Important thirteenth-century stained glass is part of a new exhibition of medieval art in Naumburg, an ancient city in Saxony-Anhalt, 60km south-west of Leipzig (Germany). The exhibition is being held at several venues in the city including the cathedral and museum. It closes on 2 November.
Entitled Der Naumburger Meister (The Naumburg Master), the exhibition focuses on the output of an anonymous sculptor/architect who created a number of stunning works of art in the first half of the thirteenth century. His work can be seen at Noyon and Mainz cathedrals and includes 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 its Passion reliefs on the rood screen and life-like statues of benefactors to the church, including the founders of the Cathedral, the Margrave Ekkehard II, and his wife, Uta [Fig. 6].
Completed around 1250 the Naumberg scheme is particularly important for stained glass historians as the glazing of the five windows in the apse was conceived as part of an overall scheme for the choir which also included wall paintings [Fig. 7]. One of the major pluses of the exhibition is that it gives these glorious windows the recognition they deserve. Unlike the northern gothic influences which permeate the architecture and sculptures of the choir, the glass was painted in the so-called ‘Zackenstil’ or ‘jagged style’, which had its origins in Byzantine motifs and spread to northern and central Germany from the Rhineland. The two outer windows show individual figures of saints, while the inner three depict apostles overcoming enemies of the church and personifications of virtues triumphing over vices.
St Matthew is shown trampling King Hirtacus and St Thomas standing over King Mesdeus. St Matthew was believed to have converted the Ethopians. He was martyred by King Hirtacus after the saint said that it would be unlawful for him to marry a woman he wanted, Ephigenia, as she was already ‘married’ to Christ. St Thomas was said to have been ‘speared’ to death on the orders of the Indian king, Mesdeus.
Although neither story appears in the bible, they were popularised by apocryphal accounts such as the Historia Certaminis Apostolici written around 960 and wrongly attributed to Abdias, the first bishop of Babylon. Known to scholars as the Psuedo-Abdias, the manuscript purported to be an account of the lives of Christ’s apostles following the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. The stories also found their way into the Golden Legend, a compendium of saints’ lives compiled c. 1260 which became an international best-seller during the Middle Ages.
Ideas about virtue and vice were widespread in the medieval church. The vices had been listed by Pope Gregory the Great (d. 609) as behaviour which led to evil actions. While the list of virtues had a separate origin the fact that it also enumerated abstract qualities meant that the two subjects were often depicted in direct opposition.
The exhibition also compares the Naumburg stained glass to a selection of examples of stained glass elsewhere and to illuminated manuscripts of the period.
A full account of the glazing scheme, written by Guido Siebert, appears in the exhibition catalogue. A free English-language PDF guide to the exhibition is available under SERVICE (sub-menu: Information Material) at the official website.
The exhibition is organized by the city of Naumburg in cooperation with the United Chapters Foundations of the Cathedrals of Merseburg and Naumburg and the collegiate Chapter of Zeitz and held under the generous auspices of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Angela Merkel, and the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy.
For more information, opening details of opening times and admission charges visit the website.
English translations are available.
We are extremely grateful to Guido Siebert for his help with this item.