A Friendly Panel
The subject of this article is an early sixteenth-century German heraldic stained-glass panel [Fig. 1]. As will be shown, the arms depicted on the panel are those of Abbot Johannes Merck, the reforming president, from 1518 until his death in 1524, of the Benedictine abbey of Petershausen, near Constance (south-west Germany, close to the Swiss border). The panel is now in a private collection in London and has apparently been overlooked by scholars of stained glass and monasticism. Despite this neglect, the glass is of art-historical and historical interest and can be placed within the context of German heraldic glass from this period and Abbot Merck’s patronage and revival of monastic life at Petershausen in the years immediately before the Reformation. In addition, the iconography of the panel has a close parallel in the only other early glass associated with Petershausen; this is now at the Louvre, Paris, and is decorated with the arms of Abbot Gerbhardt Dornsperger (ruled 1526–54). Evidence will be discussed regarding the function and original context of the panel, and suggestions will also be offered regarding its workshop influences.
DESCRIPTION AND RECENT PROVENANCE
The panel measures 40 by 33 cm. At the centre is a shield emblazed with a coat of arms of four quarters surmounted by a pastoral staff and mitre; two saints, one papal (dexter/left) and one episcopal (sinister/right), flank the shield. The identity of these saints and their significance to the interpretation of the panel will be discussed presently. Red glass with a foliate design is glazed above, and framing the panel is an architectural border. In the base is an inscription in italic capitals: ‘IOHANNES. M/ED. PON/TIFEX. 1542’ (perhaps, intended to refer to Giovanni Medici, Pope Leo X, whose pontificate (1513–21) coincided with Merck’s abbacy; arguing against this interpretation is the accompanying date). However, both the border and inscription are of nineteenth-century date. Other restorations are also apparent: there are several mending leads, and the mitre above the arms and the white alb of the papal saint are modern, probably nineteenth-century, replacements. The surviving early glass is generally in good condition, though the decorative detail on the copes worn by the saints is somewhat abraded, as is the face and halo of the papal saint.
The current owner purchased the panel in December 2013 from George Wigley, Monastery Stained Glass, a highly respected dealer of early glass, who at the time of purchase provided the technical analysis of the panel, identifying the later elements. Prior to this, the panel was offered for sale by Christie’s, London, on 15 December 1998, when it formed lot 66 and was described as being a sixteenth-century Flemish piece. It has not been possible to determine any further information about the recent provenance of the panel. Neither Christie’s nor Mr Wigley identified the arms.
THE ARMS OF PETERSHAUSEN ABBEY
Firm identification of the heraldry is, however, possible. The glass in the first quarter (upper dexter/left) is decorated with two keys, one set against a red background, the other on white. In the third quarter moving clockwise (lower sinister/right) are two blue fish, both against a white background. These quarters can be confidently identified as the arms used by Petershausen Abbey. The keys and fish both refer to St Peter: the keys represent those of the Kingdom of Heaven, a reference to the binding powers that, according to Catholic belief, Christ granted St Peter; the fish probably refer to the saint’s occupation as a fisherman before his calling by Christ.
Petershausen was founded in 983 by St Gebhard, bishop of Constance from 979 to 995. The episcopal saint to the right of the shield is identified as this saint by an inscription in his nimbus, which reads ‘S. GEBHARD’. Consistent with his status as founder, the saints holds a representation of the abbey church. The church at Petershausen was modelled on St Peter’s in Rome and dedicated to St Gregory the Great (pope between 590 and 604). The saint standing to the left of the panel can be identified as Gregory by the papal triple tiara and his usual attribute, the dove by his ear.
Early evidence from Petershausen shows that these saints were of importance to the self-identity of the monastery and are depicted elsewhere in its art and architecture. Petershausen was suppressed in 1802 and its church demolished in 1836. However, an engraving made shortly before this time shows that sculpted stone images of these saints flanked the late twelfth-century portal of the church. Like the stained-glass panel, St Gregory is to the left with his attribute, the dove, while St Gebhard is positioned on the right holding a depiction of a church [Fig. 2]. The sculptures are now at the Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe.
THE ARMS OF THE PATRON
By the early sixteenth century, it had become common for prelates to quarter their personal arms with those of their religious institution. This is an explanation for the heraldry in the other two quarters the second (upper sinister/right) and the fourth (lower dexter/left) – which are painted with barbed arrows with truncated shafts and feathered fleshes, set against a rich blue ground. Comparison with dated heraldry in books from the abbey allows these arms to be identified as those of Johannes Merck, who was elected abbot of Petershausen in 1518 and presided over the community until his death in 1524. The same arms are painted in an antiphoner-graduale from the abbey now in the library of Göttweig Abbey (shelfmark 221.7 and 221.8), where they are surmounted by symbols of abbatial authority, the pastoral staff and mitre, and accompanied by the date 1519.
