The Donor Figures of the Naumburg Cathedral

This is why they made Naumburg Cathedral world famous

By State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Uta von Naumburg and Ekkehard II. (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

They are twelve life-size sculptures created by the Naumburg Master up to the year 1249. Despite their individual character, they are not individual statues. Rather, they are an integral part of the architecture and were installed immediately with the construction of the west choir. Since the figures are each part of a larger block of stone that extends behind them, they can be formally addressed as reliefs.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Uta von Naumburg and Ekkehard II. (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The background of the figures and their concrete function in the west choir has been controversially discussed in research for more than 150 years. The starting point is their veneration as primi fundatores - as the first donors of the Naumburg Episcopal Church - as is clearly evident from a document of the year 1249. The real models of the founder figures thus lived two centuries before the Naumburg Master. The sculptor attached great importance to an individualized appearance of the individual figures, which was unusual for that time, so that they have a portrait-like character, but are not portraits.

This impression was further reinforced by a high-quality color scheme, remnants of which are still preserved today. In addition, there is a great abundance of historically documented contemporary details in the furnishings of the depicted persons. Clothing, weapons, hairstyle and headdress, even the smallest applications can be traced in the fashion of the 13th century. The Naumburg cycle of donors is thus at the same time a unique reflection of the courtly culture of the time, and its creator must have had intimate knowledge of the life of the high nobility.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Count Dietmar (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The figures represent important nobles who determined the political fate of Saxony and Thuringia as counts and margraves in the 11th century. Not all of the figures can be identified without doubt with a specific person. The shield inscriptions of the men provide important clues for interpretation.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Count Dietmar (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Thus, on the left side of the polygon appears a Count Dietmar, whose inscription further reveals that he was 'occisus', that is, killed.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Count Syzzo (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

To the right of him is Count Syzzo. It is the only bearded man, which could refer to an older age. In addition, he holds up his sword with the scabbard in a conspicuous manner and his open mouth refers to an act of speech. Perhaps these features indicate a judicial function.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Wilhelm von Caburg (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

As in the case of Syzzo or William of Camburg, standing to his right, the inscriptions only mention that they are donors (donator, fundator).

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Thimo von Kistritz (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

In the case of Thimo of Kistritz, standing to the right of Count Wilhelm, we learn more about his foundation. On his shield we can read that he donated to the church septem villas, i.e. seven villages with all accessories.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Countess Berchta (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The four women in the cycle are more difficult to interpret. The single female figure on the right side in the quadrum appears in a widow's veil and with an open book in her hands. Her open mouth also indicates that she is reading or even singing. She is identified as either Countess Gerburg or Gepa.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Countess Gerburg/Gepa (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Corresponding with her is the female figure on the other side of the square, generally addressed as Countess Berchta. She presents herself as a high noble lady in courtly attire and crown circlet.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Count Konrad (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Count Konrad standing next to it, like the figure opposite, is not part of the architecture, but fixed by means of iron hooks. So it happened that the figure fell down at an unspecified time and for a long time was housed in an adjoining room. The current head is an addition from 1941.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Ekkehard II. (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The most important donor personalities face each other in pairs. They belong to the family of the Ekkehardins, who in the early 11th century as Margraves of Meissen were the most powerful noble family on the eastern periphery of the empire. Margrave Ekkehard I could even dream of reaching for the imperial crown, but this was prevented by his assassination in 1002.

It was his two sons, Hermann and Ekkehard II, who took over his inheritance in the margraviate and laid the foundation for the later city of Naumburg with the construction of Nuwenburch on the eastern bank of the Saale - on the site of today's Higher Regional Court. During their reign, they also succeeded in relocating the bishop of Zeitz here, which made it necessary to build the first cathedral, which was made possible to a large extent by donations from the family.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Margrave Hermann (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

On the south side, Margrave Hermann, the elder of the two brothers, stands next to his wife Reglindis. The margrave appears bareheaded with curly hair, clasping his sword and shield tightly with his left hand. His gaze, radiating piety, seems to be directed at the altar below him.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Reglindis (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

His wife next to him, on the other hand, openly displays her joie de vivre. As the daughter of the first Polish king Bolesław Chobry, Reglindis has the most distinguished role among the female donors. She wears a richly decorated crown ring, under which individual strands of her hair stand out.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Reglindis (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Her figure represents the rare case of a sculpture with a powerful laughing human face being created in a prominent place in a high medieval church. Whether her smile is to be understood as an inner certainty about the attainment of eternal life or as a symbol of her presumed youth can no longer be clarified.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Ekkehard II. (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

On the north side of the choir, opposite Reglindis, stands Margrave Ekkehard II, Hermann's younger brother and successor in the dignity of margrave. With his death in 1046 the family of the Ekkehardins died out in the male line. The importance of the dynasty is revealed by the fact that Emperor Henry III personally attended his funeral ceremonies in Naumburg. In contrast to the devout piety of his brother, the figure of Ekkehard radiates lordly authority and wealth. Like his brother, he too seems to be gazing at what is happening at the altar.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Uta von Naumburg (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Next to him stands the best-known founder figure, who achieved world fame as "Uta von Naumburg". Yet she is one of those founder personalities about whose biography we know the least. She lived at the turn of the 10th and 11th century, was the daughter of a count from the Harz region and was married to Ekkehard II. The year of her death is unknown, as are other details of her life. Her fame is due solely to her figurative appearance and goes hand in hand with the rediscovery and idealization of medieval architectural and artistic monuments in the 19th century.

Founder figures in the Naumburg Cathedral, Uta von Naumburg (between 1245 and 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

As a "German icon," Uta became the ideal figure of the medieval woman and ultimately of the German woman par excellence. The new medium of photography, via countless picture books and postcards, led to an unprecedented popularity of Uta, who found her way into schoolbooks and girls' rooms. In the middle of the 20th century, Uta advanced to become one of the most popular German girls' names. The peak of this development took place during the National Socialist era, when Uta was deliberately instrumentalized by those in power.

In response, Walt Disney used the image of Uta as the model for the evil stepmother in his famous fairy tale film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" from 1937. Meanwhile, the cult of Uta von Naumburg remained unbroken. One of her greatest admirers in the recent past was the writer Umberto Eco. In his "History of Beauty," he gave Uta precedence over all other female figures in European art history.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps