In 2017, 470 years have elapsed since the arrival of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria (1529–1595), the son of Ferdinand I, King of Bohemia and Hungary in Bohemia to represent his father’s interests as well as the entire Habsburg dynasty.

The same year also marks the 450th anniversary of the archduke’s assumption of rule over Tyrol. Significant jubilees launched a large exhibition Ferdinand II. 450 Jahre Tiroler Landesfürst in Ambras Castle in Innsbruck and a subsequent one in the National Gallery in Prague. The two exhibitions are jointly sponsored by Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, National Gallery in Prague, and Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The second-born son of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I spent his childhood and youth in the company of his older brother Maximilian, a successor to the throne. Beginning in 1547, Archduke Ferdinand II stayed in the Czech lands, representing his father and playing an important role in political and social life. One of the important tasks was the reconstruction of the royal residence – Prague Castle which he carried out under his father’s supervision. Archduke Ferdinand went down in the history of architecture as the builder of his hunting lodge, the renowned Hvězda (Star) Summer Palace. He also holds a significant place in history as an avid collector. He built one of the largest libraries of the time in Central Europe, a vast cabinet of curiosities inspired by Italian magnates, and an outstanding collection of armour belonging to famous men.

Ferdinand I bequeathed the rule of Tyrol to the archduke who relocated there in 1567. Ambras Castle near Innsbruck was his new home; he turned it into a sumptuous residence which contained his rich collections. Many precious objects have remained there up to the present time. Ambras is thus among the first museums established north of the Alps and the only one which has remained at its original location. The archduke’s example inspired many Czech aristocrats including his nephew, the future Emperor Rudolf II, whose pastimes were similar. Ferdinand II kept contacts with Czech aristocrats even after his relocation – Innsbruck was a frequent stop for representatives of Czech nobles during their travels to Austria and Italy as well as the purposeful journeys to Tyrol.

Both the exhibitions, in Ambras Castle and the Waldstein Riding School in Prague, have a common theme; the Austrian exhibition elaborates it in the aspect of Ferdinand’s rule in Tyrol while the Prague one expands it by his activities in the Czech lands. Visitors will see more than three hundred exhibits of various kinds, from paintings, precious arts and crafts objects, Renaissance armour, and valuable documents including the archduke’s own letter to products of nature and curiosities from his collections as well as everyday objects of the archduke and his family. More than half of the exhibits are lent from foreign collections; therefore, visitors will have a unique chance to see them in the Czech Republic. Loans from Czech institutions will be similarly exceptional. The exhibition not only seeks to introduce the archduke to the public as a historic figure strongly connected with the destiny of the Czech lands and the Renaissance art but also as a man with personal relationships and interests. Archduke Ferdinand loved hunting and court feasts in which he often participated as an actor and singer. A separate section of the exhibition will cover this aspect. A thematic tour focusing on the interests of the youngest visitors will be prepared for children.

The exhibition script is being prepared by the Czech-Austrian team of historians and art historians led by Dr Veronika Sandbichler, Director of Ambras Castle (Ambras exhibition), Blanka Kubíková from the National Gallery in Prague, Sylva Dobalová from the Institute of Art History of CAS, and Jaroslava Hausenblasová from the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague (Prague exhibition).

The list of creators further includes: Thomas Kuster (KHM), Paulus Rainer (KHM), Eliška Fučíková, Beket Bukovinská, Ivan Prokop Muchka, Ivo Purš (Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences), Stanislav Hrbatý (Museum of Eastern Bohemia in Hradec Králové), Jan Baťa (Faculty of Arts of Charles University), Václav Bůžek (University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice). A richly illustrated exhibition catalogue to which further experts from Austria and Czech Republic contribute will be published.

On the occasion of the exhibition, an international conference on the cultural patronage of Archduke Ferdinand will take place on 21– 23 February 2018 at the Institute of Art History of CAS in cooperation with the National Gallery in Prague.