Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 03 December 2015

December 2015 -  Anna, Princess of Denmark & Electress of Saxony, 1585,

St Mary’s Cathedral, Freiberg, Saxony, Germany

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This month’s brass relates to Anna, born Princess of Denmark, and Electress of Saxony by virtue of her marriage to Elector August I in 1548. It is situated amongst numerous brasses   on the polished marble floor of the choir of Freiberg Cathedral against the north wall, in what became the ducal mausoleum for the Albertine Line of the House of Wettin, following a lavish Renaissance – style renovation project instigated by her husband just before his death in 1586. This project continued during the reign of their son Christian I who died in 1591, and was completed in 1594 during the Regency of Friedrich Wilhelm of Saxony- Weimar.  It was overseen by the Italian architect and designer Giovanni Maria Nosseni (1544-1620), originally from Lugano, whom Christian 1 instructed to recruit additional Florentine artists from the Medici Court, notably the sculptor Carlo di Cesare.  

    The brass comprises two plates and has overall dimensions of 2.54m x 1.42m. It is one of a distinctive group of 5 brasses of similar design from the Hilliger bell and cannon foundry in Freiberg during the period of Martin Hilliger the Younger (1538-1601) eldest son of Wolf the Elder. The letters HR for Hilliger are on the brass at the base of the right hand pillar of the  arch Anna emerges from.  The rest of the group comprises the brasses to husband Elector August, son Christian I, and two infant daughters of Christian, Anna Sabina & Elisabeth.

    The design features an ornamental perimeter band 0.19 metres wide along the top and sides containing 14 oval shields with decorated mirror-like surrounds  interspersed with foliage and  caricatures of faces.  The central framed composition shows Anna standing in front of a deeply recessed Classical arch, accentuated by shading, and wearing a close fitting lace bonnet bedecked with jewels, covering her hair, and with a high ruff collar. Her outer gown has padded shoulders, quilted sleeves with ruffed cuffs, and is distinctly flared, reaching to the ground and decorated with foliage and oval medallions. It is open at the front to reveal a plain underskirt. Her neck and arm bracelets, neck pendant and brooch are jewelled as is the long pendant which encircles her waist and extends to the ground. Her hands are lightly clasped and her gaze is intent.



Beneath is an oval ended scroll-like foot inscription in Renaissance Capitals, apparently the work of a goldsmith. Just above the inscription in the centre is the date of engraving - 1594 -  some time after her death on 1st October 1585. The letters EB above the date relate to the actual engraver of the brass from the Hilliger workshop but his identity is unknown. The letters WZ below the engraving date refer to the Dresden court painter to the Albertines, Zacharias Wehme  (1558-1606) who was responsible for the design of the brass. One of Wehme’s paintings of Anna is now in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen (formerly the Albertine Royal Palace) in Dresden. His other paintings include her husband August and grandson Christian II. Wehme was a pupil of Lucas Cranach the Younger – both Cranachs also painted Anna & August.


    On the north wall of the ducal mausoleum adjacent to Anna’s brass is a lifesize kneeling figure of her cast in bronze facing the figure of Christ Triumphant behind the altar. The figure is in a niche of red and green marble flanked by double Corinthian columns with coats of arms above, the monument extending upwards to the stuccoed ceiling. Her costume is very similar to that on her brass. This is the work of Carlo di Cesare referred to above in the first paragraph. He was also responsible for virtually the whole of the sculpted work in the mausoleum up to 1594 including the ceiling and all but one of the other bronze kneeling figures of the most important Albertines to be buried in the chapel at the time - Duke Heinrich 1(d. 1541); his wife Katharina Duchess of Mecklenburg (d. 1561); Elector August 1(d. 1586); Elector Christian I (d. 1591).

