Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Uta of Naumburg

There are two sculptures in two German cathedrals that are considered as being very Teutonic: the Bamberg Horseman and Uta of Naumburg. In my reader in primary school their two pictures were shown together and regarded as the epitome of the German man and the German woman.


After the war Bamberg was situated in the West whereas Naumburg was in the East. The two pieces of sculpture were separated and became one of the many reminders that Germans were divided politically but not in their hearts.

With Germany's reunification in 1990 the Rider and Uta were united again. I last visited Uta, regarded as one of most important works of German Gothic art, in 2003. On that occasion I read a text written in 1928 by Gertrud Bäumer, a well-known German feminist and not considered to display an excessive Germanness: Uta derives from a relationship with the German woods, with long hard winters full of loneliness and horror in the dark, long waiting and longing, spring tempest over melting snow, hard and harsh but soaked with inner balminess. Well, don't worry, the German text is as incomprehensible as my English translation.


The other day I read in the German weekly Die Zeit about an exhibition called The Naumburg Master - Sculptor and Architect in the Europe of Cathedrals. The article showing Uta's picture was headed Très Deutsch and indeed I expected the old story that this woman is very German. The French très should however have warned me for the article revealed the crushing news that the creator of this German Gothic masterpiece possibly was French!

The full story I found on the Naumburg Exhibition web site: The sculptors and stonemasons associated with the name “Naumburg Master“ had an outstanding reputation throughout medieval Europe. From the 1220s on, German masters trained in the sculpture workshops of the Northern French cathedrals situated in Île de France, Champagne and Picardie. Their journey to Germany took them across the borders of the French kingdom via Mainz to Naumburg and Meissen. Their legacy is a body of work which is of outstanding quality and of worldwide importance. The sculptures of the west rood screen in Mainz Cathedral, the relief depicting the sharing of St. Martin’s coat in Bassenheim, the tomb slab of the Ritter von Hagen in Merseburg Cathedral, the statues in the choir and the octagon chapel of Meissen Cathedral and above all the unique west choir of Naumburg Cathedral with the Passion reliefs of the rood screen and the statues of the founders (Uta!) are impressive examples of the outstanding quality of workmanship from these medieval masters.

When looking at the Strasburg cathedral Goethe once admired the Gothic style as native German but he was badly mistaken. The Gothic architecture was actually born in France; it splashed over the Rhine River and subsequently spread over the rest of Europe. In the beginning German stonemasons educated in the Romanesque style tried to imitate the new French style. The result can still be seen when looking at Freiburg's Münster church. Not until they called in the masters from the other side of the Rhine did the construction of the windows get the lightness of style so admired at the Reims cathedral.

The stonemasons at Freiburg's Münster worked from right to left starting with heavy German Gothic for their windows.
When the French specialists took over the tracery in their windows became much finer.
That Gothic means France is emphasized in the continued text on the exhibition's web site: During the first half of the 13th century, Reims cathedral, which hosted the coronation of many French kings, became increasingly the focus of German building work, until it was eclipsed, in the middle of the century, by architectural activities in generating the metropolis of Paris. The adoption of designs and sculptural ideas from France was certainly not only due to a general fascination with the French cathedral creation, which eclipsed all previous architecture, but also to the high esteem in which the sacrally distinguished French royalty was held.

So eventually it's European. The Naumburg Exhibition in fact is under the joined patronage of our Chancellor and France's President.

©Wikipedia/Berthold Wener
What about the Bamberg Horseman? I am sure that next year some experts will come up with the story that the guy and his horse were sculptured by an Italian.

1 comment:

  1. Informative, engaging and very well written. Regards, Bulent

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