This website was last updated on: 15 March 2011
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out such a matter.
Proverbs, Chapter 25, Verse 2
Purpose of this Website
In the small village church at Bad Teinach in southwestern Germany is an elaborately complex, Baroque-style triptych, that is virtually unknown to the English speaking world. In German, the title of this painting is "Die Kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia zu Württemberg" which may be translated into English as "The Kabbalistic Teaching Painting of Princess Antonia of Württemberg." The painting was designed by several eminent, 17th century, Christian Kabbalists, who were probably also Freemasons and Rosicrucians as well.
This teaching painting, or "Lehrtafel" as it is known in German, has been the subject of several books and articles by German scholars but almost nothing is available in the English language. The purpose of this website is to bring this wonderful painting to the attention of the English speaking peoples by providing an English language description of this highly complex and esoteric work. This triptych may be and has been (but only in German) subjected to in-depth analyses at the esoteric level; however, other than an elementary discussion of Kabbalism, the descriptions provided at this website should be considered only non-esoteric in nature.
This site is the result of a joint effort by myself and Mani Gerlach. Mrs. Gerlach, a native of Germany, conducted substantial research among the German language studies of this painting and provided English language translations where appropriate.
Bad Teinach is a town in the district of Calw, situated in the Black Forest area of southwest Germany. The town is famous for the large alchemical-kabbalistic triptych that is mounted in a large baroque case near the altar of a small church in the town. I believe this triptych to be a major work of esoteric symbolism; it may even be considered by some people to be an example of "Objective Art" as defined by G. I. Gurdjieff or as “Symbolique Art” as defined by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz.
This is a large work; with the panels closed, it measures approximately six meters high and five meters wide; it dominates the area to the right of the altar of the church. It seems to have been prepared as a “teaching painting” ("Lehrtafel" in German) for the use of Princess Antonia (1613-1679) of the Duchy of Württemberg. She was the daughter of Frederick I, Duke of Württemberg (1557-1608). Frederick had been an alchemist and occultist, who, in 1603, was invested into the Order of the Garter by King James I of England. The Lehrtafel was designed in the 1650s by several friends and academic advisors of Princess Antonia; it was completed in 1663 by the artist, Johann Friedrich Gruber (1620-1681), the court painter at Stuttgart, and was presented to the Princess on her fiftieth birthday. For 10 years (1663-73) the triptych remained in Stuttgart, in the bedroom of the princess as a devotional image. But in 1673, on the sixtieth birthday of Princess Antonia, the triptych was installed at the church in Bad Teinach, the town where the ducal family used to take their summer holidays. Antonia's brother, Duke Eberhard III (1614-1674), had established the church as a private family chapel.
What is a Lehrtafel?
German scholar, Anne Frommann, has defined a "teaching painting" (Lehrtafel) with the following words:
A “Lehrtafel” should be a work of art which attracts attention, but which is dedicated to providing instruction to the spectator. Thoughts and relationships are combined in a such a way that they present a challenge to the observer to understand its content. The Lehrtafel provides explanations within an appropriate historical milieu. It avoids the moralization that often accompanies verbal presentations. The knowledge it communicates should provide thoughts, events and relationships in a pictorial manner without unwanted intrusiveness. As the French philosopher Montaigne once recommended, pupils should be shown things in a way that they can understand and enjoy; teachers should point the way but the pupils travel along the path by themselves. A well designed and executed Lehrtafel should provide pleasure to the viewer even though the message it communicates is serious and difficult to understand. It should stimulate interest even among those who are initially indifferent. Most importantly, the Lehrtafel should be able to communicate knowledge at several different levels in accordance with the levels at which the observers are capable of understanding. Simply stated, the Lehrtafel should work; it should be able to communicate that which needs to be understood.
Thirty Years War
The triptych was created only a few years after the conclusion of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) between the Protestants and the Catholics, a war in which almost all of Germany had been devastated. During this War, Württemberg suffered more than any other German state. By the time of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, most villages and cities in the German southwest had suffered greatly from the battles, the pillaging of the armies of both sides, and from the quartering troops. Historians estimate that the Duchy of Württemberg alone had lost almost two thirds of its population from the fighting, hunger, disease, murder and pillage. In 1618 Württemberg had 350,000 inhabitants; in 1648 just 120,000 were left. In such a situation, I would expect that most of the men would have died. Thus, by 1648, Württemberg had become a principality composed mostly of widows and orphans!
