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An Early Lutheran Piece of Art

March 21st, 2007
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Confessional_lutheran_painting I was looking around on the Internet the other day for paintings by Lutherans showing Lutheran worship and after I entered "Lutherische messe" in the Google image search engine [a wonderful resource if you are not familiar with it!], I found this picture of a relatively early Lutheran painting. I asked a new friend of mine, Michael Zamzow, if he would favor us with a translation. His translation is literalistic, in order to allow you to receive the full sense of the original. Here is what he sent and I think you will find it interesting. If you click on the picture you will see the photo in its original size on the Internet. I’ve also included a painting by Dürer, upon which this painting appears to be based, for the sake of comparison. Thanks Michael, for sending this along to me as well.


In the evangelical St. Lawrence
parish church in Rosstal there is an interesting Lutheran Confession
picture (illustration 1)(1). Up until now it was hanging in a rather
neglected place over the sacristy door. For this reason research has
not appropriately appreciated it.(2) It is therefore not surprising
that it was now shown in the 1983 Luther Exhibition at the Germanisches
Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.
The painting(3) is divided into six
fields through an architectural staffage (decoration) consistint of
pedestals, cornices, pilasters and columns. While the medium itself, a
wooden panel, is not set up acording to the rules of the golden section
[the proportion of a to b is the same as the proportion of a+b to a],
the two-story division of the composition rather closely approaches
this rule, whereby the greater part ["a" in the golden section] extends
from the upper edge of the frame to the pillar base plate. One reads
words, VERBUM DOMINI MARET (instead of manet) IN AETERNVM,(4) which
was used almost as a battle cry by Lutherans in the Reformation Period
above the bordering prominent and crested architrave [horizontal beam].
In the spandrels on either side of the pilasters under the architrave
stands the year 1524.(5) The large central main picture with the
crucifixion of Christ is layed out exactly according to the golden
section, both in regard to length (upper frame edge to te pillar base
plate) and breadth (outer borders of the upper pilasters), as well as
in the the division into the minor portion (upper fram edged to the
nail wounds in Jesus’ hands) and the major portion (the nail wounds in
Jesus’ hands to the pillar base plate). This central picture is flanked
on high columnar pedestals by the high priest Aaron on the left and
King David with a harp on the right. The crucifixion of Christ before a
landscape background with the walls of Jerusalem is combined rather
untypically with the so-called Mercy Seat(6): God the Father is
portrayed with crown and pluvial (robe of office) behind or, to be
precise, above the hands of Jesus nailed to the cross at the moment of
His deepest humiliation, holding the scepter and orb; under Christ’s
feet is the dove of the Holy Spirit.(7) On each side of Jesus stand the
pillories with good thief facing the Savior to Jesus’ right and the
wicked thief looking away from Jesus to Jesus’ left. At the foot of the
cross lie the skull and bones of the first human Adam who  through his
guilt so to speak dffected the salvation of humanity(8) and had
supposedly found his final rest on Golgotha.(9) On the good side of
Jesus’ right hand one sees the three Marys and John with raised or, as
it were, crossed hands, less lament than praying for humanity. On the
wicked side, by comparison Longinus, who is converting, is portrayed in
oriental attire with a lance, while Stephaton with the sponge remains
obdurant and slips away. Before them two soldiers cast lots for
Christ’s garment. Above all this the scene is completed by an arch
which extends into the architrave. It consists of a double garland with
two cherubs sitting on it and two cherubs hovering beneath it.
On each side of the main figure two
Old Testament pre-figurings of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross are
portrayed. On the left is Abrahams sacrifice with the boy Isaac in
white burial clothes along with the angel calling a halt to the boy’s
death and the ram in the brush (Genesis 22:1-18). Beneath this are Adam
and Eve with a skull as the wage of their sin along with the upward
slithering serpent on the tree of knowledge as cause of salvation
through Christ. To the right the lifting up of the serpent on a
cruciform pole (Numbers 21:6-9) is portrayed. As Luther says, whoever
looks up to this sign "by faith alone," is not harmed by the bite of
the serpent. Under this sits Moses with the tables of the Law in the
same location as Adam and Eve beneath Abraham’s sacrifice. He is
instructing estates of the church which have tangled themselves in
self-imposed laws: pope, bishop, clergyman, nun, emperor, queen, noble,
burgher, and farmer.
