In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thirty Years War

  • Introduction
  • Historical Background
  • Patronage from the Middle Ages to the Early Renaissance
  • Court Art in the Age of the Counter-Reformation
  • Patronage in Landshut under Albrecht V and Wilhelm V
  • Patronage in Munich under Albrecht V and Wilhelm V: The Munich Residence
  • Patronage in Munich under Albrecht V: The Antiquarium and Albrecht’s Antiquities Collection
  • Patronage in Munich under Albrecht V: The Munich Kunstkammer
  • Patronage in Munich under Wilhelm V: St. Michael’s Church in Munich
  • Patronage in Munich under Prince Elector Maximilian I
  • The Munich Residence under Prince Elector Maximilian I
  • The Wittelsbach Outside of Bavaria
  • Published Primary Sources

Art History Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thirty Years War
Susan Maxwell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0115


The Wittelsbach dynasty is one of the most influential and widespread families in European history. From the founding of the House of Wittelsbach in the 12th century, until the First World War saw the end of the Bavarian monarchy, members of the Wittelsbach dynasty have occupied many thrones: the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor twice; kings of Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Germany, Greece, and, of course, Bavaria; prince electors; and prince bishops, in addition to centuries of ducal control over territories ranging from the Rhineland Palatinate to Upper and Lower Bavaria. Throughout the eight centuries, since Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) invested Count Otto of Wittelsbach with the Duchy of Bavaria in 1180, the family has dominated European politics, diplomacy, and patronage. Although the tragic figure of the 19th-century King Ludwig II, known for such fairy tale extravaganzas as Neuschwanstein Castle, has entered popular imagination as the best-known Wittelsbach ruler, patronage of art and architecture permeates every generation of the dynasty. The Bavarian ducal collections, begun in the 15th century and built up over the next two hundred years, form the basis for some of the most important art collections in Europe today. The Munich Pinakothek, the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian State Museum), the Bavarian State Library, and the Munich Graphics Collection, among others, all have their origins in 16th-century ducal collections. Even after the dissolution of the monarchy in 1918, Wittelsbach dukes continued their long history of patronage with the donation of collections and historic properties to the state of Bavaria and support of contemporary art.

Historical Background

The history of the Wittelsbach dynasty is necessarily linked to the history of Bavaria, and the literature on both is extensive, although very little has been written in English. The brief list that follows includes classic studies (Dotterweich 1991, Hubensteiner 1963, Spindler 1981) and more recent publications (Körner 2009) that provide context and a good overview of the history, culture, politics, and patronage of the dynasty.

  • Dotterweich, Helmut. Das Erbe der Wittelsbacher. Vermächtnis einer europäischen Dynastie. 2d ed. Munich: Nymphenburger, 1991.

    Dotterweich covers the cultural heritage and patronage of the entirety of the Wittelsbach dynasty beginning in the middle ages and ending in the 20th century. His style is accessible and eminently readable, a history told in an anecdotal and approachable manner. A good source for a quick overview or as a beginning point for further research.

  • Hubensteiner, Benno. Bayerische Geschichte. Staat und Volk, Kunst und Kultur. Munich: Richard Pflaum Verlag, 1963.

    First published in 1950, Hubensteiner’s extensive treatment begins with late ice age hunter-gathers and ends with the chaotic post–Second World War period. He interweaves historical events with the art and culture that helped shape Bavaria. Includes numerous maps, tables, and useful timelines.

  • Körner, Hans-Michael. Die Wittelsbacher: Vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2009.

    DOI: 10.17104/9783406679759

    A readable pocketbook guide to almost a thousand years of Bavaria within the context of German and European events.

  • Kraus, Andreas. Geschichte Bayerns. Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1983.

    A concise treatment of the history of Bavaria that provides a good overview of biographical and historical events.

  • Lanzinner, Maximilian. Fürste, Räte und Landstände, Die Entstehung der Zentralbehörden in Bayern, 1511–1598. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, 1980.

    A comprehensive study of the establishment of the modern Bavarian state, through the lens of the rise of a professional bureaucratic class. Important for the consideration of court artists because it places them within the context of other court functionaries.

  • Spindler, Max. Handbuch der Bayerischen Geschichte. 5 vols. Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1981.

    The essential source for in-depth coverage of the history of Bavaria, encompassing five volumes. Volume 2 deals specifically with art patronage over centuries of Wittelsbach rule.

  • Die Wittelsbacher und ihre Künstler in acht Jahrhunderten. Munich: Süddeutscher Verlag, 1980.

    Divided into four sections covering literature, music, theater, and art, this is an in-depth study of the patronage of the Wittelsbach over the course of eight hundred years from the founding of the dynasty in the 12th century until the present. Horst Stierhof covers art patronage from the middle ages to the 20th century and includes maps, prints, color plates, and reconstructions of now-lost structures.

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