The Imperial Crown in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is an amazing example of craftsmanship and also of symbolism. It is quite a large crown, suitable for a king with a rather large head, and weighs a considerable amount with all the gold, gemstones and pearls which adorn it. The crown was made in the west of present-day Germany and is dated to 960–980. At one time it was thought to be the crown of Charlemagne who was made Holy Roman Emperor in 800, but this theory has since been disproved. There are twelve large gemstones on the front panel which represent the twelve Apostles.
The crown consists of eight large arched panels, the number eight being particularly significant for emperors. There are four panels encrusted with pearls and precious stones alternating with four depicting Christ, King David, King Solomon and King Hezekiah with the prophet Isaiah – these represent God’s grace, righteousness, wisdom and long life. At the back of the crown, shown here, are twelve large gemstones, indicating the twelve tribes of Israel.
The form of the crown is said to be the tangible expression of the spiritual relationship between the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms. It also represented the emperor as being the ruler as Christ’s viceroy on earth. The arch, which can be seen here, was added in 1024–39 during the time of Konrad II.
In all the crown is 24·4 cms tall, and weighs 3,465 g (c. 7lbs 10 oz). The plates have 116 gemstones and these are mainly sapphires, emeralds, spinels and amethysts which have been carefully selected and arranged by shape and colour. There are also about 200 pearls. The later arch has small seed pearls and smaller gemstones as decoration.
The forehead cross, too, is later, and is from the time of Henry II (r. 1002–24). The side facing outwards is decorated with carefully selected large gemstones, and the four on each arm could represent the four evangelists with the central white one being Christ. It symbolises victory.
On the reverse of this cross is Christ the Redeemer bleeding on the cross, crucified, but at the same time conquering death. The Latin inscription above this reads ‘By me kings reign’.
The four enamel or cloisonné panels are most intricately done whereby strips of gold outline the pictorial elements and are attached to the base. These small areas are filled with coloured glass which are heated to a high temperature in a kiln; this last process often has to be repeated to get the finish and colour required. The surface is then smoothed so that the metal strips and enamel are level. King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah can be seen here. Crowns usually contained an inner velvet cap and the red colour of this, dating from the 18th century, can just be seen.