The lower third of the painting is
split up by outward projecting, prominent, pilaster-like plinths with
Peter on the left and Paul on the other side. While the elements which
have been described above are executed in the conventions Roman
Catholicism, the scene between the chief apostles depicts the most
important religious contemporary innovations which are able to harken
back to early Christian tradition: the distribution of communion in
both kinds behind the altar. In addition to the tables of the Law are
the Gospel and chalice. The white surplices and the ruffed collars on
the clergy consist of additions from around 1663. Between them a sealed
letter is stuck to the wall in antithesis to the hated indulgences.
This scene too is organized according to the golden section. That is
between the outer edges of the pilasters as well as between the lower
edge of the frame and the thrice divided concluding profile. In the two
narrow portions are additions from about 1663: the coat-of-arms of the
Nuremburg family Dietherr to which the patron of the panel belonged,
and the following inscription,
        To Thee, o great God,
        for praise and constant glory
        to Thee also, Thou worthy Christ
        in comfort and rich teaching
        this painting is dedicated
        in this house of God with the desire that unto us
        salvation of soul and body may blossom
        by Susanna Laurentius
        Jung, [widowed?]
        nee Dietherr
The year 1663 is connected to the
dedication of the panel in the Rosstal church after the fire of 1627 in
which the church was pretty much robbed of its decor.
As noted in footnote 1, up to this
period Confessional Picture (Bekenntnisbild) was not used in apposition
to the confessions (Bekenntnisschriften) which begin in Lutheranism
with the presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530. It is a
different matter in regard to the term "Confession Picture"
(Confessionsbild), which refered to a portrayal of the presentation of
the Augsburg Confession. Usually portrayals such as the one in Rosstal
are designated as allegories. However, nowhere does the confessional
character so predominate as here, so that we are convinced that in this
case the categorization of the kind of picture this is can only
appropriately be called a Confessional Picture (Bekenntnisbild). From the
beginning, the heading "VERBVM DOMINI MANET IN AETERNVM"(15) indicates
that the predominant use of the phrase was confessional for the
Reformers. Also from the perspective of the observer who spontaneously
focuses on the Crucified, an important concern of Reformation theology
is revealed. The holy women no longer devote themselves to mourning and
to their pains as is the case with late gothic portrayals. Rather they
devote themselves to the cross: believing, praying, and trusting.
Furthermore John the Evangelist represents an idealization of Luther.
Albrecht Duerer had introduced this into Nuremberg art a short time
before in his great crucifixion etching(16) and in the preparatory
sketches for it.(17) A silver statue of John beneath the cross which is
gilded except for the face and hands possesses a physiognome similar to
Luthers was auctioned along with a matching statue of Mary at
Neumeister auction house in Munich on November 28, 1984 [Illustration
2].(18) Because of a sylistic similarity to the above mentioned sketch
and etching of Duerer, one can assume it was created around 1524. That
the creator was a Nuremberg goldsmith is witnessed to by comparing it
to a silver statue of Peter which was located in the Catholic cathedral
school in Bautzen up until 1945. The hem of Mary’s garment with its
characteristic cuff completely corresponds to that of St. Peter(19).
Another idealized picture of Luther
is given to us by Peter Vischer the Younger with a watercolored ink
sketch in the Goethe National Museum in Weimar [Illustration
3](20)—incidentally, again from 1524. Hear Luther even appears in
heroic nudity, youthful as in Rosstal and in Duerer’s portrayals. He is
leading Conscience (Conscientia) and Common People (Plebs) toward the
risen Christ. At the same time to the right the toppled statue of the
pope buries Confession (Confessio) and ceremonies under it before the
bursting building of the contemporary church (in romanesque style(21),
by the way. The left half of the picture is very reminiscent of
frequent portrayals of the parish verdicts. An enthroned, youthful
blindfolded (emblematic of his impartiality) prince. Justitia leads
three nacked ladies to him: Faith, Hope, and Love. H. Stafski
interprets the content of the print thus(22): "We need no vicar of God, Luther shows us the shorter way to God. What we need is a just Emperor who lives as a genuine Christian."
Stafski emphasizes, and this holds for the Rosstaler panel as well as
for Duerer’s copper etching or the silver figures, that one avoids
every polemic tendency in Nuremberg as a result of Duerer’s moderating
Without a doubt a theologian
drafted the content of the picture, as the allegorical structure of the
Rosstal painting shows. One need only observe Moses sitting before the
Christian estates, pointing to the tables of the Law. A woodcut by
Lukas Cranach the Elder(23) expounds in captions the effect of the Law
thus: "It "is the power of sin" (1 Corinthians 15:56), "causes wrath"
(Romans 3:20; sic., it should be Romans 4:15) and "through the Law
comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). The believers next to Moses
behave like the law-believing Jews who in their works righteousness
come under judgement. In contrast the women under the cross and St.
