Monday, August 18, 2014


A hand colored woodcut of Nuremberg from The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, one of the first illustrated printed books.

Nuremberg is a city I've long wanted to see, and I finally got there and spent some time.  The city has long fascinated me as the location of 2 moments in history that shaped German identity and Europe.

Nuremberg is a relatively small city compared to Munich or Berlin.  It was never large, but it was very rich and important from about the 13th century to the middle of the 16th century.  The city long straddled a number of major trade routes going north and south out of Italy, and east west between France and central Europe.  Nuremberg had its moment in the sun as a major city of the Renaissance from about the mid 15th century to about the mid 16th century when the warfare arising out of the Reformation became too much of a threat to the city's peace and prosperity.  Humanist scholars in Nuremberg did textual criticism and editing of ancient writings inspired by the efforts of Italians like Petrarch and Lorenzo Valla.  This kind of criticism and editing would have explosive effects when scholars began applying them to Christian Scripture.
During the Renaissance, humanistic studies flourished with rediscoveries of ancient classical texts, inspired by ideas coming out of Italy along the trade routes.  For the first time in Germany, artists in Nuremberg claimed the status of intellectuals beyond the role of higher craftsmen traditionally assigned them.  Albrecht Dürer towered over the city as the first internationally famous German artist, but he was hardly the only major artist working in Nuremberg at this time.

Most of these pictures are mine taken with my trusty little digital, and are freely available.  There are a number of historical pictures which are smaller in size.

Nuremberg viewed from the castle; The city is divided into northern and southern halves by the Pegnitz River.  The Church of Sankt Sebaldus, seen in the middle ground in the center, dominates the north half.  The Church of Sankt Lorenz, seen on the left in the distance, dominates the southern half.
Nuremberg is a Protestant city in the region of Franconia, now part of Bavaria thanks to Napoleon.  Both of the city's largest and most important churches are Lutheran, and have been so since the city decided to become Lutheran in 1525.

This is an entrance to Nuremberg Castle which dominates the northern edge of the old city center.

More of Nuremberg Castle which was built on top of a sandstone bluff overlooking the city.

Nuremberg castle with 16th century fortifications.

The 16th century fortifications of Nuremberg Castle that gave Wallenstein second thoughts about trying to take the city during the Thirty Years War.

A painting from about 1901 by Friedrich Wanderer of Nuremberg artists from the Renaissance; Albrecht Dürer dominates the center of this picture as he did art in Nuremberg.  Among the other artists are Michael Wohlgemut, Dürer's teacher, Veit Stoss, Adam Kraft, and  Peter Vischer.
This painting bears witness to the long resonance of the Renaissance moment in Nuremberg.  Not only did Germany emerge as a leader in international art in Nuremberg, but German nationalism -- the idea of a German identity that transcended all the political and regional divisions of the Holy Roman Empire -- had its first stirrings in Nuremberg.  The first German parliament, the Nuremberg Imperial Diet, met in Nuremberg Castle in the 14th century.  Humanist scholars like Conrad Celtes and Wilibald Pirckheimer rediscovered the long forgotten works of the Roman historian Tacitus.  In writings such as the Annals and the Germania Tacitus describes in detail the Germans who defeated the Roman legions in the Teutoborg Forest in 9 CE.  Tacitus favorably compares the warrior culture of the ancient Germans with the urban culture of Imperial Rome.  He also describes the first German national hero, Arminius/Herman, a former soldier in the Roman Army who returned to his people to lead their resistance against Roman aggression.  Celtes in particular used the writings of Tacitus to promote the idea of a specifically German identity and character, a character that was superior to that of Rome.  These ideas had an impact on Martin Luther the great reformer, and on Ulrich Von Hutten the nationalist rebel against both Pope and Emperor.
The rise of German nationalism at the same time that artists like Albrecht Dürer created a kind of German art by adapting Italian influences and memories of the High Middle Ages to new purposes would have a lasting impact down to the 20th century.

Dürer's house viewed from Nuremberg Castle.  Not at all bad for an artist.  It's a big house, certainly by the standards of his own day, testimony to his great success and to his status as Nuremberg's most famous citizen.

