat of the Ottomans and the conquest of Tunis respectively:

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These paintings are merely a small part of the broader intellectual and artistic endeavors undertaken during the reign of Charles (and during that of his son, Philip II) to buttress the legitimacy of the Emperor as a universal sovereign. Interestingly enough, a similar campaign of artistic, architectural and textual legitimation was also undertaken on a massive scale by Charles’ contemporary and rival, the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman I. The following is a particularly interesting painting of the latter, drawn by the sixteenth-century artist Veneziano Agostino in 1532:


The four tiers of the tiara are particularly notable, since it was intended to exceed the pomp of the three-tiered tiara of the Pope. It was intended to project his imperial claims and power across Christendom.

An excellent article which discusses the role of art in the projection of power in connection with the Ottoman-Hapsburg rivalry is Gülru Necipoğlu’s “Süleyman the Magnificent and the Representation of Power in the Context of Ottoman-Hapsburg-Papal Rivalry” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 3 (1989): 401-427.

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