Heraldry in other books from the abbey’s library further assists in the identification of the arms in these two quarters as those of Abbot Merck. The University of Heidelberg possesses numerous fifteenth-century printed books with ex libris inscriptions showing they were originally at Petershausen Abbey. Several are also decorated with coats of arms nearly identical to that on the panel under discussion here: the keys and fish of Petershausen quartered with arrows. Secure dating to Merck’s abbacy is provided in several instances by the date 1521 inscribed next to the arms [Fig. 3].
Like many other medieval religious houses, Petershausen had a chequered history, including periods of both religious and material vitality, punctuated by episodes of spiritual and economic malaise. Extensive building works were conducted at the abbey in the late twelfth century. Emperor Frederick II conferred the status of imperial abbey on Petershausen, thereby giving the monastery important legal and territorial privileges. The monastery accommodated the Benedictine delegation attending the Council of Constance (1414–1418) and shortly after Abbot Johann Frei (ruled 1397–1425) obtained a papal indult granting permission to use the mitre and other pontifical ornaments. It is notable that the mitre surmounts Abbot Merck’s arms both on the glass panel and in the books he obtained for his monastery. In the late fifteenth century, the abbey’s high altar was furnished with a magnificent new retable, but overall this was a period of decline for the abbey. Martin Brulin was elected abbot in 1490, his rule marking a low point in the abbey’s fortunes. Its debts were so severe that the monks could no longer be provided with adequate food, leading to their dispersal to other monasteries in 1494. Petershausen was placed in the care of the bishop of Constance and city officials, with only a single monk, Johannes Merck, remaining as administrator. In 1513, Brulin resigned the abbacy, which remained vacant until 1518, when Merck was elected to the fill the role. The abbey’s chronicle records that he was ‘the restorer of the monastery’, reduced its debts, and recalled the community.
ABBOT MERCK AS PATRON OF ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Merck was a patron of his abbey’s art and architecture. The Petershausen chronicle records that he was zealous in the renovation of the church and also improved the school and infirmary. Heraldic evidence of Merck’s patronage is still extant at Petershausen: bosses in the vault of the former cloister are decorated with angels holding shields. One supports a shield with the same coat of arms that occurs on the panel under discussion [Fig. 4], and a corbel supporting the vault is decorated with a shield sculpted with three arrows, Merck’s personal arms [Fig. 5]. The abbot died in 1524. His will states that he was buried beneath a sandstone monument before the altar of St Gebhard in the church at Petershausen. His clothes and possessions were distributed to his brethren and family members, and a bequest of 400 gilders was made to the monastery.
PANEL WITH THE ARMS OF ABBOT DORNSPERGER AT THE LOUVRE
Merck’s rule coincided with the beginnings of the Reformation, which was to have a profound impact on Petershausen. Constance sided with Protestantism in 1526, and Catholicism was only restored at the city from 1548. In 1529, Abbot Gebhart Dornsperger (ruled 1526–56), was forced to flee to Überlingen, on the north shore of Lake Constance. It was only in 1556 that the community returned to Petershausen, the buildings of which had been devastated by decades of religious conflict.
While at Überlingen, Abbot Dornsperger commissioned a stained-glass panel emblazed with his arms and images of St Gregory the Great and St Gebhart for the Rathaus (city hall) at Reichenau-Mittelzell. His patronage is recorded by the inscription in the base of the panel, ‘Gebhart. Abbt. Des. Gotzhŭs. Peterschhusen. 1540.’ (‘Gebhart, Abbot of the Petershausen Abbey, 1540’) [Fig. 6]. In iconography this panel is remarkably similar to that depicting the arms of Abbot Merck. The Dornsperger panel, and several similar panels from the Rathaus at Reichenau-Mittelzell, have been at the Louvre for some years: they were acquired by the museum in 1825 from the important collector Edmé-Antoine Durand (1768–1835).
The original context and function of the panel glazed with Abbot Merck’s arms must now be addressed. Both it, and the window with Abbot Dornsperger’s arms from the Rathaus (city hall) at Reichenau-Mittelzell, belong to a distinctive genre of glass-painting that arose in southern Germany and Switzerland in the late fifteenth century. It became the custom for monasteries, bishops, nobles and civic institutions to give each other small, stained-glass windows decorated with heraldic panels (Wappenscheiben). These usually included both the donor’s coat of arms and name. The donation was usually made at the request of the recipient, to mark the completion or refurbishment of a building project. Numerous contemporary panels with the arms of religious institutions and important clerics survive.
There is tantalizing evidence about a possible provenance for the panel with Abbot Merck’s arms. A contract dated 1536 for a heraldic panel for the drinking chamber at the Überlingen Rathaus mentions the presence there of an existing panel with the arms of the deceased Abbot Johannes of Petershausen. The possibility must at the very least be entertained that the contract refers to either the panel under discussion or very similar heraldic glass.
