Monumental Brass Society

Gotthard and Margaretha von Höveln

Date of Brass:
Marienkirche, Lübeck
Matthias Benning, Lübeck


April 2009

On Palm Sunday 1942 the historic centre of Lübeck was devastated by RAF bombers. The three most prominent churches – the Cathedral, the Marienkirche and the Petrikirche – were extensively damaged and numerous art works were lost. At the Petrikirche the important Flemish brass of Johann Clingenberg (d. 1356) was reduced to a few scraps. Among the many treasures lost at the Marienkirche were the Dance of Death paintings by Bernt Notke, virtually all the choir screen, both of the historic organs used by Buxtehude, and a multitude of funerary monuments. The Flemish brass of Tydeman Berck was certainly lost and for a long time it was believed that the monument of Gotthard von Höveln (d. 1571) was also a victim. It was not recorded as having survived by Dr. Cameron in his survey of the brasses of Lübeck published in Transactions in 1952 and Malcolm Norris wrote of it in the past tense in his magnum opus. However, it has since come to light and is now to be found on the wall on the south side of the choir ambulatory.
The quadrangular brass is composed of five plates, and is affixed by large decorative nails to a wooden frame. The central motif is the Ascension. Christ’s footprints can be seen on the Mount of Olives, around which are gathered apostles and disciples, headed by St. John on the left and St. Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary on the right. Two angels standing on the mount address the assembled group as Christ Himself enters the cloud above. Above two more angels bear a tablet inscribed in Roman capitals ‘AD PATREM MEVM ET PATREM VESTRVM’ and ‘AD DEVM MEVM ET DEVM VESTRVM’ [‘To my Father and your Father’ and ‘To my God and your God’]. Christological subjects are not uncommon on sixteenth-century Lutheran monuments, the most frequent being the Crucifixion.
On the left at the bottom of the scene kneels Gotthard von Höveln, an impressively bearded figure who wears a fur-edged schaub, a coat open at the front. In front of him are the von Höveln arms: Argent on a bend gules three mounts vert; crest, a stag’s head and neck gules, attired or. Below him is a tablet giving his date of death: ‘D[OMINUS] GOTHARDVS AB HOVELN SENATOR OBIIT A[NN]O 1571 12 DIE DECEMBRIS’.
On the right kneels his wife Margaretha, wearing a veil and a cape of cut velvet. In front of her are the Brömse (Brömbsen) arms in their post-1532 form: Tierced per pale vert, or and gules, over all a double-headed eagle displayed sable, armed or; crest, out of a crest-coronet, a pair of horns, the dexter tierced per fess gules, or and vert, the sinister tierced vert or and gules, in front of a vol sable. The tablet below her has a longer inscription than her husband’s, in hexameters and pentameters:
This was translated by Creeny: ‘Daughter of Nicolas Bromsen, who had been consul and golden knight, Margaret of Hoveln, thou wast. A lover of true piety and honourable hast thou been: many gifts to the poor, kind lady, didst thou give: till to the joys of eternal life thou art recalled, in death now thou liest, having been justified by faith.’
Gotthard von Höveln was a member of a prominent Lübeck patrician family, in which Gotthard is a confusingly common name. Although this Gotthard was not a burgomaster, that position was held by both his father, Gotthard III (d. 1555), and his son, Gotthard V (d. 1609), also commemorated by monuments in the Marienkirche. Gotthard IV was a senator from 1558, and from 1565 to 1568 served as Chamberlain.
Margaretha was the daughter of a famous burgomaster of Lübeck, Nikolaus Brömse (c. 1472-1543), who is depicted as a youth on the Brömsen Altar in the Jakobikirche. Nikolaus became a senator in 1514 and in 1520 a burgomaster, one of five members of his family to have served in that role. In that year he gave shelter to Gustavus Vasa, who was helped by Lübeck to become King of Sweden. During the Reformation, Nikolaus was a leader of the Catholic party, and a determined opponent of the constitutional and religious unrest caused by Jürgen Wullenwever. In August 1531 he was knighted by the Emperor Charles V and appointed to the Imperial Council. His return to Lübeck in August 1535 was followed by the overthrow of Wullenwever. A portrait of Nikolaus Brömse is to be found in the Lübeck Rathaus.
Malcolm Norris surmised reasonably that this brass was manufactured in the workshop of the Lübeck cannon- and bell-founder Matthias Benning (fl. 1560-1604), like the documented Tydemann brass. But who was the artist? He is clearly talented. The angels addressing the apostles, with their elongated limbs and convoluted poses, and the facial types of the onlookers, suggest familiarity with the work of Flemish Mannerist artists such as Pieter Pourbus and Frans Floris. The answer appears to be provided by a painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds in the Katharinenkirche, Lübeck. The angels in the sky are clear cousins of those on the brass, and several of the masculine head types can be matched among the apostles. This painting is signed by the artist Jost de Laval and dated 1569.
As his name suggests, Jost (or Joos) de Laval was not a native of Lübeck. His earliest surviving work is a Martyrdom of St. Sebastian in the church of Watervliet not far from Bruges. In the cathedral church of Sint-Salvator in Bruges are four paintings of works of mercy, signed and dated 1551. It is possible that, like Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, he left Bruges for religious reasons. From 1556 until 1578 he was a free master in Lübeck. On 10 May 1578 his burial in the cathedral churchyard was recorded. Much of his documented work has been lost. The epitaph of Hermann Meyer, depicting the Conversion of St. Paul in a fantastic landscape, dated 1575, in the Petrikirche, was destroyed in 1942, as were four paintings, dated between 1568 and 1578, in the Marienkirche. An earlier loss was a series of grisaille paintings in the Katharinenkirche. Jost de Laval’s grisaille technique can be seen on the outer wings of the epitaph of Laurentius Meiger in Ratzeburg Cathedral, painted in 1567. Other surviving examples of Laval’s work are an Annunciation in the church of Petersdorf on the island of Fehmarn, given in 1580, and an epitaph in Visby commemorating the Lübeck burgomaster and admiral Bartholomeus Tinnappel, drowned off Gotland in 1566.


All photographs by Charlotte Rogers


W.F. Creeny, A Book of Fac-similes of Monumental Brasses on the Continent of Europe (Norwich, 1884), pl. 69.
H.K. Cameron, ‘Brasses on the Continent’, Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society, VII, pt. 7 (1940). pp. 325-6.
M. Norris, Monumental Brasses: The Memorials, 2 vols. (London, 1977), I, p. 216.
K. Krüger, Corpus der mittelalterlichen Grabdenkmäler in Lübeck, Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg (1100-1600) (Stuttgart, 1999), pp. 954-5 (LUMA*81).

Copyright Nicholas Rogers

  • © Monumental Brass Society (MBS) 2024
  • Registered Charity No. 214336