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Crown of Barbarossa

I recently finished a 3D model I have been working on sporadically for about a year: a fictional crown for the famous 12th century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa.

Historical Background

Frederick I, king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (who the Italians called "Barbarossa" because of his red beard), after a life-time of fighting wars within Germany and Northern Italy sought to seek one last chance of glory in retaking Jerusalem from the Muslim forces under Saladin who had just conquered the region.

At the ripe age of 69 he assembled a huge army and marched them across Hungary, Byzantium and Turkish controlled Asia Minor only to tragically drown in the river Saleph in modern-day Turkey putting an end to his ambitions.

His army was destroyed, felt abandoned by god and scattered to the winds. His body could not be brought back home and eventually got lost.

The empire saw a period of unrest after his son's Henry VI early demise and would never fully recover its former strength which may have led to the people spinning tales to cope with a period later generations called "the emperor-less, the terrible time".

The Legend of sleeping Emperor Barbarossa

The legend tells of the emperor sitting on a throne in a cave beneath a mountain in Thuringia, Germany. He is asleep but will wake every 100 years to ask a dwarf if the ravens still fly around the mountain top. The dwarf goes out and tells him yes, they still fly. He sighs and says "then I will sleep for another 100 years". Only when the eagle appears and scares off the ravens can he wake and leave the cave to bring the empire back to glory and a time of everlasting peace.

The Legend depicted in Art

Most depictions of the story were done in the 19th century when the legend of Barbarossa was used to stress the nationalistic desires of the time to create a unified German Empire like it had supposedly existed during Barbarossa's time. In those depictions he would generally wear the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire symbolizing the idea of a reunified Germany.

But since I'm fascinated by actual medieval history and the age of the crusades especially I always wanted to give it more of a realistic appearance.

I wanted to show the emperor just like he may have been dressed during his final days of the crusade, wearing contemporary late 12th century armor and a surcoat showing the actual early heraldic imperial eagle that was first used during his and his son's Henry VI time, as well as a crown that would fit his character and the artistic style of his time.

But for my taste, the imperial crown would have been a wrong choice, since it still exists today and can be visited at the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria. Plus, it's very unlikely for the historical emperor to take it with him on a crusade. The imperial crown was usually reserved for coronations or big festivities but otherwise kept at Trifels castle in the Palatinate region of South-Western Germany during his reign.


So I came up with a design of my own inspired by various depictions of European kings and emperors of the high medieval period in battle or on crusade.

King Phillip II of France vs emperor Otto IV of Germany at the Battle of Bouvines

Depictions of kings in the Morgan Bible

Coronation of emperor Frederick II and king Louis XI of France

My Design

I wanted to keep the Fleur-de-Lis design popular during that period, but it still needed to be special...

What struck me while looking at some of those depictions is that the emperors' crowns always had an arch/hoop from front to back while kings' crowns wouldn't. So this would have to be an element I needed to include.

I also looked at actual surviving crowns from the period (+- 150 years). There have been several burial crowns of the Salian dynasty (early 11th to early 12th century) made of bronze and at least partially gilded.

Conrad II

Henry III

Henry IV

So, I thought this might be a good choice for my project, too. Not only would it be more visually captivating to have different layers of materials on top of each other, roughed up by centuries of wearing the crown. It would also be more logical to carry around a crown made of bronze than one made of solid gold which would be heavy and expensive and more likely to break when worn regularly.

There's also a famous contemporary depiction of Frederick Barbarossa, the Cappenberg bust, made of gilded copper.

The text engraved on the bust inspired me to decorate the circlet which would have been pretty boring otherwise. I wasn't sure what to write on it at first but it needed to be something related to his reign and mindset...

Contemporary documents frequently mentioned the idea of "HONOR IMPERII" which epitomized his political vision when dealing with rivals who he suspected to have insulted said honor. The back of the circlet reads "GLORIA DEI" (for the glory of god) being a stand-in catchphrase for the entire idea of a Holy Crusade which the emperor as the secular head of Western Christianity would feel compelled to uphold.

Work in Progress and Future Ideas

WIP of the sleeping emperor wearing the crown on top of a chainmail coif. I'm planning to put some contemporary padding beneath the coif like a linen or leather cap.

The mail coif itself should have a ventail to cover the mouth but should be left open in this case as to not conceal this glorious beard of his.

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