Can the panel with Abbot Merck’s workshop be attributed to a workshop? Early sixteenth-century Constance was indeed home to several distinguished glass-painters, including successive generations of the Stilhart family, whose workshop was active in the city from the early sixteenth century. Several Wappenscheiben have been attributed to this workshop, including a panel by Ludwig Stilhart dated 1531 decorated with the arms and name of Abbot Markus von Knöringen (ruled 1523–1540) of Reichenau Abbey, Lake Constance [Fig. 7]; the Dornsperger panel at the Louvre has also been attributed to the workshop of Caspar Stilhart. Ecclesiastical patrons from Constance also commissioned glass from Zurich glaziers: a panel now at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, is adorned with two angels and the arms of Hugo von Hohenlandenberg, bishop of Constance between 1494 to 1532 [Fig. 8]; this is the work of the prominent Zurich glazier, Lukas Zeiner (c.1479 – c.1519). Parallels can also be made between the style and overall iconography of the present panel and contemporary southern German prints, including the woodcut by Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473 1531) that occurs on the title page of a breviary for the use of Constance printed by Erhard Rathold in 1499 [Fig. 9]. However, such comparisons are merely suggestive and cannot form the basis for an attribution of the Merck panel, which thus far remains elusive. Yet this does not detract from the historical and art-historical interest – even significance – of this panel, which is tangible evidence of Abbot Merck’s patronage and a useful addition to the known corpus of Wappenscheiben.
I am most grateful to Clemens Rohfleisch of the University of Heidelberg library for the use of Fig. 3; and to Karl Wehrle of Museum Reichenau for the use of Fig. 7. Michaela Zoschg offered generous assistance with German translations.
1. For the arms of Petershausen, see Franz Quarthal (ed.), Die Benediktinerklöster in Baden-Württemberg, Germania Benedictina, 5 (Ottobeuren, 1976), p. 502. For an explanation of the presence of fish on the arms, see Thomas Moule, The Heraldry of Fish: Notices of the Principal Families bearing Fish in their Arms (London, 1842), p. 66.
2. For the history of the abbey, see Quarthal (ed.), Die Benediktinerklöster (as n. 1), pp. 484–502.
3. The portal can be dated to 1173–80 and is discussed by Paul Williamson in Gothic Sculpture, 1140-1300 (New Haven CT/London, 1995), pp. 73–74.
4. These arms are discussed in 1000 Jahre Petershausen, Beiträge aus Kunst und Geschichte der Benediktinerabtei Petershausen in Konstanz, exhibition catalogue, Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (Constance, 1984), p. 28. The arms appear to be those of the Horben family, and fragments of sixteenth-century glass emblazed with this shield are glazed in the parish church at Güttersbach (Hessen, Germany). It is not been able to establish a relationship between Merck and the Horben family.
5. Details of these books can be found in Armin Schlechter and Ludwig Reis (eds), Katalog der Inkunabeln der Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, des Instituts für Geschichte der Medizin und des Stadtarchivs Heidelberg, 1 (Heidelberg, 2009), nos. 75, 117, 254, 391, 675, 726, 1274, 1368 and 1538. Other early printed books with the Petershausen ex libris and Abbot Merck’s arms are in the library of the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen.
6. Quarthal (ed.), Die Benediktinerklöster (as n. 1), pp. 484–502.
7. For details of the abbot’s patronage, see Quarthal (ed.), Die Benediktinerklöster (as n. 1), p. 489. For Merck’s will, see Anon., ‘Das Testament des Abtes Johann Merk von Petershausen’, Bodenseechronik, 23 (1934), p. 90.
8. W. Wartmann, Les vitraux Suisses au Musée du Louvre (Paris, 1908), pp. 51–52. For the provenance of the panel, see Hans Rott, ‘Beiträge Zur Geschichte Der Oberrheinisch-Schwäbischen Glasmalerei. A) Konstanzer Glasmaler Und Glasmalerei in Der Ersten Hälfte Des 16. Jahrhunderts’, Oberrheinische Kunst, 1 (1925), pp. 21–32, at p. 29, n. 8.
9. Barbara Gieicke and Mylène Ruoss, ‘In Honor of Friendship: Function, Meaning and Iconography in Civic Stained-Glass Donations in Switzerland and Southern Germany’, in Barbara Butts and Lee Hendrix (eds), Drawing on Light: Drawings and Stained Glass in the Age of Dürer and Holbein, catalogue of exhibition J. Paul Getty Museum and The Saint Louis Art Museum, 2000–2001 (Los Angeles, 2000), pp. 43–56.
10. Hans Rott, Quellen und Forschungen zur Südwestdeutschen und Schweizerischen Kunstgeschichte im XV. und XVI. Jahrhundert. I. Bodenseegebiet (Stuttgart, 1933), p. 110, n. 6. I am indebted to Michaela Zoschg for this reference.
11. For the production of heraldic glass in early sixteenth-century Constance, see Rott, ‘Beiträge Zur Geschichte Der Oberrheinisch-Schwäbischen Glasmalerei’ (as n. 8), pp. 21–32. The attribution of the Dornsperger panel is at pp. 28–29, n. 8.
12. Paul Williamson, Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 2003), p. 52.
13. For evidence of Burgkmair as a designer of stained glass, see Butts and Hendrix (eds), Drawing on Light (as n. 9), pp. 200–201.