Topless in Tallinn

Summary: Part 5 of 7 about why the painting in Tallinn is not a remnant of Lübeck's original painting from 1463.

The empress from Lübeck - lots of sky.
The empress from Lübeck
The empress from Tallinn
before the restoration.
The empress from Tallinn - before the restoration

Heise quoted Mantels, for saying that the old painting from 1463 had been cut out when it was replaced by a new one in 1701.

The painting in Tallinn is a little lower than the one in Lübeck, and Heise tells us that this is only because a bit of the top has been cut off in Tallinn. Heise points out that the heads of the figures are much closer to the frame - especially the empress (see pictures to the left and right).

It's true that the painting in Tallinn is lower than the one in Lübeck, but this has nothing to do with the top being cut off. Both paintings are made of three horizontal lengths - a narrow one for the text at the bottom and two broader ones for the picture itself. The breadths of the pieces in Lübeck were respectively 19-20 cm and 86.3 cm - and the pieces in Tallinn are respectively 29-30 cm and 66-67 cm.

The empress in Lübeck, click for a good copy.
The picture consist of three lengths
The empress in Tallinn, click for a good copy.
The picture consist of three lengths

With good photos of the paintings from Lübeck and Tallinn it's possible to discern where those three vertical lengths are joined. I've have indicated these vertical lengths on the thumbnails left and right (the right is the empress in Tallinn after the restoration). If Heise were right, and the top had been cut off, then area A should be smaller than area B. And notice that today the empress' crown is free of the frame.

Here's another (newer) hypothesis: In 1970 Max Hasse claimed that the painting in Tallinn (which he too thinks is from Lübeck) had the original height - and that the humans heads pushing against the frame is typical for Notke's desire to create monumental works. According to this hypothesis the painting in Lübeck was a newer copy - made higher - in order to satisfy a more modern taste.(1) So here we have the exact opposite argument - but still a "proof" that Notke painted the dances of death.

This example shows how art historians are able to "define" their reality themselves. Heads, they win; tails, we loose.

Next section: Heise ignores counter arguments.

Conclusion: The painting in Lübeck and the fragment in Tallinn have different heights because they are two different paintings.

Max Hasse: "Jetzt, da wir wissen, daß das Revaler Fragment nicht, wie Heise annahm, oben verkürzt ist, erkennen wir in der knappen Rahmung der Figuren ein auffälliges Stilmerkmal. So eng in den Rahmen eingespannt, gewinnen die ohnehin schon ungewöhnlich standfesten Figuren noch mehr an Macht. Die knappe Rahmung kam offenbar Notkes Streben nach monumentaler Gestaltung besonders entgegen, wirkt jedoch altertümlich, sie ist bezeichnend für Maler wie den Meister von Flemalle oder Konrat Witz. Die knappe Rahmung des Revaler Fragments, der Flügel des Johannesaltares und des Århuser Altarschreines kennzeichnet also den Maler und nicht seine Zeit".
(Quoted from Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft, 1970 p. 23)