Church Monuments Society

Tomb Slab of Hans Has Kilianskapelle Wertheim

A Fool’s Monument? The Tomb Slab of Hans Has

Month: October 2014
Type: Effigy   Slab  

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The town of Wertheim, which is located about 40 kilometers to the west of Würzburg on the confluence of the rivers Main and Tauber in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, is well-known for its many splendid funeral monuments and epitaphs of the counts of Wertheim and their successors, the counts of Löwenstein, in the Stiftskirche.[1] Further monuments and tomb slabs of citizens, clerics, and others have been preserved vis-à-vis in the delightful late gothic Kilianskapelle, and among them there is one of the most intriguing late medieval monuments of the region: The tomb slab commemorating a man called Hans Has in the guise of a court jester by an unknown local sculptor (fig. 1).[2]

Measuring 182 by 102 centimeters, the sandstone slab shows Has’s less than lifesize effigy, which is carved in high relief and retains some of its original paint. Standing on a dog, he wears a robe that is partly buttoned down his chest, belted at the waist, and ends in what appears to be a broad ornamental border covering his knees and thus most of his hosed legs, which are stuck in heavy thigh boots; the ample sleeves are gathered at the wrists and reveal the cuffs of his shirt, which can also be seen on his upper chest where some of the buttons are left open. What marks this outfit as a fool’s or jester’s costume, however, is the pocket in the righthand sleeve with its two rather damaged flutes and of course the hood emerging from the robe’s collar with its two ass’s ears with bells and a coxcomb down the centre.[3] This style of fool’s attire is typical for the time around 1500 as a number of Netherlandish paintings of laughing fools show, which in their turn inspired Heinrich Vogtherr the Younger’s woodcut of a fool of c. 1540 (fig. 2).[4] Unlike these merry fools, however, the finely sculpted face of Hans Has looks worried, if not downright distressed: his brow is furrowed, his crudely repainted wide-open eyes are directed heavenwards, and the corners of his mouth beneath the chipped-off nose point downwards. All merriment is gone as Has prepares to meet his maker, and it is certainly no coincidence that his haggard features are reminiscent of the suffering faces that feature in many of Tilman Riemenschneider’s masterly altarpieces and crucifixes carved in nearby Würzburg, which had a great influence on the development of sculpture throughout the region. The religious component is furthermore stressed by the badly damaged rosary in his right hand, of which only a few beads survive though its outline is still traceable.[5] The monument also documents Hans’s social standing as a member of a family which had prospered by its close contacts to the court as the shield with his canting arms of a running hare (“Hase”) in his left hand demonstrates

Fig. 2: Heinrich Vogtherr the Younger: Der Schalksnarr. Woodcut, c. 1540.

The effigy is framed by an insciption which reads: “Anno / d[omi]ni / mo / cccco / lxxx / xi / jar / an aller / sellen / tag / starb / hans / has / geborn / von / remling / reuter / hans ge[ann]nt / der / gewesen / ist / ein / getrewer / diner / der / herschaft / d[em] / g[ott] / g[nade]” (In the year of the Lord 1491 on All Souls’ Day died Hans Has, born at Remlingen, called Hans the rider, who was a faithful servant of the sovereignty, on whom God may have mercy).[6] Archival records confirm that Hans Has, whose parents are unkown, was born in the nearby village of Remlingen into a family with connections to the county’s administration. It is uncertain when Has entered the counts’ employ, but it is assumed that he may already have worked for count Georg I (+1454), the father of Has’s master of many years, count Johann III (+1497). Interestingly, the slab’s inscription does not identify him as court jester but as “reuter” (i.e. a rider running errands and acting as messenger for his master). This is corroborated by other sources which furthermore identify Has as a juryman and judge in Dertingen, a village about halfway between his birthplace and Wertheim. Again, there is no hint whatsoever that he might also have been employed as court jester.[7]

In his article on a tomb slab featuring, among other things, an ass playing a bagpipe, Heimo Reintzer has convincigly refuted the assumption that because of his attire Hans Has must have been a jester even though he is not identified as such in the slab’s inscription and the archival records. Instead, Reintzer argues that depictions of animals making music and ass-eared fools with musical instruments (Has, as we have seen, carries two flutes in his sleeve pocket) often appear as symbols of mundus reversus, the world turned upside down, which imply a critique of the present times and, especially in the case of a funerary monument, an awareness of the folly and the futility of all worldly longings and aspirations.[8] This interpretation also explains the haunted look on Has’s face as he realizes that his only hope rests in God on high, whence he has turned his gaze. Consequently he abjures the gaudy and foolish vanities of his earthly existence, which are symbolised by his apparel.

