Ephemeral Architecture Eternalised in Print:

The Documentation of the Funeral Procession for Archduke Albert VII of Austria, 1622

Dr Maria Elisa Navarro Morales is a professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. She and her students have been looking this year at the architecture titles in the Fagel Collection, although for obvious reasons they have not been able to see them in person. The students submitted blogposts, three of which will be published here. Although they included bibliographies and footnotes in their essays, for brevity we have omitted them. This post is by Zoe Cooke.

The Pompa Funebris Alberti is a book that commemorates the funeral of Archduke Albert VII of Austria which took place in Brussels on March 12, 1622. A copy of the illustrated volume resides in the expansive Fagel collection at the library of Trinity College Dublin and it includes fifty-four plates detailing all the figures who took part in the funeral procession and the purpose-built, monumental, ephemeral architecture that was designed for it by artist and court architect, Jacob Franquart. The volume provides invaluable insight into the function of ephemeral architecture in the orchestration of courtly ceremonies in the early modern period in Europe.

Fig.1. Fag.I.1.60: Jacob Franquart. Pompa funebris optimi potentissimiq[ue] principis Alberti Pii, Archiducis Austriae, ducis Burg. Bra. &c., Brussels, 1623. Title page

After the death of his elder brother Ernest, Albert was appointed Governor-General of the Habsburg Netherlands. He arrived in Brussels in 1596 and was tasked by the Spanish court, under the rule of Philip II, to resolve the current conflict in the region and restore Spain’s military position within the Low Countries. By 1598 the Treaty of Vervins was passed which ultimately ended Spain’s war with France but failed to attain a similar peace treaty with the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic. In a bid to maintain Spain’s control within the region, Philip II decided to marry his daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia to Albert and appoint them both as Governors of the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries. Albert and Isabella’s reign in the Southern provinces saw them become dedicated patrons of the arts and engage in a rigorous building programme that saw many public and ecclesiastical buildings in the region restored or completely remodelled. They had many architects and artists working for the court and the production of this commemorative book speaks to this affiliation that existed between Albert and Isabella’s court and the arts.

Fig. 2. Fag.I.1.60: Plate detailing the Catafalque design by Franquart for Albert VII’s funeral procession

Upon Albert’s death in July 1621, Isabella wished to commemorate her husband with a state funeral and this occasion would become an event that incorporated civic tradition and liturgical ceremony with grand artistic expressions of pageantry. This was achieved by the design and construction of ephemeral monuments in Albert’s honour. Court architect Jacques Franquart (1582–1651) was entrusted by Isabella to plan, design, construct and execute all the artistic elements of this funeral and to design the commemorative book that would eternalise the event in print. Franquart constructed two monumental ephemeral structures for Albert’s funeral. The first was a catafalque; an ornately decorated, enclosed platform where Albert’s coffin rested during the liturgical ceremony (Fig.2). This was positioned in the transept of the Cathedral Church of St Michael and St Gudula in Brussels. The catafalque was an octagonal structure of three storeys that was made from wood and painted stucco. Two arched wings on the ground floor accommodated passageway through the structure so that offerings could be made during the ceremony. The second storey was a closed section with four epitaphs inscribed above each archway, all of which expressed Albert’s civic virtues as governor. The third storey was comprised of canonical forms that were punctured throughout with candles. All of the statuary depicted represent the personification of the virtues that best represented Albert’s greatness. The origins of the catafalque can be traced back to Roman antiquity as ephemeral structures, known now as Roman Pyra, were traditionally burned as part of the funeral ceremony. They were pyramidal structures that were decorated with sculptures and paintings and evidence of these can be found today on ancient coins.

Fig.3 Coins detailing Antoninus Pius and Roman Pyra. Issued by Marcus Aurelius 180 A.D. Image: https://www.coinarchives.com/a/results.php?results=100&search=pyre

The tradition of building ephemeral catafalques continued into the Renaissance and this type of elaborate funeral procession that incorporates ephemeral monuments into the liturgical ceremony, as constructed by Franquart, can be traced to the mid-sixteenth-century in Europe. Appearing first in Italy then Spain before travelling to the Low Countries, this type of funeral procession in the early modern period can be traced to primarily Catholic countries that incorporated more elaborate funeral spectacles in their liturgical ceremonies. The funeral procession of Charles V in 1559 and the ephemeral monuments commissioned for him appear to be the prototypes for all subsequent catafalques and monuments in ephemeral funerary architecture thereafter. And, although he died in Spain, a procession occurred in Brussels and monuments were built in his honour (Fig.4). Along with the catafalque, another ephemeral structure, an allegorical ship called the “The Ship of Salvation” was created for Charles V (Fig.5). This temporary structure referred to the ferrying of the souls across the river Styx in Greek and Roman mythology and it was used as a model by Franquart when designing a similar allegorical chariot structure for Albert’s funeral procession. The chariot references both Roman antiquity in its expression and paid homage to Charles V by incorporating curved wheels that would mimic the motion of a ship on the water (Fig.6).

The book that documents this event begins with a textual description of the civic and religious traditions of the funeral including the service, orations, the state ceremony and the liturgical celebration. These twenty-four pages of text were composed by the Habsburg court historian Erycius Puteanus (1574 – 1646) and are followed by an artistic description and subsequent illustrations of the pageantry, the ephemeral monuments constructed and the procession as designed by Franquart. The engravings were produced by Cornelius Galle (1576 – 1650) after Franquart’s designs. This book is unique because it is the same artist who created the ephemeral architecture that also documents the event in this commemorative book. A document issued by the council of Brussels dated November 17th, 1621, refers to Franquart’s request to be given the sole permission to publish the Pompa Funebris Alberti. Franquart was granted publishing rights which guaranteed that no one else could reproduce his work for six years unless they obtained Franquart’s direct consent.

The existence of this document provides an insight into the importance Franquart attributed to not only the funeral and physical construction of the monuments but the documentation of his creation. It is believed that Franquart worked simultaneously upon the two projects. The first being the physical yet ephemeral expression of his creation, the planning of the funeral ceremony in Brussels that was to last for three to four days and the design of the monuments that were to be dismantled and removed at the end of this period. And secondly, documenting the existence of such an event and his architectural designs. The illustrated volume was first published in 1623 in Brussels and is dedicated to Albert’s wife Isabella. The original text was produced in Latin but copies were subsequently printed in Spanish, French, Dutch and Italian. Alongside Franquart’s ephemeral architecture approximately 700 persons are illustrated and the engravings of the whole procession roughly measure one metre in length (Figs.7-10). The Pompa Funebris Alberti is a unique volume within the Fagel collection’s books on architecture as many of the volume’s plates now predominantly exist as individual prints in collections and museums, separated from the book they were created for. This remarkable Fagel volume is also a significant resource for the further study of ephemeral architecture and early modern funerary traditions.