DÜRER, Albrecht
The Imperial Crown c. 1510
Pen drawing with watercolour, 238 x 289 mm
Kupferstichkabinett, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

Artistic Portrayals of Charlemagne

by Sutherland McColley

One wonders what Charlemagne looked like.  As you will see from the following selection of images; Flemish, German, Italian and other artists have had their own vision beginning in 817 to at least 1890.   By far the most prominent of the artists was Albrecht Dűrer who presents the Emperor with the familiar crown.  Most of the paintings portray him an older man with a beard, wearing a crown, on horseback, or holding a scepter and a sword. The images were executed in various media: oil and watercolor paintings, manuscripts, stone or bronze sculpture, frescos, tapestries and coins. Few images fit the description given in 817 to 836 by his advisor, architect, courtier and biographer Einhard, in "The live of Charlemagne"  in this translation from "Einhardi Vita Karoli Magni", 6th edition, ed. G. Waita, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica:  Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum (Hanover: Hahn, 1911; repr. 1965). "[Charles] had a large and powerful body.  He was tall [at slightly over six feet or 1.83 meters], but not disproportionately so, since it is known that his height was seven times the length of his own foot.  The crown of his head was round, his eyes were noticeably large and full of life, his nose was a little longer than average, his hair gray and handsome, and his face was attractive and cheerful.  Hence, his physical presence was [always] commanding and dignified, whether he was sitting or standing.  Although his neck seemed short and thick and his stomach seemed to stick out, the symmetry of the other parts [of the body] hid these [flaws]. [When he walked] his pace was strong and the entire body powerful." Research has revealed several hundred images.  Many had little detailed data as to date, size, etc.   Those reproduced here are all in public collections outside the United States.  Only a few representations are in America.

Charlemagne with a wife, in a depiction from a manuscript written between 817 and 823.
The Emperor is portrayed in simple Frankish costume which he preferred to wear

TADDEO ZUCCARO  (Italian 1529-1566)
Detail from: "Charlemagne Returns the Ancient Patrimony to the Church"
Collection: Sala Regia, Vatican Palace, Vatican State
Photograph:  Scala/Art Resource, New York, NY


UNKNOWN ARTIST (French 14th Century)
Date: Second half of the 14th Century; Detail from: Grandes Chroniques de France entitled; "Coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III at St. Peter's Rome
Collectio: Musée Goya, Castres, France
Photograph: Giraudon/Art Resource, New York, NY


BERNAERT van ORLEY  (Flemish c. 1491-1541)
Oil on wood panel
Size: 23 x 7 3/4 inches
Detail from:
"Charlemagne Receiving the Relics of the Holly Cross from Constantine"
Collection: Galleria Sabauda, Pinacoteca Reale, Turin Italy
Photograph: Alinari/Art, New York NY
UNKNOWN ARTIST   (10th Century)
Size: 26.5 x 17 cm.
Date: 991, a copy of a Carolingian original of 830 to 836
Detail from: Lupus of Fulds's Leges Barorum, showing
the Emperor with his son Pepin
Collection: Biblioteca dei Capitolati, Modena, Italy
Photograph: Nimatallah/Art Resource, New York, NY
Taken from a drawing of a mosaic which once
decorated San Susanna, Rome, but was later destroyed
ALBRECHT DŰRER   (Germany 1471-1528)
Oil and tempera on wood panel
Size 6 feet 2 7/8 inches by 2 feet 11 inches
Date: 1512/13
Based upon five pen and watercolor studies of 1510.  (4 in the collection
of the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, Austria; the 5th, a
copy, in Budapest, Hungary.  The insignia and robes, whose originals
Důer was able to study, were mistakenly traced back to Charlemagne.
A copy, about 1600, is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Collection: Germanisches National Museum, Nurember, Germany
Photograph: Giraudon/Art Resource, New York, NY

Portrait of Charlemagne in an ancient painting now found in the Vatican Museum, Rome