This is a reconstruction of Dürer's workshop in his house.  It was probably crowded with dozens of assistants and apprentices busy making paints, brushes, and other materials for painting, and with assistants busy working a printing press like the one we see on the lower right.
Dürer was a very fine painter and even won the grudging respect of Venetian painters.  But, if Dürer had never painted a thing he would still be remembered as a great artist.  Dürer took the print, then considered the lowliest of art forms, and made it into fine art.  The newly invented printing press made Dürer internationally famous.  Prints were cheap to make and cheap to sell.  The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker could each afford an original work by Dürer.  Dürer was the first major artist to work for a mass audience.  His prints were frequently big commercial and critical successes and spread his fame across the continent.
Because prints were so inexpensive to make, Dürer was one of the few major artists of the day to make major works of art on his own initiative without a patron commissioning and financing a major project.

A reconstructed painter's easel in the Dürer house;  painting was  much more expensive to make than prints.  Before he could even start, an artist of the time would require the services of a cabinet and frame maker to make the panel.  He would require the services of an apothecary to acquire pigments, many such as blues or greens had to be imported and were very expensive.  He had to pay skilled assistants to make his brushes, his paints and chemicals, and any other materials he needed for a painting.  Even if he made those things himself, there was the expense of materials and tools to make them.

A cabinet displaying dry pigments to be mixed with water, egg yolk, or linseed oil depending on the type of painting to be produced.  There are still some artists who prefer to buy their pigments dry and to make their own paints.

Yours truly in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich with Dürer's most famous and controversial self-portrait.
If Dürer's only accomplishment was quantity of production and sales, he would probably be forgotten.
Dürer was the first great bridge between Italy and northern Europe.  He was keenly aware of developments in Renaissance Italy and made 2 trips to Venice to personally acquaint himself with them.  Far from wanting to ape Italian art, Dürer adapted Italian ideas and forms to his own purposes.  His attitude toward things Italian could be admiring, and frequently could be skeptical.  Italian ideas about the artist as a kind of inspired genius certainly played a role in Dürer's claim for himself as a kind of public intellectual instead of simply another form of higher craftsman.  And yet, in so much of his work, including this self-portrait, he could cast a very critical and skeptical eye on the whole idea of genius and its worth.
Dürer fully participated in the humanist classical studies and revivals of the day in Nuremberg.  One of his closest friends was Willibald Pirckheimer, an accomplished scholar from a wealthy and powerful mercantile family who probably financed both of Dürer's trips to Italy.  Dürer knew other major thinkers of the day like Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Ulrich von Hutten, and they sought his friendship.  Dürer's work articulates and participates in that expanding enterprise of exploring the phenomena of the world while reconciling that with millenialist expectations and an increasingly anxious and doubt-ridden religious faith.
Dürer's works, and especially his prints, would have an enduring influence on artists from Titian to Rembrandt to the 20th century German Expressionists.

Louisa in the Johannesfriedhof, the old medieval cemetery in Nuremberg that is still used.

More of the Johannesfriedhof

One of many a grisly memento mori from the Johannesfriedhof

A glimpse inside the Johanneskirche in the Johannesfriedhof

"What is mortal of Albrecht Dürer rests here," Dürer's grave in the Johannesfriedhof with the epitaph written for him by Pirckheimer

Dürer is far from the only artist to rest in the Johannesfriedhof.  This is the grave of the once famous 19th century artist Anselm Feurbach.  The philosopher Ludwig Feurbach also rests in the Johannesfriedhof.

The church of Saint Sebaldus is one of the city's oldest and largest churches.  It was first built in 1225 and then expanded dramatically in the 14th century.  It is the only one of Nuremberg's great churches to have a westwerk which you see here.  The westwerk on churches began with Charlemagne as a place for his throne and his court in the palace chapel in Aachen.  The westwerk is a kind of second apse built on the west fronts of many German medieval churches, especially those associated in any way with the Imperial court.

A view from the market square of the large 14th century choir added to Saint Sebaldus; some scholars speculate that this choir may be the work of one of the Parler dynasty of architects and master masons.  Peter Parler was the architect of Saint Vitus cathedral in Prague.

The 13th century nave of Saint Sebaldus looking toward the 14th century choir; this church was Lutheran since the 16th century and still is.  There is still an abundance of medieval church furniture and imagery in Nuremberg's Protestant churches that surprises some people.  Luther opposed iconoclasm and tried to stop it where ever it broke out.  As a result, Lutheran churches in Germany are frequently among the best preserved of medieval churches.

Inside the 13th century westwerk of Saint Sebaldus, now used as a baptistery.  The bronze baptismal font has a compartment underneath for hot coals to warm the baptismal water.

