Monumental Brass Society

Electress Sophia

Date of Brass:


January 2019

This month’s Brass is another from the mausoleum in Freiberg Cathedral Saxony, set aside for members of the Albertine Line of the House of Wettin. It commemorates Electress Sophia of Saxony, born Duchess of Brandenburg, who died on 7th December 1622. (HKC 7)
It is located on the north side of the choir, towards its western end, with the brass of her husband Elector Christian 1 opposite on the south side. It comprises two plates with overall dimensions of 2632 x 1483mm.
Centrally positioned is a portrait of Sophia as an older person with a fuller figure and somewhat forbidding in appearance. She stands on a plain pavement in front of a Renaissance-style canopy with angels heads in the spandrels of the arch which is supported by decorated square capitols and pillars. Her hands are clasped with rings on her fingers including one with the monogram HS on the little finger of the left hand. Above her hands are five rows of letters interspersed with two crosses and a crucifix, with the letters giving an impression of being embroidered on her dress. Each letter is likely to represents a word, with the first three lines possibly having religious and / or political significance and meant to be understood by onlookers from her immediate family/ friends only.
The last two rows of letters have been deciphered and read; “Sophia Geboren Aus Churfűrstlichen Stamme Brandenburg / Churfűrstin Vnd Herzogin Zu Sachsen Witwe”
The brass to her daughter Duchess Dorothea, Abbess of Quedlinburg d. 1617 in the south chapel of the mausoleum, is similar in this respect. She holds a tablet with an arrangement of letters with her year of death- 1617- below. None of the German sources have been able to decipher these.

ophia wears a richly embroidered dress with numerous folds reaching to her feet, over which is a long-sleeved jacket with downturned cuffs and collar and lace edging. The jacket is short and worn open. Her bonnet has a headband of lace. The wide geometrically-patterned and decorative margin surrounding the central composition includes scallops and gemstones and twelve oval shields as follows;
1. Top from the dexter side: Brandenburg; An uncrowned Lion; An armed Griffin; Ditto.
2. Dexter side: Wenden or Cassuben; An armed Griffin; Ditto; Nűrnberg.
3. Sinister side: Saxony; Thűringen; Meissen; A regalia Shield.
As with all of the Freiberg series of brasses there is an intelligent and highly effective use of shading and crosshatching.
The foot inscription below the whole composition is in exquisite Gothic Fraktur in common with the brasses in the mausoleum to;
 1606 Sybilla Elisabeth wife of Elector Johann Georg 1.
 1608 Still-born son of Elector Johann Georg 1.
 1611 Elector Christian 11.
 1612 Duke Christian Albrecht infant son of Elector Johann Georg 1.
 1615 Duke August son of Elector Christian 1 and Sophia.
 1617 Duchess Dorothea, Abbess of Quedlinburg daughter of Elector Christian 1 and Sophia.
 1622 Duke Heinrich infant son of Elector Johann Georg 1.
The inscription reads;
Im Jahr des HERRN 1622. den 7. Decemb: ein Viertel vor 11f den Abendt ist selig von diser Welt abgeschieden Die Durchlauchtigste Hochge= borne Furstin vnd Fraw Sophia, Herzogin vnd Churfurstin Zu Sachßen, ge=borne aus Churfe. stam Brandenburgk etc., Landgräfin in Turingen, Margräfin Zu Meis=sen vnd Burggräfin Zu Magdeburgk, Des weiland Durchlauchtigsten Hochgebornen Fursten vnd Herrn Christiani I., Herzogens vnd Churfurstens Zu Sachszens etc. seliger Gedächtnus vielgeliebte Gemahlin, I. Churfe. G. Alters
5+ Jahr 6. Monat/vnd 1 Tag. Der Allerhöchste verleihe Ihr. Chürf‘ G. am Jung#ten tage eine fröliche Auferstehung Zu ewiger frewde. Amen.
“In the year of our Lord 1622 on 7th December, a quarter to 11 of the evening, deceased happily the most Excellent Highborn Princess and Lady, Lady Sophia, Duchess and Electress of Saxony, Margravine of Meissen and Burgravine of Magdeburg, the much-loved spouse of Christian I, deceased, Duke and Prince Elector of Saxony etc. Aged 54 years, 6 months, 1 day. May the Highest grant Her Grace on the Last Day a happy resuscitation. Amen.”
The brass is a product of the Hilliger workshop, by then relocated to Dresden, during the time of Hans Hilliger (8th February 1567 – 24th April 1640). Elector Johann Georg 1 ordered three brasses from Hans on 15th December 1624 and was quoted c.600 guilders. These related to Sophia his mother, his infant son Duke Heinrich (1622), and his sister Duchess Dorothea (1617). The remaining four brasses referred to in the bullet points above were included in another batch ordered by Elector Johann Georg 1 from Hans. The majority, if not all, of the inscriptions on these seven brasses are the work of Konrad Teuerling. He was possibly a goldsmith given the intricate skill evident in their execution. The artist responsible for the brass portrait of Sophia is not known. It could have been Hans Fasolt or Andreas Göding (1570-1625), known court painters to the Albertines at that time.
Sophia was born on 6th June 1568 at Zechlin castle in Rheinsberg, the daughter of Elector Johann Georg of Brandenburg and his second wife Sabine of Brandenburg-Ansbach. She married Elector Christian 1 on 25th April 1582, aged 14. They had seven children including the future Electors Christian 11 and Johann Georg 1, and two girls who died as infants – Anna Sabina 1586 and Elisabeth 1589. Her husband died suddenly in 1591 after a short reign of six years. During his reign he had shown distinct leanings towards Calvinism in the face of Orthodox Lutheranism, the recognised religion of Albertine Saxony. This caused tension in his marriage since Sophia was a devout Orthodox Lutheran. Prior to acceding to Elector his father August had assigned Dr. Nikolaus Krell as his special advisor. Krell was a Calvinist and once Elector, Christian 1 made him a Privy Councillor and then in 1589 Chancellor. Christian allowed Calvinists to take up University posts, started reorganising the Lutheran church, and allowed Calvinist books to be sold, including a Bible translation with Calvinist annotations. The path towards a “Second Reformation” halted abruptly on his death. Duke Friedrich Wilhelm 1 of Saxe-Weimar and Sophia became Regents for son Christian – a minor. Calvinists were removed from positions of authority with Krell imprisoned in Königstein fortress, a citadel strengthened, ironically, by Christian 1. He was there for ten years until execution on 9th October 1601 in the Jűdenhof/Neumarkt in Dresden, on the orders of the newly appointed Elector Christian 11 and at Sophia’s request. A flagstone with his initials survives at the point where he fell.
Sophia died at Colditz castle on 7th December 1622. The Sophienkirche in Dresden, a former Gothic church she had remodelled and re-consecrated, was damaged in World War 11 and then demolished in the 1960’s at the behest of the DDR.
I record my thanks to Reinhard Lamp for the translation of the foot inscription.

© Kevin Herring Article & Photos

1. Hans-Gerd Dormagen in “Mittelungen des Freiberger Altertumsvereins” 99 Heft 2007. ISBN 1611-5759. pp. 37-39 & 96-98.
2. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly “Court Culture in Dresden – from Renaissance to Baroque”. Palgrave 2002. ISBN 0-333-98448-X. pp. 15-17.
3. H.K. Cameron “A list of Monumental Brasses on the Continent of Europe”. MBS London 1970 pp.51-52.

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