A research project on the materiality, technology and state of preservation of the Imperial Crown in Vienna.

Its legendary association with Charlemagne (r. 768-814) ensured both that the Imperial Crown now in Vienna was venerated as a sacred relic of this canonized ruler and its status as an insignia of the Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation). The crown remained in use until the last coronation in 1792, embedding itself in our collective memory as one of the most important and evocative symbols of European history.

This continued use directly relates to its survival. Today, it is the only one of numerous crowns owned and used by kings and emperors in the Middle Ages to have survived. 

At the same time, this use has resulted in numerous losses, additions, damages and repairs. The aging of the material and unfavourable environmental conditions also set in motion processes of change that deeply impacted the crown’s present-day condition and appearance.

Comprehensive material-science and conservation examinations are needed to better understand these processes, their origins and effects, and to devise the best possible protection/conservation procedures for the crown.

These examinations are the focus of this research project and have started on 1 January 2022. They are scheduled to run until 31 December 2024. For the very first time, this interdisciplinary project will comprehensively analyse and document material compositions, techniques, interventions and alterations. Examination results of selected comparative examples, which will also be analysed, will be used to further interpret these findings. 
The systematic collection of textual and visual sources will expand our knowledge of the artefact’s “fate”, especially for the period after 1500. This should also help us to identify approaches to understand better early-modern interventions and alterations. 

We will also examine all the inscriptions on the crown. By discussing findings from technological and epigrammatic examinations side-by-side for the first time, the project team hopes to provide new insights into questions of dating especially.

Who makes this project possible?

In the first place, we would like to thank the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung and the Rudolf August Oetker-Stiftung for their generous support, which allowed us to initiate the project and begin work in 2022. 

Additional financial means have been provided by the Austrian Ministry for the Arts and Culture (Bundesministerium for Kunst, Kultur, öffentlicher Dienst und Sport) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), as part of its DOC Fellowship Programme.

We would like to cordially thank these institutions as well as the numerous individual donors who have crowdfunded the project.

Several institutions and collections have offered their support by making artefacts in their holdings available for comparative examination. Others have kindly agreed to share findings of their own research and discuss them with us. Such support by the wider museal and scholarly community is of central importance to the project’s efforts and its success. The following institutions have our sincere gratitude for their collaboration:


  • Berlin, Rathgen-Forschungslabor, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Dr. Stefan Röhrs
  • Essen, Domschatz Essen, Andrea Wegener MA
  • Köln, Erzbistum Köln, Dr. Anna Pawlik
  • Köln, Kath. Kirchengemeinde St. Severin, Dr. Joachim Oepen
  • München, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, GD Dr. Frank Matthias Kammel, Dipl.-Rest. Joachim Kreutner, Dr. Matthias Weniger
  • Ulm, WITec Wissenschaftliche Instrumente und Technologie GmbH, Dr. Miriam Boehmler, Dr. Thomas Olschewski
  • Wien, Institut für Mineralogie und Kristallographie der Universität Wien, Prof. Dr. Lutz Nasdala

In addition, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna would like to thank all donors who have so generously supported the research project on the Imperial Crown.

Research Questions & Approaches

Our inter-disciplinary approach, the collaboration of historical and art-historical experts, conservators and scientists means a variety of methods and approaches will be employed.

The project adopts a decidedly inter-disciplinary approach made possible by the collaboration of historical and art-historical experts, conservators and scientists. They each contribute a variety of specialist expertise and investigation methods.

Through the continuous exchange with and feedback from international experts we seek to verify, expand and, if necessary, adapt on our pre-defined set of examination methods. Due to our commitment of only using non-invasive methods, we have excluded some apparently obvious procedures that do not fit these criteria. Computer tomography (CT), for instance, may discolour gemstones due to its use of high radiation energy.

