The Neunheller Epitaph at Ladenburg
|Type:||Board / Plaque / Tablet|
Visit this monument
|Type:||Board / Plaque / Tablet|
New year, new monument …
In 2018 we concentrated on war memorials, in honour of the centenary of the end of World War 1. We still have some more war memorials on file, but we are now back to looking at a wider range of monuments from all periods. This fascinating monument from Ladenburg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, came from Martin Spies a while ago so we are featuring it as the first in our new series.
When entering the Gothic church of St. Gallus at Ladenburg (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) by the south door, most visitors will only cast a fleeting glance at the badly damaged and blackened sandstone monument mounted to the right of the portal on the church’s external wall.
This is a pity, as the Neunheller epitaph seems to be unparalleled in its design. The oblong monument rests on a base bearing the date 1555 (245 x 148 cm incl. base) and shows the life-size busts of two couples embedded in niches resembling a two-storey arcade.
In her detailed description of the epitaph Renate Neumüller-Klauser suggests that this as well as a handful of other contemporary epitaphs with arcaded structures may ultimately have been inspired by Roman monuments.1 Among the former are the c.1530 epitaph of Peter von Freyberg-Eisenberg and his wife Praxedis von Hohenems in Füssen’s St. Mang’s Abbey2 and the 1563 epitaph of Balthasar von Gültlingen and his wife Agnes von Gemmingen in the church of St. Mary, Berneck,3 but neither seems to be directly related to the epitaph at Ladenburg. Therefore I would like to suggest as another possible influence the design of Renaissance portals such as the slightly later one at Mespelbrunn Castle of 1564
this splendid structure is much closer to the Ladenburg epitaph in its handling of architectural details, the inscribed panels and the size of the coats of arms than the above-mentioned epitaphs.
Although the Neunheller family played a prominent role in Ladenburg from the late thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the available genealogical information is sketchy. The epitaph was apparently commissioned after the death of the woman in the upper arcade, as her inscription is the only one giving the exact date of her death and her age (cf. Neumüller-Klauser for a complete transcription): Anna Neb died on 1 May 1552 at the age of 66 and must therefore have been born in 1486. She wears a coif and a cloth covering her chin, her hands held in prayer project from beneath a voluminous cloak. The coat of arms in the spandrel to her right is badly damaged and can no longer be identified. Although the inscription does not explicitly refer to Anna as the wife of Jacob Neunheller, the man to her right, it is difficult to imagine who else she might have been. Jacob must have died after 1555, the year when the epitaph was erected, as his inscription was never completed. The heraldic shield to his left survives almost undamaged and displays the canting arms of the Neunheller family with its nine roundels or coins (a “Heller” was a silver coin, but its composition deteriorated with the increasing addition of copper).
Another shield with the Neunheller arms appears in the spandrel to the right of the badly corroded effigy of the women in the lower arcade. As her inscription was never completed, she must also have died after 1555. The few remaining details of the relief suggest that the figure originally resembled the one of Anna Neb in the upper arcade. Unlike Anna Neb, however, who is referred to by her maiden name in the inscription above her head, the woman in the lower arcade is identified by her married name as “Anna Knechtin”. Although the exact year of her birth remains unknown, there can be but little doubt that this Anna was the daughter of Jacob and Anna Neunheller, the couple in the upper arcade. A clue as to her approximate age is given by what is known about her husband’s biography. The man to her right is identified as Franz Knecht, and the day of his death is given as 4 December 1553. Born at Oppenheim near Mainz, Franz matriculated at the University of Heidelberg in 1531 when he must have been in his late teens. He graduated in 1533 and became chamber secretary to the bishop of Worms, who frequently stayed at Ladenburg. It is very likely, therefore, that Franz met Anna Neunheller during one of the bishop’s visits and married her in the mid or late 1530s. If this was the case, Anne was probably born sometime in the second decade of the sixteenth century when her parents were in their mid twenties or early thirties.
Though it is unkown if Anna and Franz Knecht had any children, there is barely recognizable outline of a small child in the space between their effigies. No inscription explains its presence, and Neumüller-Klauser does not even mention it. Perhaps the all but vanished figure was meant to commemorate a predeceased child of the couple.
But the “ghost” of the child is not the only mystery that begs further investigation: Why, for instance, are the two female effigies positioned on the dexter side of the epitaph, the side usually reserved for husbands? Is this a mere coincidence or does this arrangement contain a particular message (e.g. about inheritance through the female line)? Knowing who commissioned the epitaph would perhaps help to answer some of these questions, as would the identification of the mason who cut his mark between the two coats of arms on the upper arcade …
It is to be hoped that something will soon be done to rescue and preserve what is left of this unique epitaph from further damage by the elements. A covering or a small roof protecting the stone from rainfall would at least slow down the corrosion process.
1 For further details on the epitaph and the Neunheller family, cf. Renate Neumüller-Klauser: Die Inschriften des Rhein-Neckar Kreises (II). Ehemaliger Lanskreis Mannheim, ehemaliger Landkreis Sinsheim (nördlicher Teil). Die Deutschen Inschriften 16. München: Alfred Druckmüller Verlag 1977, pp. 76f.