We really don't know much about Wortmann - except that he was not a great artist.
His masterpiece was rejected by the painters guild and he was only accepted into the guild in order to allow
him to marry a poor widow.(1)
Wortmann became a master painter in 1686 - the same year that the church painter in St. Mary's,
Jochim Dencker, retired. Nevertheless the church let the position remain vacant for three years until Wortmann
was appointed church painter in Lübeck's main church - a position he retained between 1689 and 1727.
In 1701 Wortmann was responsible for replacing the medieval painting
from 1463 with a new copy.
The empress, Tallinn
The empress, Lübeck
We should be grateful that the task was given to a careful craftsman.
Had Wortmann been a great artist with an equally great ego, he would probably have made his own personal
oeuvre and we wouldn't know anything about
the original painting today.
We know that Wortmann made a painstaking copy because:
- We are able to compare the picture with the fragment in Tallinn.
- Jacob von Melle writes
"The pictures now look exactly as they were designed earlier"
"even the former characteristic costumes on the
picture are retained"(2).
- As Wilhelm Mantels
points out, the persons are in dresses that not only are from 1463 - but would already have been out of fashion by 1463.
- Death is depicted in the medieval way - i.e. as a emancipated cadaver. If the painting was from 1701,
Death would have been pictured as a skeleton(3).
- Lübeck's skyline appear twice on the painting - and the buildings are those that existed in 1463, not in 1701.
Not quite - when the painting was copied, several changes were made:
- It's almost 100% certain that the original painting began with a preacher addressing the congregation.
The preacher appears in Tallinn, in all the printed books and
in most other dances of death.
But the painting from 1701 starts with a solemn admonition
(see picture to the right).
- Death leads the dance with flute and a fancy hat (see picture at the top of this page).
In Tallinn it's bagpipe
and turban. The picture
in Lübeck can not be original because
this kind of hats were not yet designed in 1463(4)
(but of course, this change might have been done a long time before Wortmann).
- The sequence was deliberately altered two places -
see the notes here and here.
- To the right of the physician there are 3 small figures. In contrast to the rest of the painting
these persons are not dressed in medieval clothes - so they must have been added by Wortmann
as a kind of personal "tag".
- Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler der freien und Hansestadt Lübeck, Volume 2, Lübeck 1906
- Wilhelm Mantels: Der Todtentanz in der Marienkirche zu Lübeck, 1866
- Prof. Hartmut Freytag: Der Totentanz der Marienkirche in Lübeck
The guilds controlled the private life of their members - including whom they could marry and when:
Normally, members were not allowed to marry before they had become masters.
Quote from the guild book:
"Anthon Worthman ist mit seinen wiewol schlecht befundenen Probestück von den Eltesten
vorgestellet, doch weil er sehl. Corth Fruchtenigs armselige Witwe heyrathen will, in Ansehung
deßen auff der Eltesten Bitte biß zu Auffweisung seines Meisterstücks zugelaßen worden den 28. April
Ao. 1686. Den 5. Novembr. ist sein Meisterstück vorgezeiget und er zum Meister eingeschrieben".
Jakob von Melle: "Die Bilder sehen jetzo annoch eben so aus, wie sie vordem
gestalt gewesent" and
"Man habe zwar die vorigen sonderbahren Trachten der Bilder
What do I know about hat fashion in 1463? I'm just quoting Gisela Jaacks in
the book Der Totentanz der Marienkirche in Lübeck
by Prof. Hartmut Freytag et al.
It seems to me that Death in the start of the procession (at the top of this page) looks like the
Deaths in Wortmann's little scene (to the left).