John=Luther look up prayerfully with empty hands to their Savior. They
become righteous by faith alone! With this in mind, the Holy
Spirit-Dove at Jesus’ feet becomes comprehensible. Just as the
Spirit-Dove reaches humanity on a stream of blood from the wound in
Jesus’ side in the mentioned woodcut of Cranach the Elder, so the
Spirit-Dove approaches the observer with its life renewing gifts.(24)
An additional confessional
statement happens in the distribution of the Lord’s supper in both
kinds. It was distributed this way for the first time in the imperial
city [Nuremberg] by Wolfgang Volprecht, Prior of the Augustinian
cloister of Nuremberg. As a consequence, the beginning of May 1524, he
read the Mass in German in keeping with a Reformation view of the
sacrament without sacrifice and transubstantiation. Finally on May 6,
1524, the provosts of St. Lawrence and St. Sebald issued a new church
order which prescribed the use of German in the didactic texts, the
omission of the canon of the mass and distribution of the Lord’s Supper
in both kinds. With this begins the Lutheran ordering of church life in
Nuremberg in 1524—the year which is on the Rosstal panel.
The contrasting structuring of the
painting follows the scheme of many woodcuts which were in circulation
at the time. The portrayal of matters of faith was quite unpleasant in
many places.In Nuremberg under Duerer’s influence, it was carried out
in an academic objective form. Only the Nuremberg artists Sebald Beham
and Erhard Schoen stood out already in 1524/25 with their hard
Finally we deal with the question
of who the master is, whereby the origins of the painting in Nuremberg
is already proven by the iconography and the patron from the Nuremberg
Dietherr family. Just the composition with its structure acording to
the golden section and a look at the details let us easily recognize
the Duerer disciple, Hans Springinklee as the creator. He uses the
golden section in the same form in the domination of the framing
structures in his title plate woodcut for the Old Testament diligently
translated into German (1524) (Illustration 4) and in Martin Luther’s A
suggestion… from 1526. The use of gold-ochre colored architecture
with prominent gray pillars with with red-brown and light-ocher
highlights in his palette convinces us that Springinklee is the artist.
A further indication of his signature way of painting are the typically
strong black borders on Peter on the left or on David’s shoulders. His
weakness in drawing architectural elements and the carelessness with
which he deals with their vanishing-lines point to his authorship, as
well as the fill in both of the architrave bearing pilasters.(28)
Painted parallels to the pilaster decoration are found on the back
sides of the standing wings of the altars in Seukendorf(29), similar
leaf construction on the wings of the altar of Sts. Peter and Paul
Church in Fuerth-Poppenreuth(30), and the faces of the two cherubs on
the right side show similarities to the sensor swinging angel in the
church of Fuerth-Burgfarrnbach.(31) The picturesque features in the
landscape and figures as well as the color application in alla-prima
style—instead of the usual caking type of painting—was found in
Nuremberg’s art since about 1522.(32)  While up until now a 1522
woodcut with a HSK monogram and a Bacchanalian woman has been
considered Hans Sprininklee’s last dated work, one may now replace it
with the Rosstal painting from 1534.
Finally, it should be noted that in
the Rosstal panel we are dealing with one of the earliest antithetical
compositions on "Law and Grace". In any case, in the realm of painting,
we know of no earlier occurence.
1.    This term is still unusual
and is therefore missing in the Reallexicon zur Deutschen
Kunstgeschichte, vol. 2, Stuttgart-Waldsee 1948. We will return to this
problem below.
2.    Adolf Rohn, Heimatbuch von
Rosstal und Umgebung, Rosstal 1928, p. 27. —August Gebessler, Stadt
und Landreis Fuerth (Bayerische Kunstdekmale, Kurzinventar, XVIII),
Munich 1963, p. 149.—Georg Dehio, Handbuch der deutschen
Kunstdenkmaeler, Bayern I: Franken, bearbeitet von Tilmann Breuer et
al., 1979, p. 717.—Only Helmut Mahr deals briefly with its
theological expression (Die heutige Kirche in Rosstal, in:
Rosstal–Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, Rosstal 1979, p. 317).
3.    On spruce wood. Height:
155cm; Width: 117cm. recently restored in Wuerzburg by R. and P.
Pracher. We also want to thank Pastor Koerber in Rosstal for his
friendly support and clarifying tips as we examined the painting.
4.    "The Word of the Lord remains
forever" from 1 Peter 1:25 and probably quoted by Peter from Psalm 119
(118): 89. Unfortunately the catalog of the Luther Eshibition in 1983
in the Gemanic National Museum of Nuremberg does not delve into the
meaning of this sentence at the time of Luther.
