Thursday, August 11, 2016


I took a day trip to Lübeck with Bill Paulsen and Chrystal Tsang while I was staying in Hamburg.  The visit was very brief, only an afternoon.  But, I saw what I wanted to see there.

All of these are my photographs except where noted otherwise. My photos are freely available especially to educators.

I saw from a cab the most famous of all of Lübeck's landmarks, the Holstentor, an old city gate.

Here is an early color photograph of the Holstentor from about 1905 from Wikimedia.
This is the side of the gate that faces the town.  Beyond in this photo is a bridge over the Trave River and beyond that is the railroad station.

A photo of the Marienkirche from about 1890 from here.

The main thing I went to see was the Marienkirche, a major masterpiece of brick architecture in a coastal plain region where stone suitable for quarrying is in very short supply, but clay is abundant.  It was built over a period of a century from about 1250 to 1350.  It is not and never was a cathedral church.  It was always the church of the mercantile oligarchy that ruled this premier city of the Hanseatic League.  Its size and magnificence glorified God and also proclaimed the power and success of the mercantile dynasties who used the church as a place of worship and a burial place for centuries.
The size and ambition of the church, consciously modeled on French Gothic cathedrals of the time, was intended to be a challenge and a declaration of independence by the mercantile oligarchy from the local bishop.  The Marienkirche originally dwarfed Lübeck's old Romanesque cathedral across town.  The builders located the Marienkirche deliberately next to the market square and near the town hall, a declaration of the primacy of local authority over the claims of foreign bishops.

The apse with flying buttresses

The interior as restored after World War II to something like its original 14th century state.  This restoration, like all the reconstructions of German medieval churches badly damaged in the War, is controversial.

The vaults in the nave are tallest brick vaults in the world at 126 feet and among the highest of any Gothic church.

A closeup of the nave vaults with the restored medieval painted decoration

Saint Christopher in the nave

The north aisle looking east

The north aisle looking west

The apse of the church. The Marienkirche is a Lutheran church and has been so since Lübeck joined the Reformation in 1531.

The vaults of the apse

The post War bronze altar with a creepy robot Jesus emerging out of the altar table.  I'm not that fond of it, and I wonder how celebrating pastors say Eucharistic liturgy with that bronze robot coming out of the table.

The organ of the Marienkirche, the post War replacement of Buxtehude's organ.
Dietrich Buxtehude was for many years the organist of the Marienkirche and made it famous for its music.
In 1705, the very young Johann Sebastian Bach walked all the way from Amstadt to Lübeck, a distance of 250 miles, just to hear Buxtehude perform and to learn from him.

Here is a preWar photograph of Buxtehude's original organ in the Marienkirche, and a glimpse of how much the War and postwar restoration have altered the church.  Photo from Wikipedia.

In the base of the north tower are some of the original bells that came crashing down when the great church burned during the air raid of 1942.

In that same room with the fallen bells is a Nail Cross chapel.  The Marienkirche like many war damaged German churches, is in fellowship with Coventry Cathedral in England through the Community of the Cross of Nails.

An aerial photograph of Lübeck burning in March of 1942 with the Marienkirche in the center.
Photo from here.

The RAF bombed Lübeck on March 28 - 29, 1942 in the first major saturation bombing of a German city, and a civilian target.    Lübeck was a port city, but was primarily considered a cultural city of little strategic military value.  The raid dropped incendiary bombs creating a firestorm that destroyed most of the city center and badly damaged three of the city's historic churches including the Marienkirche.

Another photo of the burning Marienkirche from here.

Here are the bells of the Marienkirche once again ringing out.  Lübeck's church bells are famous for their very low and deep tone.

Among the casualties of the War and of restoration is the Marienkirche's Baroque Fredenhagen altarpiece, a very rare Protestant Baroque altar made by the Antwerp sculptor Thomas Quellinus in 1697.  Quellinus apparently was a Catholic sculptor who worked for Protestant clients in northern Germany and Denmark for much of his life.  The post War restorers made the still very controversial decision not to rebuild or restore the altarpiece.  Its remains are now on display in the ambulatory behind the apse.

A 1906 photo of the intact Fredenhagen Altarpiece (named after Thomas Fredenhagen, a wealthy Lübeck merchant who paid for its construction) from Wikipedia.

One of the few surviving memorial epitaphs for the mercantile dynasts of Lübeck.

Great Death figure from that same epitaph.