Material Analysis

  • Material Compositions
  • Corrosion Phenomena

Examination of the Gemstones using Raman Spectroscopy

In the course of a two-week campaign to perform Raman investigations in May 2022, we systematically analysed all the gemstones adorning the imperial crown for the first time. This was undertaken in collaboration with the Institute of Mineralogy and Crystallography of the University of Vienna. Until then, all the information we had for the 172 gemstones on circlet, cross and arch were handwritten notes from 1977 recording the optical classification of some of them.

WITec Wissenschaftliche Instrumente und Technologie GmbH, a private company specializing in scientific instruments, provided us with a specially-adapted Raman spectrometer that allowed us to measure both Raman and photo-luminescence spectra. Thanks to many years of experience in determining Raman in gemstones, Professor Dr Lutz Nasdala was able to identify all the stones on the crown directly while performing the measurements.

Today, the Imperial Crown is embellished with a total of 71 sapphires, 50 garnets, 20 emeralds, 13 amethysts, four chalcedonies, three spinels, and eleven differently coloured pieces of glass. Further examinations to identify the stones in more detail are planned within the course of the project. For instance, we aim to classify different types of garnets, determine special inclusion phases, and obtain information on the origins or provenance of individual stones. We will continue to only use non-destructive examination methods such as X-ray fluorescence analysis.

Martina Griesser, 4.9.2022

X-Ray Fluorescence Analysis of the Niello Decoration on the Imperial Crown’s Central Cross

On the reverse of the Imperial Crown’s central cross, niello was melted into the engravings of Christ on the Cross and the accompanying inscriptions, delineating them more clearly against the gold background. Niello is a black-coloured mixture of sulphur and other metals. Early medieval sources report recipes containing the sulphides of silver, copper and lead as main components in various compositions.

Art historical research has repeatedly linked the central cross’s image of Christ with niello decorations on the reverse of the so-called Imperial Cross (Secular Treasury, Inv. WS XIII 21).  This examination thus aimed to determine whether such a connection could be confirmed with regard to the chemical composition of the respective niello decorations using energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF). We used a portable device (PART II) that was developed and built at the KHM in the course of a previous research project ("Portable Art Analyzer - PART", project no. L430-N19, funded by the FWF). It allows focusing on the niello’s very fine lines due to its measuring spot of about 150µm.

The results of this analysis show that the niello masses of the crown’s central cross are composed of silver-, copper- and lead-sulphides as well as possibly a small trace of gold, which could come from the silver. In contrast, the niello on the Imperial Cross consists only of silver- and copper-sulphides. Only traces of lead and gold are detectable here, probably due to material impurities. At least from the perspective of the material sciences, such different formulations do not immediately corroborate a direct workshop connection between the two works.

In the further course of the project, we will continue to evaluate this data, qualifying and contextualising it with literature on the making and composition of niello in the Early and High Middle Ages. Moreover, the close examination of the goldsmith’s technique and tool marks on the crown`s central cross, made possible at an unprecedented level by the use of 3D-digital microscopy, might also provide further insight.

Katharina Uhlir, Teresa Lamers (October 18, 2022)


Art Historical & Historical Research

  • Pictorial Sources
  • Formal and Stylistic Aspects
  • Inscriptions on the Imperial Crown
  • Textual Sources

Analysis of the Inscriptions on the Imperial Crown

The inscriptions on the enamel plates of the Imperial Crown have recently attracted increased attention from historians. In connection with certain letter shapes on the enamel plates, they argued that the crown could not have been created before the late 11th century. As a result, the CHVONRADVS named on the arch is said to have been King Conrad III (r. 1138-1152), who is subsequently also identified as the crown’s commissioner. The suggested dating is very different from that found in art historical scholarship.

Within the framework of this project, all inscriptions on the crown will be examined together with exact technological observations for the first time and the findings discussed in a direct interdisciplinary exchange.

The crown has a total of ten inscriptions. They are fashioned in four different techniques and placed across seven different components of the crown: we find both cloisonné and champlevé enamel on the four plates of the circlet, niello on the back of the central cross and, in a technically unusual form, another inscription is formed by the small threaded pearls on both sides of the arch. We aim to examine epigraphically significant aspects of these inscriptions from all angles, both in terms of their respective characteristics as graphism on the one hand and as text on the other. With regard to the graphic execution, it is not only about the style of the writing (palaeography) and its historical classification, but also about its semantic implications. The latter also concerns the arrangement of the writing and conventions of its relation to pictorial depictions. In the case of the texts, we are focusing on linguistic and orthographic circumstances as well as questions of intertextuality (relationship to other texts).

Because of this, knowledge of relevant written sources and their respective reception history is also of great importance. For instance, the texts of the banderols on the enamel panels have repeatedly been associated with the Imperial coronation liturgy in scholarly literature. Central objectives of the present analysis surrounding the inscriptions are the chronological and geographical classification of the crown and its components, combined with an effort to gain a deeper understanding of its semantic significance.

Clemens M. M. Bayer (November 23, 2022)

On the research into the pictorial source

What significance might arise from historical representations of the Imperial Crown in the context of the project’s objectives? This is the central question guiding the research into the pictorial sources for this project. So far, the literature has focused primarily on identifying medieval representations of the crown. Often these pictorial sources were used to historically contextualise the shape and individual design elements of the Imperial Crown.

However, none of these images can be established with complete certainty as a representation of the Viennese crown for the period before 1500. This led to exceedingly controversial discussions of these examples in the literature. Even if a compilation of these representations hardly promises new insights for the concrete questions of the project, their systematic documentation is nevertheless planned.

Likely made as a preparatory study for his idealised portrait of Charlemagne, Albrecht Duerer’s famous drawing of the Imperial Crown (after 1510), provides a turning point in the way that the crown’s objecthood and materiality are represented. Taking into account this new approach towards more naturalistic representations in the visual arts in general, we decided to focus our research on images from the period after 1500, recording and evaluating as much material as possible. Since May 2022, around 16,000 entries in national and international image databases have been systematically searched and assessed. Based on these efforts, about 550 entries have so far been created in an internal CROWN database.

A detailed evaluation of these entries is still pending. However, one finding we can already ascertain is that while the Imperial Crown was frequently depicted after Dürer, this was rarely done in such detail that a concrete preservation state of the object could be deduced from the images. Notable exceptions like the engravings by Johann Adam Delsenbach published in 1790, the illustrations from a magnificent work by Franz Bock commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I and photographic prints from the early 20th century in the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, however, indeed promise new results for the questions of the project.

Evelyn Klammer (November 18, 2022)

On the research into the textual sources

In addition to the systematic collection of pictorial sources, we also aim to collate written historical accounts of the Imperial Crown. This will form a foundational pillar for an interwoven understanding of the object’s material history and, ideally, allow us to trace its present condition back through time. Written sources from the time the crown was deposited in Nuremberg (1424-1796) have never been systematically sifted and evaluated in relation to the crown’s present appearance and object history. An initial survey reveals that they provide valuable insight into historical repairs and interventions.
In contrast, the collection of written sources from the time before 1400, suggests hardly any new insights in this respect. This material has already been researched and debated many times. Nevertheless, we are preparing a carefully curated catalogue of these sources. Our aim is to provide a solid foundation and comprehensive account for further discussions of the crown’s fates in the Middle Ages.


    These entries will adopt the following structure:

    • A "header" with basic information (author, period, etc.);
    • Some contextualising information of the relevant passage;
    • Text excerpt (not too narrowly defined);
    • Translation (as precise as possible);
    • Short commentary on the development of linguistic and contextual problems (only as much as necessary);
    • Most relevant cross-references of the passage in secondary literature.

    Clemens M. M. Bayer, Franz Kirchweger (November 23, 2022)

    Technological Research

    • Goldsmithing Techniques
    • History of Restorations
    • State of Preservation

    3D Digital Microscopy

    Spinel on the front plate with perforation from both sides, 3D-digital microscope, rotation video-image, 20x magnification
    Spinel on the front plate with inclusions, 3D-digital microscope, rotation video-image, 20x magnification

    The systematic optical assessment and photographic documentation of the Imperial Crown is a central objective of this research project. This will enable us to understand the crown’s technological construction, materiality and state of preservation at an unprecedented level of quality and detail. We use a 3D digital microscope (HIROX HRX-01) to comprehensively examine the crown as well as some other relevant objects of close comparison. This allows us to record the object’s surface morphology and measurements of individual construction parts and decorative elements in a wide range of magnification (10x -2500x). Moreover, we can create 3D- and panoramic views of important areas in high resolution and with high depth of field.

