Lübeck's Dance of Death

Anton Wortmann

The empress.
The empress

Death playing the flute 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.

Did Wortmann make a good copy?

The empress, Tallinn
The empress, Tallinn
The empress, Lübeck
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:

Did Wortmann make a perfect copy?

the introduction from the painting Not quite - when the painting was copied, several changes were made:


Further information:

Part #1
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #1
Part 2
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #2
Part #3
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #3
Part #4
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #4
Part #5
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #5
Part #6
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #6
Part #7
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #7
Part #8
Carl Julius Milde, Milde #8

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4)

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 beybehalten".
Death portrayed as a skeleton . . .: If examples are needed, check out Typus Omnium Morientium from 1622, Den Lybekske Dødning-Dantz from 1738 or Døde-Dands from 1762.
3 persons from 1701 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).