Though in the end Hans Has was in all likelyhood not a jester in real life, his exceptional tomb slab just across the street from the magnificent monuments of the counts of Wertheim and Löwenstein in the Stiftskirche deserves more attention than it has hitherto garnerd. Late medieval and early modern monuments with depictions of the deceased in jester’s or fool’s attire are extremely rare, and the one dedicated to the memory of Hans Has is one of the earliest, if not the earliest. Later examples, this time of real jesters, include the memorial for the famous fourteenth-century fool Till Eulenspiegel at Mölln, Schleswig-Hollstein, which was however only errected in 1536, and the tomb slab of Hans Gerl, the bishop of Passau’s jester, of 1565.[9]

[1] For an amply illustrated introduction to the most important monuments, cf. Jörg Paczkowski (2012). Die evangelische Stiftskirche zu Wertheim. Gerchsheim: Kunstschätzeverlag. An in-depth discussion is offered by Judith Wipfler (1996). “Der Chor der Wertheimer Stiftskirche als herrschaftliche Grablege. Die Epitaphien der Regenten bis ins frühe 17. Jahrhundert.“ Wertheimer Jahrbuch , pp. 87-178.

[2] So far, Hans Has’s monument has received surprisingly little scholarly attention; cf. especially Ernst Cucuel, Hermann Eckert (1942). Die Inschriften des badischen Main- und Taubergrundes. Die Deutschen Inschriften 1. Stuttgart: Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, p. 177 (no. 180), Vital Huhn (1959). “Löwe und Hund als Gerichtssymbole auf zwei Wertheimer Denkmälern.” Wertheimer Jahrbuch, pp. 26-30, and Ernst Vollhardt (1964). “Zwei Grabdenkmäler für Narren. In Wertheim des Hofnarren Hans Has – in Mölln des Schalknarren Till Eulenspiegel.” Spessart, pp. 5-6

[3] The description of the effigy loosely follows Vollhardt, p. 5. Vollhardt also suggests that the curious object to the left of the head is a jester’s cup.

[4] Cf. e.g. the painting tentatively attributed to Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen of c. 1500 in the collection of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.

[5] Cucuel/Eckert and Vollhardt identify the rosary as a ring of bells but the comparison with some of the other nearly contemporary slabs in the Kilianskapelle of citizens and clerics with rosaries suggests that Hans also holds a rosary as a sign of his piety.

[6] My translation. Transcription based on Cucuel/Eckert. Vollhardt’s transcription (ibid.) is incomplete.

[7] All biographical information is based on Huhn, p. 30.

[8] Cf. Heimo Reinitzer (1980). “Asinus ad tibiam. Zur Ikonographie einer Hamburger Grabplatte.” Litteratura Laicorum: Beiträge zur christlichen Kunst, ed. idem. Vestigia Bibliae: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Bibel-Archivs Hamburg 2, pp. 89-125, here pp. 100-102.

[9] For the Eulenspiegel memorial, cf. Vollhardt, p. 5f.; for Gerl’s monument, cf. Lutz S. Malke, ed. (2001). Narren. Porträts, Feste, Sinnbilder, Schwankbücher und Spielkarten aus dem 15. bis 17. Jahrhundert. Leipzig: Faber & Faber, pp. 28 (fig. 30), 64. Cf. also Vincent Mayr (1975). “Zur Darstellung des Narren auf Grabsteinen.” Ars Bavarica. Archivalisches Jahrbuch für Bauforschung und Kunstgeschichte in Bayern 3. pp. 21-30.

Dr Martin Spies

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