    During our first investigation campaign (March to July 2022), we focused on the technological examination of the goldsmith's work and gemstone settings. In preparation for Raman measurements, 172 gemstones were examined microscopically and photographed in reflected as well as polarised light. In a next step, we recorded characteristic inclusions in the crown’s gemstones and then photographed these in different light settings with the 3D microscope. During this campaign, we also individually examined a total of 824 formal and functional components of the goldsmith's work (gemstone and pearl settings, decorative elements, as well as hinges, sleeves and tubes) and photographed them from different angles.

    We typified indicators of interventions (repair wires and soldering, addition of stabilising materials, modifications, hole drilling, rivets) to link them to historical damage and even identifiable reworking events.

    As the crown ring is fixed in its octagon position, taking distortion-free images of the individual plates’ backside presented a particular challenge.

    For this purpose, we constructed a custom table with an octagonal opening. We also extended the 3D microscope by a FlexArm, so that the lens could be manoeuvred into the crown’s inside from below. Following this initial campaign, for the first time, we now have distortion-free scans of the Imperial Crown in its entirety. This includes high-resolution images (30x magnification) of all plates of the coronet (front, back, upper edge, lower edge), of the arch (both sides, upper edge, lower edge), of the central cross (front, back) as well as the enamel plates (here also at 90x magnification in incident light and grazing light).

    Helene Hanzer, Teresa Lamers,
    Herbert Reitschuler, Sabine Stanek (November 28, 2022)

    Who are our partners?

    The KHM project team brings together art historians, conservators and scientists benefiting from their expertise, know-how and respective approaches to develop a collaborative and interdisciplinary research platform. 

    Moreover, we plan to discuss and debate preparation, implementation and findings with international experts from relevant specialized fields, to share experiences and discuss methods and aims.

    For the purpose of analysing the crown’s inscriptions we will collaborate with Clemens M.M. Bayer (Liège/Mainz), a recognised specialist in epigraphy.

    Numerous specialists and colleagues have already kindly agreed to support the project by discussing and sharing ideas. The following colleagues have our sincere gratitude for their support:

    Conservation Sciences

    • Helene Hanzer
    • Teresa Lamers
    • Herbert Reitschuler


    • Martina Griesser
    • Sabine Stanek
    • Katharina Uhlir

    Art History

    • Franz Kirchweger
    • Evelyn Klammer

    Organizational support: Dominik Cobanoglu, Doris Prlic, Stella Wisgrill

    External Experts

    • Mauricio ACETO,
      Dept . Scienze e Innovazione Tecnologica , Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale "Amedeo Avogadro", Alessandria
    • Thorsten ALLSCHER,
      Institut für Bestandserhaltung und Restaurierung, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München
    • Clemens M. M. BAYER,
    • Andrea FISCHER,
      Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Stuttgart
    • Monica GALEOTTI,
      Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro
    • H. Albert GILG,
      Lehrstuhl für Ingenieurgeologie, Technische Universität München
    • Matthias HEINZEL,
      Leibniz Zentrum für Archäologie (LEIZA) (bis 31.12.2022: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum RGZM)
    • Stefanos KARAMPELAS, 
      Laboratoire Français de Gemmologie, Paris
    • Ludger KÖRNTGEN,
      Historisches Seminar, Arbeitsbereich Mittelalterliche Geschichte, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz
    • Lothar LAMBACHER,
      Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz
    • Lutz NASDALA,
      Institut für Mineralogie und Kristallographie der Universität Wien
    • Ina REICHE,
      Institut de recherche de Chimie Paris (IRCP) und Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF), Paris
    • Stefan RÖHRS,
      Rathgen-Forschungslabor, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz
      Klassische Archäologie, Universität Bonn

    What do we know?