The magnificent 14th century choir of Saint Sebaldus; I've always been fond of German gothic hall churches, and this one has long been among my favorites.

Another view of the hall church choir of Saint Sebaldus; Peter Meyer is in the foreground.

The vaults of the choir of Saint Sebaldus

The Prince of this World, a 14th century sculpture from Saint Sebaldus

The back of the Prince of this World with splendidly carved corruption of worms and frogs and other loathsome critters; there are similar statues in Freiburg and Strasbourg.  In Strasbourg, he beguiles the Foolish Virgins.

The bronze shrine of Saint Sebaldus made by Peter Vischer from 1508 to 1519.  The actual shrine, the reliquary is a gilded bronze casket from the 14th century which you can see within Peter Vischer's bronze work.

Another view of the shrine; it's not at all certain that Saint Sebaldus existed.  There are a lot of legends about him.  The problem is that none of them agree on much.  They generally agree that he was a hermit saint who lived in a forest just west of Nuremberg sometime in the 11th century.  Through generations of veneration, and active promotion by the city council, Sebaldus became the patron saint of Nuremberg.

Peter Vischer's shrine is a marvelous hybrid of Gothic structure and Italian detailing.  Alas, none of my detail shots of the shrine came out very well.  There are scenes from the legends of the saint surrounded by swarms of allegorical figures, and just playful details.  My picture of Peter Vischer's prominent self portrait on the shrine did not come out.  I did manage to photograph here the large bronze snails that hold up the shrine.  Peter Meyer insists that these are resurrection symbols.

A corner of the shrine with what appears to be Hercules with a dead Lion of Nemea along with a swarm of other classical figures.

A Crucifixion group by Veit Stoss made out of polychromed and gilded wood

My excellent guide through Saint Sebaldus and my host in Nuremberg, Peter Meyer.

The Risen Christ from a splendid carved Passion cycle on the exterior of the choir of Saint Sebaldus; Peter Meyer points out that this is a work of Adam Kraft.

The Church of Saint Sebaldus is a member of the Community of the Cross of Nails.  The Bishop of Coventry personally travelled to Nuremberg to welcome Saint Sebaldus into the Community and to participate in the rededication of the restored church in an extraordinary gesture of reconciliation.

And that reminds us of something we should keep in mind when looking at a lot of German medieval churches.  Much of what we see today are rebuildings and restorations after war damage.

This what Saint Sebaldus looked like in 1945.

This is Nuremberg in 1945.  Air raids and three days of heavy fighting for possession of the city flattened the city center.  Much of the old medieval city was rebuilt and restored, but not all of it.
In the distance, you can see the heavily damaged bulk of Sankt Lorenz, the city's other great church.

The west front of Sankt Lorenz in the southern part of the old city center of Nuremberg; this large church was begun in the 14th century, but mostly built during the 15th century.  Like Saint Sebaldus, this is a Lutheran church with just about all of its original artwork inside left intact.

Exterior of the magnificent 15th century choir designed by Konrad Roriczer, the father of another dynasty of German master masons.

The elaborately carved west portal showing Salvation History; the events of the Incarnation on the bottom, the Passion in the middle, and the Last Judgment on top.

The 14th century nave looking toward the 15th century choir of Sankt Lorenz

Always a lot of smiling faces in later Gothic art, especially in Germany

Konrad Roriczer's choir in Sankt Lorenz;  this church is a treasure house of sculpture, some major masterpieces and some minor delights.

Another view of the choir showing the altar, Adam Kraft's Sacrament House, and Veit Stoss' hanging Annunciation with the Rosary.

A view of the choir vaults with elaborate tracery designed by Jakob Grimm.

Another view of Jakob Grimm's elaborate tracery in the vaults

A lone carved figure in the ceiling vaults

Viet Stoss' Annunciation with the Rosary framing the whole scene

The Angel Gabriel from Veit Stoss' Annunciation made from polychromed and gilded wood

Mary from Veit Stoss' Annunciation; Peter Meyer points out that the part of her mantle held up by the small angel on the right looks like an ear, and that is deliberate.  The Word she hears with her ear will become flesh through her.

Carved saints who appear to be talking around the corner

A wooden monkey from the choir stalls in Sankt Lorenz

Christ crucified on the Tree of Life from the rood beam in Sankt Lorenz

The amazing Sacrament House carved and built by Adam Kraft;  it's so tall that the top of the spire bends with the arch of the choir.  The whole structure is 61 feet tall.

