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Thumbnail for version as of 21:23, 16 March 2014 ArchdukeLeopoldWilhelmofAustria.jpg Thumbnail for version as of 21:23, 16 March 2014

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 BavariaHis 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.

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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.

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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.

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Patron of the arts

When 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".

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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.