The chapel with the Antwerp Altarpiece

The Antwerp Altarpiece made in Antwerp in 1518 and donated to the church in 1522.

My favorite works of art in the Marienkirche are a series of stone reliefs in the ambulatory of the Passion of Christ by an artist I know nothing about, Heinrich Brabender, and his shop from 1515.
It has everything that I've come to value in German Renaissance art, especially a very imaginative sense of drama and emotion.


Gerrit sends us a link to Dutch language Wikipedia that has a little more information on Heinrich Brabender.  It turns out that he was a native of Münster in Germany though his father probably was Dutch (Brabender/ Brabant).  Though little is known about Brabender, he apparently was a successful artist in Münster, his career complicated by the stresses of the Reformation, especially after 1531 when the Reformation arrived in Münster.  He fled or was driven out of Münster by the Anabaptist Uprising.  Brabender returned to a devastated city finding much of his work there damaged or destroyed.  He died in 1537.
These panels in the Marienkirche in Lübeck may well be his most significant and complete surviving works.  According to the very bad and unclear Google translation of the Dutch Wikipedia article, much of the rest of his surviving work is fragments of destroyed projects or tomb slab and epitaph carvings.

The Last Supper

Detail from Brabender's Last Supper;  I believe the figure on the lower right is Judas.  The had that may have held a money bag is damaged, but the knife on his plate points at Christ, usually a give away that he's the culprit.

The Brabender Last Supper, detail; a great Beloved Apostle who covers his mouth with his hand as though he is becoming sick with shock and emotion.

Great feet under the table of the Last Supper by Brabender.

The Washing of the Feet by Brabender.  The artist makes a compositional parallel to The Last Supper, but moves Christ out of the center, and significantly makes him the lowest figure.

The Garden of Gethsemane by Brabender.

A great detail of Christ trying to wake up Peter

An audibly snoring John

The Arrest of Christ by Brabender

Peter cutting off the ear of the High Priest's servant.

This very strange episode where people literally "fall back" after Christ identifies Himself.  I know of only one other depiction of this episode from the Tres Riches Heures by the Limbourg Brothers.

And there's this strange episode of what looks like two women running.

The mob and the cops in the background coming to get Christ.

A great agonized Christ in the Garden

Interesting to compare Thomas Quellinus' surviving Last Supper for the Fredenhagen Altarpiece with the Last Supper by Brabender.  Quellinus is still in that old northern European narrative tradition, but with the compositional concentration and the internal unity and harmony of Classical art, plus the energy and rhetorical gestures of Baroque art.

Thomas Quellinus' Judas looking particularly guilty

Another lost work of art once hung on the walls of this chapel and was lost forever in the 1942 air raid, a Dance of Death painting cycle from the 15th century.

All that survives are old black and white photos installed where the originals once hung.

Here is a late 19th century photograph of the chapel with the intact paintings from here.

A corridor behind the Marienkirche that leads to the next thing in Lübeck that I really wanted to see.

This is the so-called Buddenbrooks House right next to the Marienkirche in Lübeck.  It was the ancestral family home of Thomas and Heinrich Mann, descended from a Hanseatic mercantile dynasty.  Supposedly, this house was the model for the mansion Thomas Mann described so vividly in his novel Buddenbrooks.  The house proved to be a big disappointment.  All that survived of the mansion from the 1942 air raid was the facade that you see here.  The house was otherwise obliterated.  Behind the facade is a small exhibition facility with a couple of rooms created to "evoke" Buddenbrooks; a few period antiques in a couple of poorly painted rooms that do not bear closer inspection.
Even so, I was a big fan of Thomas Mann's novels when I was in my 20s, and Buddenbrooks was definitely a favorite.  My love of that novel and of Thomas Mann's writing was my main reason for traveling to Lübeck in the first place.  My only regret is that I did not spend more time looking around this great city.

Thomas Mann

A street in Lübeck with the Jacobikirche spire.

We had lunch in this historic building, the Schiffergeselschaft which is now a restaurant.

This was the building that once house the old shipping guild, and remarkably, survived the War intact.

Here is the interior with its original furnishings.  We were waited upon here by a very pleasant young man from Kazakhstan.  The food was very good, and yes, I would recommend it.
The Schiffergeselschaft is mentioned in Buddenbrooks, and is exactly as the novel describes it.

1 comment:

JCF said...

This is great, Doug.

I think I'd need to get a better view of "Robot Jesus", before I'm sure how I feel about it.

"War, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nuthin'!"