    Much about this crown is unusual: its octagonal shape, its decoration with its complex meaning, and its history. Despite a long research history, scholars continue to disagree about such central questions as when and where the crown was made.

    Experts in history and the history of art, literature and religion have focused on the crown and published theories about its shape, its decoration, its symbolism and/or its use and history. However, only little of this can currently be considered completely certain and undisputed.

    The following focuses mainly on basic information about the Imperial Crown. It describes its appearance, its individual parts and components, and provides general explanations for the interested public that are based on the current state of research but do not attempt to represent its breadth and depth. One measure of the success of this project examining the Imperial Crown will be the number of necessary corrections and additions to these overview texts.

    Form & Shape

    Form and shape of the Imperial Crown are unlike those of any of the other extant mediaeval European crowns. But other crowns with hinged plates must have existed because a Roman icon from the early eighth century records an early example, showing the Virgin wearing just such a crown. 

    The Imperial Crown is 24.4 cm tall and comprises three elements that date from different periods.

    Eight large plates form the circlet, with plates encrusted with precious stones alternating with pictorial plates. Small empty mounts on the inside walls or along the bottom edge of some of the plates are all that remains of additional now-lost decorative elements. Small sleeves on the inside walls of the front and back plates were presumably already reused in the eleventh century to attach the extant arch. The cross surmounting the front plate is a later addition, too. 

    Scholars still dispute the dating of the crown’s various elements. Most believe that the plate-crown dates from before AD 980, while the cross was added during the reign of Emperor Henry II (ruled 1002-1024), and the extant arch under Emperor Conrad II (ruled 1024-1039).

    Its eight large plates are joined together by hinges with pins. This means it was originally easy to dismantle the circlet, though the construction remained somewhat instable until the addition at some later date of two reinforcing strips of iron riveted to the inside walls of the circlet.

    The arched plates are between 11.9 and 14.9 cm tall, which means they differ both in height and decoration. 

    The main plates over forehead, back and temples are set solely with precious stones and pearls, while the alternating smaller plates also feature depictions executed in cloisonné enamel. Small, now-empty gold tubes once held ornaments fashioned from precious stones or pearls. Decorative bands or pendant chains were presumably once suspended from the eyelets on the lower edges of the two side plates. All plates are clearly designed to enhance the brilliance and luminosity of the gemstones: hence the openwork below their complex raised mounts.

    The removable arch is 23.1 cm long and is attached to the crown with thorn-like pins inserted into tapered sleeves on the inside walls of the front and back plates. We may assume that it too originally helped to reinforce the instable circlet.

    Its exceptional shape is dominated by eight arches decorated with both a frame and an inscription executed in seed pearls. The latter runs over both sides of the arch and reads: „CHVONRADUS DEI GRATIA/ROMANORV (M) IMPERATOR AVG(VSTVS)“ (Conrad by the grace of God/august Emperor of the Romans“). 

    It is generally assumed to refer to Emperor Conrad II (ruled 1024-1039). More recently however, some scholars have suggested Conrad III. (ruled 1138-1152) instead, although he was never crowned emperor.

    The decorative details and the stones’ simple settings are very different from those used on the circlet. This and the way they are mounted suggests arch and circlet were not produced at the same time. We also do not know how, when and where the central part of the arch was damaged and then repaired.

    The front plate is surmounted by a cross that is 9.9 cm tall; its front too is set with precious stones and pearls. There is, however, no openwork and both settings and decoration also differ from those found on the circlet. The reverse is decorated with an engraved depiction of the crucified Christ, an image rarely used during the early and high Middle Ages. The early and high Middle Ages focused instead on depicting Christ’s victory and triumph over death, generally symbolized by gemstones and pearls – the decoration used on the front of the cross.