A detail of Adam Kraft's Sacrament House

The tangled late Gothic tracery with lively figures throughout the Sacrament House is hypnotic

A vivid and dramatic Last Supper among many episodes of the Passion among the tracery of the Sacrament House

A close up of the Last Supper scene; clearly Dürer was not alone in making very dramatic and imaginative Passion narratives in Nuremberg.  Kraft was an older contemporary of Dürer, and must have been a big influence on him.

A violent Flagellation scene in the tracery of the Sacrament House

Toward the top of the Sacrament House with the Crucifixion

Adam Kraft's bold self portrait as one of  three figures representing the Three Ages holding up the Sacrament House.  He's the only painted figure on the whole project.  He proudly holds a mallet and chisel, and is in the front where no one could possibly miss him.  He asserts the pride of a member of the rapidly rising class of artists in Nuremberg.  Peter Meyer points out that it is also a gesture of humility since he kneels and holds the whole Sacrament House on his back.

The figure of Youth holding up the Sacrament House

Old Age holds up the other side of the Sacrament House; very daringly, Adam Kraft shows him as blind, usually very bad juju for artists.

An early 17th century tomb portrait from Sankt Lorenz

Peter Meyer and Louisa in Sankt Lorenz


Dark Nuremberg

A postcard from the 1930s of the Nazi parade grounds in Nuremberg;  much of what appears on this card was left unbuilt or unfinished at the beginning of the Second World War.  The Märzfeld and the Deutsche Stadion were never built.

The Nazis knew symbolism and how to exploit it.  Nuremberg was the birthplace of German nationalism in the Renaissance, and for that reason they chose it as the location for the annual party rallies that took place every September.
Peter Meyer says that Nuremberg was not a sympathetic city for the Nazis, that it was a Communist city throughout the 1920s and that the Communists won big in Nuremberg in the 1932 elections.  But, since Nuremberg was a small city, it hardly made a dent in the Nazi sweep that year.

Nuremberg may not have been a Nazi friendly city, but that hardly mattered when every September hundreds of thousands of people descended on the city for the September Reichsparteitag.  Party members, members of Nazi youth organizations, and the military were required to attend.  Thousands of others were enticed to attend with free rail passes, free accommodations in barracks and hostels, and especially free meals that could be lavish; a big enticement in Depression era Germany.  People in the countryside and small villages who were usually the Nazi's most faithful supporters travelled in droves to Nuremberg.  For many of them, this was the first time that they had ever travelled.  Rail transport, radio, and telephones made rallies of a million or more people possible in the modern era.
For the party faithful, these rallies were the equivalent of rock concerts and raves.  For others, they were a scout jamboree in hell.  Huge tent cities of Nazi youth and the military surrounded the city every September for the rally.  Part of the enormous SS barracks in Nuremberg still stands.  It functions now as temporary housing for immigrants.

The Nazi government spent lavishly on these events and other pageantry, almost bankrupting the treasury.  The otherwise chaotic Nazi government with its duplicated and competing departments held itself together through charisma, and especially Hitler's charisma.  It remains an amazing sight to watch on film as Hitler holds in thrall thousands upon thousands of people assembled in these once vast places.

The gigantic remains of the unfinished Kongresshalle, looking like a giant version of the Roman Colosseum.

Inside the ruins of the unfinished Kongresshalle with Peter Meyer standing next to his car to give scale

A close up of the ruins of the Kongresshalle interior made of repeatedly fired brick that is so hard, the huge building would have to be dynamited with multiple charges if it was to be torn down.

Albert Speer's model of the proposed interior of the never-finished Kongresshalle

The Grossestrasse, an immense boulevard for parades made out of granite paving stones quarried by forced labor intended to link all the various parade grounds; if you look at a Google Earth view of Nuremberg, this is most prominent landmark in the city, bigger and brighter than the runways in the local airport.  The American Occupation force did indeed use this as a runway after the War.
This huge boulevard was oriented straight toward Nuremberg Castle which was once visible at the north end of the Grossestrasse.  The trees planted on the site of the Luitpold Arena where the SS held its rallies now block that view.  Remember that the first German parliament met at Nuremberg Castle in the 14th century.  As I said, the Nazis knew symbolism and how to exploit it.

Peter Meyer practices his goose-step while providing a sense of scale to the Grossestrasse.  All this over-sized grandeur was aimed at the average rally attendee.  As one of my old professors used to say about these Nazi architectural spectacles, the message was "You may be a tiny little mite in the mighty workings of History, but all this grandeur is for you."

