Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria
Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (5 January 1614 – 20 November
1662) was an Austrian military commander, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647 to 1656, and a patron of the arts. Born at Wiener Neustadt, he was the youngest son of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II and Maria Anna of Bavaria (1574–1616), daughter of William V, Duke of Bavaria. His elder brother became Emperor Ferdinand III (1608–1657). Leopold Wilhelm served as a general in the Thirty Years' War and
the Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659). During the latter, the Spanish-Low Country forces
under Leopold Wilhelm lost the Battle of Lens in an attempt to recover the city in 1648. Later in the war, he
sallied forth from the Netherlands on two occasions. On the second, he successfully seized a number of northern French forts
in February–March 1652, forcing the French to withdraw forces from Catalonia to reinforce their northern
frontier. This assisted Spanish forces in Spain in recovering Catalonia from the French-backed Catalan rebellion.
Even though Leopold Wilhelm lacked the canonical qualifications, he was invested, with the help of his father, with
a number of prince-bishoprics in order to provide him with an income. Unqualified as he was, he officially only held the title
administrator, nevertheless realising the full episcopal revenues, of the prince-bishoprics of Halberstadt (1628–1648),
Passau (1625–1662), Breslau (1656–1662), Olmütz (1637–1662) and Strasbourg (1626–1662). In 1635,
Pope Urban VIII authorised him to become the prince-archbishop of Bremen, but due to its occupation by the Swedes he never
gained de facto power.
He returned to Vienna after the situation in the Spanish Netherlands had
deteriorated in 1656. In Vienna he was initially occupied with the administration of his various bishoprics, the Teutonic
Order which he led as Grand Master and the family affairs of the imperial house. After the death of his elder brother Emperor
Ferdinand III several electors put him forward for the position of Emperor. However, he stalled to allow his nephew to reach
the statutory age to ascend the imperial throne, which his nephew did as Leopold I on 22 July 1658 at the age of 18 years.
After devoting himself to the affairs of state, Leopold Wilhelm retired in his final years and lived exclusively for the
love of art. He died in Vienna in 1662.
Patron of the arts
he assumed the government of the Spanish Netherlands, Leopold Wilhelm, being a great lover of art, employed several painters
from the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke, including the great Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger, who he not only employed
as a painter but as keeper of the collection of pictures he was then forming. With the rank and title of "ayuda de
camara," Teniers took up his abode in Brussels shortly after 1647. Immense sums were spent in the acquisition of paintings for the archduke, including paintings by Frans
Snyders, Pieter Snayers, Daniel Seghers, Peter Franchoys, Frans Wouters, Jan van den Hoecke, Pieter Thijs, Jan van de Venne
and others. A number of valuable works of the Italian masters, now in the Vienna Museum, came from Leopold's gallery after
having belonged to Bartolomeo della Nave, Charles I and the duke of Buckingham. He commissioned the British painter John Michael
Wright in 1650 to travel to Cromwell's England, and acquire art and artifacts at the great Commonwealth sale of the late
king's goods. This expansion of his collection was celebrated by having his most prized pieces engraved in the book Theatrum Pictorium, often called the first "art catalog".
When Leopold returned to Vienna, his collection of paintings was relocated
to the Stallburg gallery in Hofburg Palace. Jan Anton van der Baren, a Flemish priest, who was also a first-rate flower painter,
became director of the archducal gallery. Leopold bequeathed his gallery to his nephew Leopold I, and it became imperial
property. It is now part of the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. When the tomb of Childeric
I, an early Merovingian king of the
Salian Franks and father of Clovis
I was discovered in 1653 by a mason doing repairs in
the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai, it was Leopold Wilhelm who had the find published in Latin.