    Style and handling of the depiction of Christ on the reverse are similar to those found on a number of goldsmith works produced around 1020. The cross was a later addition to the circlet and its mounting is surprisingly improvised. The cross’s pin was inserted behind the top heart-shaped sapphire where it is held in place by a prong cut from the stone’s mount and soldered to the tapered sleeve.

    Inside the circlet is a red velvet biretta dating from the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Both a drawing of the Imperial Crown by Albrecht Dürer and his ideal portrait of Emperor Charlemagne painted around 1510 show that such caps existed much earlier. 

    They presumably made it easier to wear the relatively large and heavy crown during coronations and other state events: it measures 22.3 cm across and weighs around seven-and-a-half pounds. 

    Extant records from the early modern era tell us that newly-elected rulers had fittings prior to their coronations and that the mediaeval robes were adapted and altered in an attempt to make them fit the newly-elected ruler as best as possible. We may assume this also included fittings for the crown; small sewn-in pads allowed for alterations of the size of the velvet cap, some of which have survived in the extant cap.

    Material & Technique

    Today, the crown weighs a total of 3,465 grams (c. 7lb 10oz). All metal elements are made of high-carat gold, except for the strips of iron added later to stabilise the circlet. The eight plates are embellished with a total of 116 gemstones, mostly sapphires, emeralds, spinels and amethysts, all carefully selected and arranged by colour, shape and size. 

    Around 200 pearls were also used. Some gems and pearls were lost over the centuries. A few of these losses were replaced, including, for example, the octagonal garnet probably mounted on the back plate in 1764.

    Stones and pearls are mounted in raised settings placed over openwork, while the surface of the plates is decorated with delicate ornaments made of filigree wire and spherical pyramids.

    The enamel plaques were produced separately and are held in place by thin frames. The engraved depiction of the crucified Christ on the reverse of the cross was blackened with niello. Thin gold wire or silk thread was used to attach the seed pearls (inscription and frame) to the arch.

    The crown’s highly symbolic choice of materials and its complex concept are also reflected in many of the details comprising its decoration. These include not only pearl-wire tendrils and gold tubes with granules that fill the space between stones and pearls but also the latter’s extremely complex mounts on the circlet-plates. 

    Formal elements such as pearl-wire rings, unsupported granules and tiny cylinders were fashioned into delicate raised “multi-storey” mounts, creating the illusion that the individual gemstones and pearls are “hovering” above the plate, enhancing their brilliance and luminosity. 

    Individual motifs like the unsupported granules play an important role in connection with attempts to date the crown because they are but rarely found on extant tenth- and eleventh-century goldsmith work.

    These mounts differ from those used on both the cross and the arch. Although the rather unusual triple-prongs securing the larger stones on the circlet are also found on the cross, they are constructed differently.

    Over the centuries, some of the crown’s decoration was lost. In addition, we know of damage caused by handling and use, requiring repairs such as (re-)attaching individual decorative elements with wire. Some of the gold plates are deformed, and this may predate the addition of the two strips of iron to stabilize the circlet. However, the right side-plate was probably fractured after the addition of the strips of iron because the break line runs directly above where the strip was riveted in place. 

    The damage was repaired by adding an arched piece of gold plate to the strip of iron on the interior wall. The various repairs undoubtedly date from different periods, although we have not yet been able to determine exactly when they were carried out. 

    The central part of the arch was also damaged and restored by mounting it on a presumably new base held in place by nine loops. As a result of this damage and its repair the arch is now a little shorter, because the arch contracted slightly at the point of fracture, changing its angle.

    Content & Symbolism


    “Every element, every apparently merely decorative detail is imbued with meaning that expresses the concept of a divinely legitimized empire” 

    Helmut Trnek 

    Art historians have long examined the crown’s exceptional shape, numerous gemstones and pearls and the images on the pictorial plates to decipher their symbolic and theological content. 

    The circlet comprises eight plates, because in the Middle Ages eight was regarded as an imperial number and a symbol of perfection. 

    Stones and pearls on the four main (i.e. larger) plates above forehead, back and sides function as an allegorical reference to the ideal concept of the New (or Heavenly) Jerusalem. The twelve stones on the front and back plate symbolise, respectively, the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles, with the emperor claiming to be the thirteenth Apostle. 