5.    The numbers have unfortunately been partially painted over. Nevertheless they portray the original date.
6.    The mercy seat is literally
taken from Duerers All Saints [ the author calls this a
Allerheiligenbild which means All Saints picture; it is perhaps more
correctly the Allerheiligstenbild---i.e. Holy of Holies picture---see
the attachment I sent you.] picture from 1511 (Vienna,
Kunsthistorisches Museum)—in Duerer’s painting the dove of the Holy
Spirit hovers over God the Father. It occurs from then on in the
Nuremberg art in the following decades in the form of the All
Saints-Rosary: Woodcut from 1515 by the master of the Schreyer altar in
the Kunsthalle Hamburg; Woodcut by Erhard Schoen in the Germanic
National Museum; Epitaph of the Coinmaster Marquard Rosenberger (+1517)
and his wife in thw Schwabach City Church of St. John. Rosary panel
around 1518/19 in the Germanic National Museum (ascribed to the studio
fof Veit Stoss). Similarly antithetically structured like the Rosstal
painting is a woodcut of the monogrammist H  from the year 1524 in the
German National Museum. The three divine persons ar placed above one
another and no longer portrayed in the style of a mercy seat.
(Luther-Katolog 1983, Nr. 309). Compare also the woodcut by Heinrich
Vogtherr the Elder, The Tree of Faith, from 1524 (Luther-Katolog 1983,
Nr. 497).
7.    Up to now this is the only case in which the Holy Spirit-Dove hovers under Jesus’ feet.
8.    In the hymn of praise of the
Exsultet of the Easter Vigil liturgy it says: "O certe necessarium Adae
peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum es! O felix culpa…(Yea, truly
the sin of Adam had to happen so that Christ’s Death could atone for
it. O blessed guilt…" quoted from Anselm Schott, Das vollstaendige
Roemische Mess buch, Freburg im Breisgau. 1956, p. 410.
9. Legenda aurea des jacobus de
Voragine in the translation by Richard Benz, Heidelberg (1955), p. 265:
"…for one says that he was buried on the hill where Christ suffered;
according to Jerome this is countered by Adam being buried on Mount
Hebron, this is also clearly attested in Joshual 14:15. …Just as Adam
sinned on on the wood [tree], so also Christ suffered on the wood
10.    Since Isaak was seen as the
Old Testament pre-figure of Jesus, one can analogously refer to Jesus’
swaddling clothes as a shroud in medieval depictions of the nativity.
According to Scholastic custom of dialectic controversy it could also
indicat a baptismal gown.
11.    A pen-and-ink drawing in the
Vienna Albertina (W 889) and a woodcut (B 53) by Duerer–both from the
year 1523 depicting the Lord’s Supper—show the chalice in a striking
manner, so that one always spoke of the reception of Reformation
thought by Duerer (see Albrecht Duerer 1471-1971, Ausstellung des
Germanischen Nationalmuseums Nuremberg, May 21-August1, 1971, Nr 396
and 621).
12.    The birth and death data of
Susanna Jung, nee Dietherr von Anwanden und Schweich, are not listed
with Johann Gottfried Biedermann, Geschlechtsregister des
hoch-adelichen Patriciats in Nuernberg, Nurember 1748, Plate XVIIff. On
plate XVIII Susanne is mentioned (August 10, 1599–November 5, 1659)
who was married to Lawrence Ayrer of Rosstall (+January 24, 1635) on
July 8, 1622. No Susanne is listed among their children. The biography
of Susanne Jung and her connection with Rosstal would be a task for
historical and geneological research.
13.    Die Religion in Geschichte
und Gegenwart, Hadwoerterbuch fuer Theologie und Religionswissenschaft,
Vol I, Tuebingen 1957, Sp 1012f; Lexicon fuer Theologie und Kirche,
Vol. 2, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1958, Sp. 149 f.
14.    On the corresponding
painting from 1606 in the City Church St. Andrew in Weissenburg
(Bavaria) the caption even mentions this (Die Kunstdenkmaeler von
Mittelfranken, V Stadt und Bezirksamt Weissenburg, Munich 1932, Plate
15.    For example, on the draft
for the flag of the Smalcaldic League (Pen drawing from 1542 in the
Staatsarchive Marburg, Luther-Katalog 1983, Nr. 275: "… but the Word
of the Lord remains forever."
16.    Meder 25; about 1523, not
finished and long after Duerer’s death it was printed about 1570 and
only a few excerpts remain (Duerer-Katalog 1971, Nr. 223, Illustration
p. 125). Already in 1850 Weigel established the similarity between
Luther and the Evangelist—St. John was Luther’s favorite Evangelist.
