Tallinn: The emperor

The emperor in Tallinn
The emperor

The emperor

O dot du(1) letlike figure
vor andert my alle myne natture
Ik was mechtich unde rike
hogest van machte sunder gelike
Koninge vorsten unde heren
mosten my nigen unde eren
Nu kumstu, vreselike forme
van mi to maken spise der worme

Death most foul, your horrid figure
Changes in me all my nature.
I stood highly, mighty, rich,
And my power was unmatched.
Kings and princes, lords and rulers
Bent the knee and did me honour.
Now you’ve come, you awful form,
To turn my self to feed the worm.

Death answers the emperor

Du werst gekoren wil dat vroden
to beschermen unde to behoden
De hilgen kerken de kerstenheit
myt deme swerde der rechticheit
Men hovardie heft di vor blent
du heft di sulven nicht gekent
Mine kumste was nicht in dinem sinne
du ker nu he[r], [f]row [k]eiser[inne]!

You were chosen, high elect,
So to safeguard and protect
The churches of the Christian bless
With the sword of righteousness.
A haughty mist did make you blind
And dimmed away such task from mind
As you forgot my coming near.
Empress, come, now you must here.

English version © Jack Freckleton-Sturla, 2021. The following is a more literal translation:

The emperor

Oh Death, you(1) terrible figure
changes for me all my nature.
I was mighty and rich,
The highest in power without peer.
Kings, princes and lords
had to bow for me and honour me.
Now you come, you horrible form,
to make me food for worms.

Death to the emperor

You were chosen, will you realize that,
to protect and preserve
the holy churches of Christianity
with the sword of justice.
But haughtiness has blinded you,
you have not recognised yourself.
My arrival was not on your mind!
Turn here now, Mrs. Empress!

Unknown tower
Unknown tower
St. Mary's church in Lübeck seen from west and east.
St. Mary's church in Lübeck St. Mary's church in Lübeck

Notice the twin towers to the left of the emperor. Some (German) researchers claim, that the city in the background is Lübeck, and that the twin towers belong to the Marienkirche (St. Mary's church). According to these researchers, Tallinn never had a double tower.

To make a comparison possible, I present a photo of St. Mary's church in Lübeck.

The twin towers of St. Mary's church in Lübeck
St. Mary's church in Lübeck

Personally I can't see how St. Mary's church in Lübeck could be hidden behind a hill, the way the church in the painting is hidden. Most churches lie on the top of a hill, and as a matter of fact St. Mary's (together with the city hall market) are placed on the highest point on the island. As the two photos to the right show, there are no hills to obscure the view of St. Mary's from either side.

Lübeck ca. 1870.
Lübeck ca. 1870

The photo to the right is from 1870 and shows very clearly the high location of St. Mary's church as compared to the rest of Lübeck.

The emperor from Tallinn.
The emperor from Tallinn
God, from the Schonenfahrer altarpiece.
The face of God

After the pope, who is the most powerful man on earth, comes the emperor, who is the most powerful worldly man on earth. Like La Danse Macabre of Paris, the dancers now alternate between clerical and secular men, from the top of society to the bottom.

The face of the emperor in Tallinn is very similar to that of God from The Trinity Altarpiece. Both pieces of art have been attributed to Bernt Notke.

Footnotes: (1)

du letlike figure . . .: Some of the older authorities (Seelmann/Stammler et al) preferred »dyn letlike figure«, but the text on the painting is very clear here (at least it is today after the restoration).