    The three kings and prophets from the Old Testament depicted on the pictorial plates represent the embodiment of virtues expected of a Christian ruler. The fourth plate shows Christ enthroned, as whose representative on earth the king or emperor wearing this crown saw and presented himself. 

    The four pictorial plates depict kings and prophets from the Old Testament, and Christ in Majesty. The former are identified by inscriptions and clutch banderoles with biblical quotes: 
    King David:
    (The king is mighty, he loves justice)

    King Salomon:
    (Fear the Lord and flee from evil)

    King Ezekias with the prophet Isaiah:
    (See, I have added another fifteen years to your life).

    David, King of Israel and a prophet, represents the virtue of justice, his son and successor Solomon wisdom, and the mortally-ill Ezekias faith in divine mercy.
    Christ in Majesty is flanked by two cherubim. His inscription P(ER) ME REGES REGNANT (By me kings reign) references the concept that the wearer of this crown was enthroned by God Himself.

    Both the front and back plate are encrusted with twelve stones carefully arranged by size and colour. The breastplate worn by the High Priest of the Israelites, the hoshen, in the Old Testament was also decorated with twelve precious stones. Scholars also see connections with the stones with which the walls of the New Jerusalem are embellished, with the twelve tribes of Israel and with the twelve Apostles. The number of stones on the crown emphasises the priestly-sacred character of the monarchy, identifying its wearer as a king and high priest who rules as Christ’s substitute on earth.

    Extant written sources from the Middle Ages identify a particular stone on the imperial crown as the “Orphan”. Scholars still debate if this is a literary conceit or if this stone really did exist. If it did exist, it must have been the precursor of the heart-shaped sapphire on the front plate. Clearly, its setting was initially conceived for a stone of a different shape and size.

    History &

    The special status of the Imperial Crown as the most potent symbol of the power and legitimacy of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation) took centuries to evolve. It is first described as ‘imperial insignia’ (keyserliche zeichen) in an inventory compiled in 1246. Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) promoted its veneration as the crown of Charlemagne and thus as a holy relic. 

    In the Middle Ages, emperors moved the imperial regalia, which included the crown, around, storing them in different castles, but from 1424 the regalia were housed in the free imperial city of Nuremberg, where they were also venerated as holy relics. Around 1510, Albrecht Durer painted an ideal portrait of Charlemagne, revered as the founder of the empire, wearing “his” crown.  This marked the first time it was depicted accurately and in detail.

    The last coronation of a Roman-German Emperor took place in 1792. Four years later, the imperia regalia were removed from Nuremberg to prevent them from falling into the hands of the advancing French. They ended up in Vienna, at the court of the reigning Emperor Francis II (1768-1835), where the crown and the rest of the imperial regalia remained after the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Since 1827, they have been on display in the Imperial Treasury. 

    Support the Research Project

    The complexity of the project means an enormous challenge for our financial resources.
    Your donation will help us to get to the bottom of the numerous unanswered questions about the construction and technology as well as the origin and composition of the materials of the Imperial Crown.

    Together with you, we can write (art) history. We thank you kindly for your support!

    Your donation is tax deductible!

    Account holder: KHM-Museumsverband
    IBAN: AT70 6000 0005 1014 1679

    Intended purpose: Donation research project Crown

    For more information, please contact

    Mag. Katrin Riedl, BA
    +43 1 52524 - 4032

    Support the Research Project

    The complexity of the project means an enormous challenge for our financial resources.
    Your donation will help us to get to the bottom of the numerous unanswered questions about the construction and technology as well as the origin and composition of the materials of the Imperial Crown.

    Together with you, we can write (art) history. We thank you kindly for your support!

    Your donation is tax deductible!

    Account holder: KHM-Museumsverband
    IBAN: AT70 6000 0005 1014 1679

    Intended purpose: Donation research project Crown

    For more information, please contact

    Mag. Katrin Riedl, BA
    +43 1 52524 - 4032