Since then the opinions have been divided. Finnaly Strauss and Panofsky
expressed themselves in favor of the similarity with Luther. Erwin
Panofsky even said that Duerer wanted to use this idealized portrait in
order to get Luther to allow him to have a picture of him (Albrecht
Duerer, Princeton, New Jersey, Vol. 2, 1948, p. 66, Nr. 538).
17.    Vienna, Albertina: Johannes, 1523, Pewter handle on green based paper, white highlight, 419 x 300 mm (Winkler 859).
18. Hight 18cm, about 680 grams
Silver, Base certainly from 19th century (Katalog 225, Auction, Nr. 94,
p. 16. Estimated value: 14,000 DM, final bid: 120,000 DM). We thank the
Auction House Neumeister in Munich for the friendly loan of the photo
and for permission to print.
19.    Heinrich Kohlhaussen,
Nuernberger Goldschmidekunst des Mittelalters und der Duererzeit 1240
bis 1540, Berlin 1968, Illustration 429. First attributed by the author
to Paulus Muellner (a citizen of Nuremberg since 1500, mentioned until
1536). This was attributed thus in 1928/29 by Theodor Hampe (Der
Nuernberger Goldschmied Paulus Muellner als Meister des silbernen
Bartholomaeus von Woehrd, in: Anzeiger des Nationalmuseums, 1928f, p.
75-122). The catalog of the Nuremberg Exhibition 1300-1550–Kunst der
Gotik und Renaissance, Germanisthes National Museum Nuernberg 1986 (Nr.
52, p. 184f.) distances itself more from this without completely
rejecting this attribution.
20.    With the Masteremblem and
signatur PETR o VISH o FACIEB o as well as the date 1524, 311 x 426 mm.
We thank the National Research and Memorials of classic German
Literature in Weimar for the photo and permission to print.
21.    This bursting is
antithetically comparable to the ruinous stat of the House of David,
which—built of stone in the romanesque style–appears often as the
stall of Bethlehem in paintings of the late gothic and Renaissance
along with the birth of Christ and the adoration of the kings.
22.    The young Peter Vischer, Nuremberg 1962, p. 51.
23.    Ca. 1530 (Luther-Katalog 1983, Nr. 538).
24.    Luther-Katalog 1983, p. 399 (according to 1 Peter 1:2; Romans 1:17; Romans 3:28).
25.    Gerhard Pfeiffer, in: Nuernbert — Geschichte einer europaeischen Stadt, Munich 1971, p. 149f.
26.    Luther-Katalog 1983, Nr. 289f. and 300.
27    Josef Dettenthaler, Hans
Springinklee als Maler, in: Mitteilungen des Vereins der Stadt
Nuernberg, Vol. 63, Nuremberg 1976, p. 145 ff.
28.    Ibid., Illustration 9; also
Josef Dettenthaler, Hans Springinklee als Maler und Werkzeichener fuer
Goldschmiede, MS, 1975 (in der Bibliothek des Germanischen
Nationalmuseums Nuernberg), Illustrations 40 and 55 (cited below as
Dettenthaler, Manuskript).
29.    Dettenthaler, Hans, Springinklee als Maler, p. 171f.
30.    Josef Dettenthaler, Die
Tafelbilder des Hochaltars in Poppenreuth — ein Werk des
Duererschuelers hans Sprininklee, in Fuerther Heimatblaetter, N.F.
vol.30, 1980, Nr. 2, Illustrations p. 39.
31.    Dettehthaler, Hans,
Springinklee als Maler, Illustration 6, also Dreitafelbilder von 1519
in der Burgfarrnbacher Kirche, in: Fuerther Heimatblaetter, NF., vol
26, 1976, Nr. 3, p. 57ff, Illustrations p. 58.
32.    This is especially
recognized in the work of Hans Springinklee from 1522 on (Dettenthaler,
Hans Springinklee als Maler, p. 166ff.). It is also demonstrated by us
in Der Maler des ehemaligen Fuerther Hochaltars (Fuerther Beitraege zur
Geschichte und Heimatkunde, Heft 5, herausgegeben vom Verein fuer
Heimatforschung Alt Fuerth), Fuerth 1978, p. 28.
33.    Dettenthaler, Manuskript, Illustration 52.
We thank the Heimat- und
Geschichtsverein Alt Fuerth as wels as Mr. Dettenthaler for the
friendly permission to reprint the work from the Fuerther
Heimatblaettern which is so important to us.
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