UNKNOWN ARTIST    (Italian 16th Century)
Oil on canvas
Inscribed: "Carolus M:Imp"
Collection: The Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Photograph: SEF/Art Resource, New York, NY
MELCHIOR BROEDERLAM  (Flemish c. 1355-1411
Oil on wood panel
Size: 3 feet 9 1/4 inches x 2 1/2 feet
Date: 1511-1520
Detail from: left panel of triptych in the Anchin Polyptuch
entitled: "The Coronation of the Virgin"
Collection: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, Frnace
Photograph: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York, NY


JACOB JORDAENS  (Flemish 1593-1678
Oil on canvas
Size: 25 3/8 x 30 3/4 inches
Date: 1660-65
Detail from: the modello for the tapestry cycle "The History of Charlemagne"
The scene "The Homage of Caliph Harun al-Rashid to Charlemagne" is based
upon Charlemagne's nearly contemporary biography, the  Vita Karoli Magni Imperatori
by Einhard written circa  833
A 1660 study in gouache, water color and black chalk on paper for the
collection of The Louvre is on loan to the Musée des Beaux Arts, Arras, Frnace
Collection: Musée des Beaux Arts, Arras, France
Photograph: Phillips Gallery, London, England


CAROLINGIAN  (Early 9th Century)
Date: 806
Minted in Frankfurt
It is not a likeness of the Emperor, but copied from the
style of Roman coins.  Charlemagne introduced sound silver currency
which became the official instrument of exchange
Collection: Staatliche Museum,  Berlin, Germany
Photograph: The Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany


UNKNOWN ARTIST   (German 17th Century)
Oil on Wood
Size: 190.5 x 17 cm.
Detail from: "Saint Philip and Saint Charlemagne"
Collection: Historisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Photograph: Historisches Museum


GIROLAMO MUZIANO    (Italian 1532-1592)
(Attributed to)
Pen and brown ink with brown wash, heightened with opaque white over black chalk on laid paper, mounted on woven papger
Size: 12 x16 1/4 inches (30.6 x 16 cm.)
Collection: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Canada
Photograph: National Gallery of Canada


DÜRER, Albrecht  (German 1471-1528)
Pen and watercolor on paper
Date: 1510
One of the studies for the artist's Portrait of Charlemagne
Collection:  formerly in the Lubomirski
Museum, Lviv, Poland
Present Collection unknown
UNKNOWN ARTIST   (German 19th Century)
Sandstone and metal
Size: 24.4 x 19.4 cm. (Life-size, full length)
Date:  1890
Collection:  Historisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Location:  Old Bridge, Franfurt am Main
Photograph:  E. Bertling, Frankfurt am Main, Germany


Raphael.  The Coronation of Charlemagne. c 1516-1517. Fresco. Vaticano, Stanza dell'Incendio, Rome

GIACOMO JAQUERIO   (Italian c. 1375-1453)
Detail from: "The New Heroes"
Collection:  Manta Castle, near Saluzzo, Italy
Photograph: Alinari/Art Resource, New York, NY
UNKNOWN ARTIST  (Carolingian 9th Century)
Bronze statuette
Size:  24 x17 inches 17.5 x 9.5 cm.
Date: 9th century
Charlemagne or his grandson Charles the Bald
This work is only surviving example of Carolingian three-dimensional sculpture
Collection: The Louvre, Paris, France
Photograph: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York, NY

West German or Milan
Gold, cloisonne, enamel, precious stones and pearls
Size:  foreplate 14.9 cm. high x 11.2 cm wide
Date: octagon shape 962 or 967; crown cross 11 century;
top-arch 1024-39; red velvet cap 18 century.
The emblem of the Order is said to have been made in 962 for the coronation of
Otto the Great or for his son Otto II as co-emperor in 967
Collection: Kunsthistorisches, Vienna, Austria
Photograph: Scala, London, England