The authors of ‘Ut pictura politeia oder der gemalte Fürstenstaat’make another important contribution to the growing body of literature concerning Landgrave Moritz ‘the Learned’ of Hesse-Kassel (1572-1632) as they use a compelling artistic commission by the prince to delve into one of this complicated character’s most visionary endeavors: the creation of a harmonious, intellectualized, and virtue-based society under princely rule. The commission was a comprehensive decorative program arranged by Moritz himself and executed by his court painter, Christoph Jobst (1557-1630), between 1598 and 1604 in the Landgrave’s castle at Eschwege. In addition to a commentated edition of the rare primary text upon which the study depends, the volume contains essays by Heiner Borggrefe and Thomas Fusenig and useful person, subject, and iconographic indices. A number of objectives are achieved with the book, not the least of which is its convincing demonstration of how Landgrave Moritz, the most powerful and in more than one way ‘iconoclastic’ Calvinist regent in early seventeenth-century Germany, utilized images to communicate the most fundamental precepts of his ambitious sociopolitical plan.
Until recently, a detailed assessment of Moritz’s Eschwege commission would have been unthinkable, since the program itself does not survive. But in their preparations for the 1997 ‘Moritz der Gelehrte – Ein Renaissancefürst in Europa’ exhibition, scholars from the Weserrenaissance Museum Schloss Brake in Lemgo came upon a previously unknown German text in the Herzog August Bibliothek which makes this insightful investigation possible. The almost 200-page book, Historische Beschreibung Der Policey-Tugende christliche Obrigkeit und Underthanen . . . (Schmalkalden: Wolfgang Ketzel, 1625) by Hermann Fabronius (1570-1634), a leading Calvinist theologian in Moritz’s territory, deals exclusively with the elaborate iconographic program that Moritz had sponsored at Eschwege less than thirty years earlier.
Fabronius’s text allows for the virtual reconstruction of the Eschwege program. In apparent congruence with his subject, Fabronius systematically organizes his book and the contents of its different sections and subsections according to the methods of Petrus Ramus (1515-72). One room at a time, he first localizes, identifies, and describes the ceiling’s central allegorical figure or figures, which represent either the ‘four estates’ of Moritz’s ideal Fürstenstaat and one of the fourteen virtues that would be the foundations of this society. Within each exposition, the theologian treats various attributes, motifs, settings, or narrative scenes that have been brought into association with the particular allegorical figure as well as the heraldic device which appeared above the room’s entrance and determined the interior’s coloration. Transcriptions and German translations of the Latin inscriptions that Moritz’s childhood teacher, Tobias von Homberg (d. 1611), added to the principal ceiling compositions in 1604 are also included. Fabronius follows each iconographic description with a “Narrative and Report” that explains and to varying degrees further develops the concepts to which the ceiling alludes. Typically, the discussion includes a paraphrase of or quotation from the classical or biblical source for a figure, motif, or narrative and a variety of additional literary references that illustrate, interpret, or otherwise speak to the estate or virtue in question. The author’s own elaboration of the different rooms’ meanings, their relevance to one another, and their significance to the project’s broader agenda are of immense interest. Fabronius concludes his treatment of each room with an epigram written in both Latin and German.
Heiner Borggrefe and Thomas Fusenig’s contributions allow for a much fuller appreciation of the Eschwege program, Moritz’s hopes for the restructuring of society, and Hermann Fabronius’s text. In the volume’s opening essay, Borggrefe relates the Eschwege project to the particular political, confessional, philosophical, and intellectual spheres within which Landgrave Moritz operated and developed his ideas about social modernization. As is made evident by Fabronius’s 1625 text, the same blend of contemporary influences, including Calvinist rationalism, anti-imperialism, Rosicrucianism, Ramism, and pastoral utopianism, logically shaped the content of the socioethic blueprint of the future Fürstenstaat that Moritz had painted on the ceilings of the Eschwege Castle. Borggrefe also discusses how many themes and topoi found in Renaissance painting were ‘variable elements’ within a practical symbolic system. He singles out a small array of major and minor motifs in the Eschwege program and explains their sometimes unconventional significance in light of the project’s underlying concepts and peculiar cultural milieu. Certain themes found on the Eschwege Castle ceilings as well as in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Dutch art, particularly Old Testament figures like Abraham and King David, are presented as part of an emerging iconographic tradition within the international Calvinist movement.
