In the past 35 years or so, scores of theories, some bordering on legend, have emerged about the origin of the earliest known authentic representation of the Holy Crown of Hungary. Systematic historical and art historical research, however, has reconstructed convincingly the circumstances of its creation. Contrary to the majority of assumptions proposed until now, it can now be safely declared that the earliest representation of the Hungarian crown jewel has nothing to do with the – actually fictitious – possession of the crown by the Fugger family in the mid-15th century. The handwritten work namely, in which the image survived, is not a Fuggerchronik of Munich but the history of the Habsburg dynasty (Ehrenspiegel des Hauses Österreich) written for the family of the great merchant banker, Johann Jakob Fugger (1516–1575) by the self-taught town historian, genealogist and heraldist Clemens Jäger from Augsburg (c. 1500–1561).
The two-tome manuscript of nearly 800 folios with thousands of coats of arms and hundreds of illuminations is preserved in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. The earliest known depiction of the crown was made replicas of which were unknown until recently but were identified by the authors in three richly illuminated handwritten copies of the Ehrenspiegel. All were made in Innsbruck as the outcome of the court art and art patronage of the archdukes Ferdinand and Maximilian of Tyrol in the late 16th and early 17th century. By dating the manuscripts kept today in Munich, Vienna and Dresden more accurately and analysing the crown depictions in them, the – until recently – controversial chronology of the Ehrenspiegel copies could be clarified reassuringly. A revised version commissioned by Emperor Leopold I was completed by 1668 and was also released in print by the Endter press in Nuremberg with “updated” text by the German poet Sigmund von Birken. This version also included the image of the Hungarian crown, but the publisher replaced the 16th century depiction with a more up-to-date one. It adopted the crown representation on the title-page of Mausoleum (printed in Nuremberg 1664), a series of Hungarian ruler portraits completed a little earlier upon commission from a Hungarian aristocrat and art patron, Chief Justice of Hungary (1655–1671), Count Ferenc Nádasdy. It must be attributed to the publisher’s demand for authenticity that added to the crown from the Mausoleum, which in basic forms emulated the crown image illustrating the famous tract of guardian of the crown Péter Révay published in Augsburg 1613 (De Sacrae Coronae regni Hungariae ortu... Commentarius) and reformulated several times later, he also enclosed the title-page of the politics historical work by Martin Schödel (Respublica et status Regni Hungariae, Leiden 1634) for the purpose of providing more accurate material details.
A German handwritten petition by Clemens Jäger, the author of the Habsburg family history, for a coat of arms and crown representation has been recovered in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. In it he was inquiring about the Holy Crown with reference to the work (Rerum Ungaricarum decades) of the Italian historiographer of Matthias Corvinus, the noted humanist Antonio Bonfini. This source permits us to declare: the earliest authentic representation of the Hungarian crown was made in Augsburg between April 1553 (the terminus post quem for the sending of the petition from Augsburg to Vienna) and November 1561 (the death of Jäger). Confuting earlier presumptions we can contend that instead of some mid-15th or early 16th century model, Jäger used a wholly contemporary reproduction. It showed the crown kept in the Habsburg court in Vienna from the beginning of September 1551 depicted – if we are not mistaken – by the copperplate engraver and draughtsman of antiquities (Antiquitetabconterfetter) Hans Sebald Lautensack served in Vienna from August 1554, who was in close contact with the famous Vienna court historiographer who also knew Jäger, Wolfgang Lazius. Lautensack also engraved a portrait of Lazius in 1554. Some data suggest that our safe dating (1553–1561) can be reduced to the interval between the late summer of 1554 and 1556, between the beginning of Lautensack’s service in Vienna and the publication of the historian Lazius’s great map of Hungary (1556), the latter adorned with a Holy Crown with pendants. To conclude, the earliest detailed and authentic representation of the Hungarian crown was the outcome of the collaboration of Central European historiographers, first of all historians of Augsburg and Vienna, genealogists, heraldists and engravers, without the involvement of Hungarians, as far as we know. Not that this fact would reduce in any way its outstanding significance or peculiar value.