The oval shields represent as follows;

 1. Top left to right;  Denmark, Norway, Jutland, Wenden ( Slav territory which no longer exists)

 2. Left side; Dithmarschen, Sweden, Gotland, Duchy of Holstein, Stormarn

 3. Right side; Duchy of Schleswig, Iceland, Oldenburg, Delmenhorst, Cross of Danish Territories.


The foot inscription reads as follows;

IM IHAR M D L XXXV DEN 1 OCTOBRIS DES ABENDTS NACH VII VHR IST/ DIE DVRCHLAVCHTIGSTE HOCHGEBORNE FVRSTIN VND FRAW; FRAVV ANNA/ GEBORNE AVS KONIGLICHEN STAMME ZV DENEMARKEN, HERZOGIN VND CHVR-/ FVRSTIN ZV SACHSEN, LANDGRAEFIN IN TVRINGEN MARCGRAEFIN ZV MEISSEN/ VND BVRGRAEFIN ZV MAGDEBVRG, CHVRFVRST AVGVSTEN CHRISTMILDER/ GEDECHTNVS GEMAHL ZV DRESTEN IN GOTT ENTSCHLAFFEN, WELCHER/ GOTT DIE EWIGE FREVD VND SEELIGKEIT GNEDIGLICH VORLEIHE. AMEN.

This translates as;

In the year MDLXXXV on the evening of 1St October after 7pm has / the most noble and illustrious Princess and Lady, Lady Anna / of the Royal House of Denmark, Duchess and / Electress of Saxony, Landgravine of Thuringia, Margravine of Meissen / and Burgravine of Magdeburg, spouse of Prince Elector August of mild Christian / remembrance departed in God in Dresden whom / God may graciously endow with eternal joy and bliss. Amen.

    Anna was born on 25th November 1532 in Haderslev as the eldest daughter of King Christian III of Denmark from the House of Oldenburg, and Dorothea of Saxony – Lauenberg. She married Duke August of Saxony on 7th October 1548, who later became Elector August I on the death of his brother Moritz at the battle of Sievershausen in 1553.  They had 15 children, 11 of whom died in infancy and are each commemorated by brasses in the cathedral.

    Following Anna’s death through the plague in 1585, August married Agnes Hedwig Princess of Anhalt in 1586 but died himself soon afterwards.

    Anna developed a keen interest in herbs, horticulture and agriculture which was influenced by her mother and then learnt the art of herbal medicine / pharmacy from the elderly Countess Dorothea of Mansfeld (1493-1578).  Anna went on to become the owner of the largest and finest chemical laboratory in 16th century Germany – one of the few female  chemists / alchemists of the 16th century. This was based at the summer palace at Annaburg, a town in Saxony – Anhalt named after her. Plants and remedies were widely collected from the local area. She also became involved in the improved distillation of Aqua Vitae and the development of pharmacology. Her remedies were passed on to the rulers of many courts within the Holy Roman Empire and beyond which had political significance in developing and maintaining improved relations. This enthusiasm was shared by her husband August who himself was a keen alchemist which was popular at the time, especially in an area where silver, tin and cobalt mining took place, which was the basis of the wealth of the Albertines. In August’s extensive electoral library at Dresden an inventory of 1580 reveals Anna’s own collection of books amounted to 450 – whilst many were devotional works plenty were concerned with pharmacy, medicine and horticulture.



    Anna & August had an unusually close relationship; they shared apartments and bedchambers at the palaces of Dresden and Annaburg. Both were strict orthodox Lutherans vehemently opposed to Calvinism but did not see it necessary to break faith with the Catholic Habsburg Emperor, to the dismay of other Protestant rulers.  Anna became increasingly involved in court affairs to the disdain of many courtiers and her business acumen led to the running of the Albertine estates and the selling of surplus produce giving her the nickname “the cheese woman”. Saxony at this time enjoyed a period of relative prosperity and stability, developing in the mould of the Lutheran ideal.


©  Article & photos.  Kevin Herring


Acknowledgements


My thanks to our member Reinhard Lamp for the translation of the foot inscription


Sources

 1. ‘Die Grablege der albertinischen Wettiner im Dom zu Freiberg.’  Hans-Gerd Dormagen  pp. 23- 108 in  Mitteilungen des Freiberger Altertumsvereins.  99 Heft 2007. ISSN 1611-5759

 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_of_Denmark,_Electress_of_Saxony

 3. European Women in Chemistry.  Ed. Apotheker & Sarkadi 2011. ISBN: 3527636463

 4. Court Culture in Dresden from Renaissance to Baroque. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly.  Palgrave 2002. ISBN 0-333-98448-X

 5.  www.deutsche-biographie.de/sfz84750.html ( Zacharias Wehme)