Rudolph II: Patron of the Sciences and Political Disaster

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Vertumnus - A portrait of Rudolph II

Rudolph II was a Hapsburg who served as Holy Roman Emperor from 1576 - 1612. While his reign is mostly remembered for his strange behavior and his lack of political competence, he was also one of the most important patrons to the arts and sciences in Europe during his time. Two of his most prominent clients were Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, both of whom made major developments in the field of astronomy (Bos). Additionally, Rudolph combined his interest in science with an emphasis on magic, especially alchemy (Bos). Lastly, Rudolph II was also fascinated in Renaissance and Humanist artwork, an interest that is perhaps best exemplified by in his self-portrait Vertumnus in which Rudolph is depicted using various foods.

Despite his role in the development of Northern Renaissance art and the launching of the scientific revolution, Rudolph is most remembered for his mental deterioration and political incompetence. Over the course of his reign, Rudolph developed a sense of paranoia that turned him into a recluse, causing him to retreat from public affairs (Rudolph II). Additionally, he would occasionally suffer fits of uncontrollable rage and experience mental breakdowns (Bos). Rudolph’s political infamy is a result of his role in causing the 30 Years War in 1618 (Rudolph II). This role is evident in that the Protestant Union, a military alliance that played a crucial role in the escalation of the 30 Years war, formed under Rudolph's reign (Wiesner-Hanks 321). He also reversed many of the tolerant religious policies that were passed by his father, Maximilian II, and sought to limit the privileges of Protestant estates, resulting in even more tension between Protestant and Catholic territories in Germany (Rudolph II). Due to Rudolph’s deteriorating mental condition his brother Mattias, supported by the rest of his family, would go on to seize control of Hapsburg holdings in 1608, leaving Rudolph with only his imperial title until his death in 1612 (Rudolph II).