Exploring museum exhibits from your home with The Met’s The Last Knight

HTML tutorial

With the city in a state of lockdown, many people are looking for places to find culture from the safety of their homes. Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others, have been offering their exhibits online. Staff writer William Rhee reviewed the exhibit “The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I” before the Met closed down. You can experience much of this exhibit virtually here (including an audio guide). Here’s William’s review:

By William Rhee, Staff Writer

A recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Last Knight, featured the armor of Maximilian I, an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The exhibit, curated by Pierre Terjanian, showcased the emperor engaged in an modern-day activity known by many – cosplay. But in the case of Maximilian I, it was cosplay with an important purpose.

In our era, many teens and adults enjoy cosplay, or costume play. They dress up as a variety of characters, including superheroes, super villains, movie characters, and real-life celebrities. At Townsend Harris, a student even cosplayed as President Donald Trump for the 2019 election simulation.

However, cosplay is not a modern phenomenon. Centuries ago, people engaged in cosplay, especially Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire. 

The exhibit at the Met, “The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I,”  displayed a grand and extensive collection of his eye-catching armor. His chest plate had small golden beads along the edges, his gauntlets had spikes at the knuckles, and shoes were foot-long pointed needles. Unlike today’s cosplay done for entertainment, Maximilian dressed as a knight because he frequently had to fight in actual combat. The exhibit also showcased this cosplay as a need for survival and status. Dressing as a knight gave him more credibility as he struggled to control the empire.

Among other acts, he commissioned authors to write books about his military victories which would be equivalent to today’s fanfiction. For his children, Maximilian had craftsmen create jousting toys of knights sitting on horses which looked like modern action figures.

The curator brought to life a historical ruler in a way which teens can understand. I enjoyed how he told an interesting story through the objects displayed. Who knew that people centuries ago had their own fanfiction and action figures? The exhibit showed how he lived in permanent cosplay as a knight. Going beyond the armor, it displayed antiquities commissioned by Maximilian which reflected the life of a knight, including paintings, books, and sculptures.The curator didn’t leave any stones unturned and left the visitor completely satisfied with the exhibit.

In some ways, the exhibit was inspiring to me because it showed how far one ruler went to live his life as a knight and embody the virtues associated with it. This tradition even continues today. Firemen, for example, wear their uniforms and act the part of saving lives. Scientists put on their lab coats and make great discoveries. Judges put on their robes and administer justice in an even-handed and just way. Wearing costumes gives us new identities and allows us to play a different role in society.

For someone who lived half a millennium ago, Maximilian taught us a thing or two about taking cosplay to the next level.