The first half of Fusenig’s essay provides additional information on the history of Eschwege and its castle, the progress and known logistical details of Moritz’s commission, Christoph Jobst and his likely artistic influences, Hermann Fabronius and his relationship with the Landgrave, and the literary traditions to which Fabronius’s 1625 publication might be compared. The models upon which works of art produced for or collected by the Kassel court around 1600 – Fusenig lays emphasis on pattern books, emblem books, and Dutch prints – are discussed as presumed sources for the Eschwege compositions or their motifs. Parallel to Fabronius’s organization of the material, the author recreates as best one can a thematically arranged, room-by-room tour of the ceilings on which Moritz’s grand social design took symbolic form. The iconographic content and general arrangement of each ceiling is reviewed, diagrammed, and discussed in terms of Fabronius’s assessment, other related textual sources, and pertinent images taken mostly from contemporary Dutch art and Moritz’s court. Before introducing full transcriptions of key archival material regarding the commission, Fusenig recounts Moritz’s rather different, if not outright dour, religio-political circumstances during the mid-1620s. Fabronius’s 1625 vernacular publication about the decades old Eschwege program, Fusenig suggests, should be understood as a call to Moritz’s subjects to remain obedient to their Landesherr.
While Borggrefe and Fusenig refer to specific details of the interior decoration in the Wilhelmsburg, the castle that Moritz’s father and predecessor, Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel (1532-92), built overlooking Schmalkalden beginning in 1585, they do not compare and contrast the broader content, organization, and distribution of the two decorative schemes, not to mention the choice of media employed in each case. For example, why did Landgrave Moritz opt to provide the window and door frames at Eschwege with what seem to have been rather simple, illusionistic architectural elements when he could have effectively extended his network of allegorical, historical, and biblical figures onto these highly visible surfaces as occurs at the Wilhelmsburg? Why were portraits of Moritz not incorporated permanently into the Eschwege program like his father’s was in the Wilhelmsburg’s Riesensaal? The Wilhelmsburg interior unites works of hewn sculpture, stucco, and painting, so why did Moritz only commission paintings for the Eschwege Castle?
Consideration of these and similar questions may be beneficial to such a study, since Landgrave Moritz was responsible for completing the adornment of the Wilhelmsburg after his father’s death in 1592, that is, only six years before the Eschwege commission. Moreover, Moritz still had many of the same artists who worked on the Wilhelmsburg project in his employ, including Wilhelm Vernuken (d. 1607) and Christoph Jobst, so why did he fail to engage them all for a project that was to represent Moritz and manifest his socio-political ideals more so than any other? Furthermore, the characterization of the Eschwege program as a ‘Calvinist’ visual statement implies that it must somehow be distinguishable from a ‘non-Calvinist’ counterpart. An interesting juxtaposition might involve consideration of the original program that Heinrich Göding the Elder (1531-1606) and others executed in the Augustusburg from 1568 to 1572. Erected as a powerful political symbol, the Augustusburg lends itself to such a comparison, for during these same years the castle’s staunchly Lutheran and pro-imperial patron, Elector August of Saxony (1526-86), unwittingly supported ‘Crypto-Calvinists’ at the universities in Wittenberg and Leipzig, some of whom were among August’s closest and most trusted advisors.
Fusenig’s conclusion that Hermann Fabronius’s publication must have been intended as a reminder for Hesse’s populace to maintain their obedience to their ‘christliche Obrigkeit,’ Landgrave Moritz, may only be part of the story. Borggrefe and Fusenig acknowledge that the religio-political realities of the Landgrave’s life in 1625 were quite different from those that Moritz must have envisioned for his future as he commissioned the Eschwege Castle program in 1598. The Landgrave’s plan for social modernization as laid out across the castle’s ceilings had inevitably failed. When Fabronius reduced this overarching visual display into a book of under two hundred pages and then dedicated the work to the Landgrave’s second son from his second marriage, Hermann (1607-58), it seems that he first intended his text to serve as a model for this intellectually gifted prince and others like him who might someday espouse Moritz’s utopian plan. Following his abdication in 1627, Moritz resided in the Eschwege Castle from 1628 until his death four years later; one has to wonder how he viewed the castle’s decorative program during this most private phase of his life. Like so many other fruits of Moritz’s outstanding intellect, it is somehow appropriate that the content and original significance of this equally outstanding artistic commission have come down to us in the form of a printed book. Indeed, Moritz may have recognized the fragility of the Eschwege painting cycle in this early phase of the Thirty Years’ War and thus commissioned Hermann Fabronius to document it through words on paper for the good of posterity. As fate would have it, most of the Eschwege program was destroyed by imperial troops who occupied the castle in 1637.
Whether one is concerned with early modern political theory, Northern European court culture, the interrelation of text and image, unified interior decorative programs, or iconographic studies, Fabronius’s text is a major new primary source worthy of consideration. The combination of this newly discovered book with Heiner Borggrefe and Thomas Fusenig’s fine essays makes Ut pictura politeia a wonderful demonstration of what a Calvinist prince could do with images at the end of the sixteenth century and, precisely four hundred years later, what art historians can do without them.
Mark T. Lindholm