The most famous of the Nazi ruins at Nuremberg, the tribune of the Zeppelin Field

The tribune of the Zeppelin Field shortly after its completion; the Americans blew up the giant swastika over the center soon after they captured Nuremberg in 1945.  The local authorities tore down the colonnades as a safety hazard in 1967.

The crumbling remains of the tribune covered in weeds with signs telling visitors to climb it at their own risk

A view toward one end of the tribune

A photo by Hugo Jaeger, Hitler's official photographer, of that same end of the tribune during a rally;  the 2 flaming cauldrons at each end survive.  One is in the Documentation Center that serves as a museum for the parade grounds.  The other is a planter at a public pool.

Teenagers standing on the rostrum where Hitler reviewed the parades and rallies

Hitler standing in that very place in this old photo

A rally at the Zepplin Field

Remains of the bleechers and flag stands at the Zepplin Field; some of these buildings held small power plants for the searchlights used to such spectacular effect in the night rallies.

A führer's eye view of the Zepplin field today with its weed overgrown bleechers and grassy expanse; the local soccer stadium is off to the left.

The same view with Hitler addressing the party faithful

The same view with Hitler addressing a night rally

The Lichtdom, the "Cathedral of Light" spectacle created by searchlights at the Zepplin field

The Zepplinfield tribune at a nighttime rally

The tribune today

The door where Hitler would make his dramatic appearances;  The steps down to the rostrum are shallow while the steps up to the rostrum are quite steep, a deliberate bit of theater in which Hitler would disappear briefly from the view of the crowd and then rise up dramatically behind the speaker's rostrum.

The doors again;  the inside of the tribune is closed to the public, though much of its lavish mosaic ornamentation survives.

Mere quotidian me standing where a would-be messiah presumed to judge the earth

A peace symbol scrawled on the tribune

A detail of the door

American soldiers on the tribune soon after Nuremberg surrendered on April 20, 1945, Hitler's birthday.

The site of the Nuremberg Trials, a small annex wing of the vast Palace of Justice in Nuremberg;  the ground floor contains a small exhibition room.  The large windows on the top floor mark the courtroom where the trial took place.  The room is still a functioning courtroom and is usually inaccessible to visitors.
The Allies chose this building because it was undamaged, and because it had a secure corridor between the courtroom and the jail.  The symbolism of the place was an added bonus.

The defendants at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945 - 1946

The locals in Nuremberg don't know what to do with the parade ground ruins.  The ruins are simply too haunted to recycle.  Attempts to turn the Kongresshalle into a shopping area and the Zepplin field into a race track ended in failure.  The parade ground ruins are the city's biggest tourist draw and important historical evidence, so there's not much enthusiasm for tearing them down.  On the other hand, people are ashamed of these things.  There's no desire to restore any of these places.  The city repairs the Zepplin field tribune only enough to prevent injuring visitors, but otherwise they are content to let it slowly crumble away.


Hitler does the Lambeth Walk in Nuremberg;  I first saw this at the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück.  More about him later.
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Lapinbizarre said...

Stoss's Angelic Salutation is one of my absolute favorite works of art. Thank you.

Counterlight said...

It was indeed a glorious sight and a pleasure to view in person.

Tristan Alexander said...

The picture above the caption "A corner of the shrine with what appears to be Hercules with a dead Lion of Nemea along with a swarm of other classical figures." sure looks like a masturbating Hercules to me, LOL. I was very impressed when they had Durer originals and prints on display at the National Gallery in Washington a few years back. The detail in such small pictures was amazing. Far better and different than seeing the pictures of them in books. You are very lucky to get to go and see all this.

Counterlight said...

Hercules does look like he's jerking off there. I'm guessing he's holding a club, but I wouldn't put it past Peter Vischer to slip in a double entendre.

Yes I was lucky, and especially lucky to have friends like Peter Meyer and Louisa there to stay with and show me around town. Best way to see a new city.

PB said...

Thanks, Doug. I wonder if the figure "Hercules" might be Samson finding honey in the lion?

Kirk H. said...

Thank you, Doug--fascinating. I was particularly interested in the photos of the loci of Hitler's speeches: when I was a child, we used to listen to those speeches, with horror and nervousness, on the radio. Not understanding the words, but just reacting to the horrifying emotions being transmitted.