The Baroque Cabinet
The Lehrtafel with the Panels Closed - the Wedding Procession of Shulamith
The Triptych with the Panels Opened
As a Lehrtafel, a major purpose of this triptych is to serve as a highly complex mnemonic device to aid one's memory in recalling Biblical characters and stories; however, as this website will hopefully establish, this painting is capable of communicating messages of a much more significant nature.
For the most part, it has been the center panel of the triptych that has been the primary object of study by art historians and occultists. However, I find the side panels also to be of great interest; each panel depicts a scene from the life of Jesus and Moses respectively; both are scenes involving Egypt. Overall, the triptych seems to be attempting to visually communicate a pathway to higher consciousness that may be taken by a properly initiated individual. Many of the symbols used in the center panel appear to be only slightly disguised Masonic and/or Rosicrucian in nature. There are also a number of kabbalistic features as well. This introduction will not analyze the kabbalistic symbolism, that aspect of the triptych is discussed in a separate article.
Though dated to the mid-17th century, the work is reputed to be a creation by members of the esoteric brethren of the Rosy Cross who were religious and philosophical advisors to the Princess. It is probable that the painting was never intended to be shown except to a small group of Rosicrucian initiates who were familiar with its symbolism. Rosicrucianism and its fellow-traveler, Freemasonry, are discussed in this article.
Left Panel: the Left panel depicts a scene from the New Testament concerning the nighttime flight to Egypt by the Holy Family. Under a full moon, Mary and the baby Jesus ride on a donkey while Joseph walks beside them carrying a lantern. Over his left shoulder, Joseph carries a long handle with what appears to be a saw at the other end. Joseph and the donkey seem to be stepping out onto some wooden planking; perhaps they are starting to cross a bridge.
Right Panel: the Right panel depicts a scene from the Old Testament; Pharaoh's daughter, Bithiah, and her entourage find the baby Moses in the bulrushes alongside the Nile in Egypt. In the distance, Moses' older sister, Miriam watches anxiously.
A dark, Moorish-like figure is shown standing just behind the left shoulder of Pharaoh's daughter. The figure seems to be pointing out the location of the infant Moses. I believe that this person may be intended to represent al-Khidr (means the "Green One" in Arabic), who is described in the Koran as the spiritual advisor and teacher of Moses. The ancient Greeks would call such an entity a daemon; a good example would be the "daemon of Socrates." The Koran, at Surah 18, verses 60-82, describes this person although not by name. In all, the Koran cites Moses (Musa) a total of 522 times, more than any other prophet.
Center Panel: This panel is incredibly complicated - over one hundred scenes and figures are depicted. Brief verbal descriptions of some of the scenes and figures follows:
The Center panel depicts the initiate, Princess Antonia, standing at the entrance to a white and red rosebush enclosed garden; in her right hand she carries a flaming heart (Sacred Heart) and in her left hand she holds a staff shaped like an anchor with a cross. The anchored cross is a chrismon symbolizing the steadfast faithfulness of God. Walking beside her is a lamb (symbolizing Christ).
In the center of the garden stands the figure of the crucified and resurrected Christ; he stands upon a rock holding the Cross in his left hand while pointing upwards with three fingers of his right hand. From a wound in his side there flows a stream of blood forming a pool at the centre of the circle. Around him, the garden is divided into three rings of twelve flower beds, each bearing their own particular type of plants. Twelve figures are shown standing around the circumference of the inner ring (which is irrigated from the pool of the Christ's Blood). German scholars have indicated that the 12 human figures represent the 12 sons of Jacob (also known as "Israel"); beside each figure is an animal and a tree of a particular type. The twelve human figures and the associated tree with each, are as follows, counting clockwise from the figure just to the right of Christ: Gad - Laurel; Reuben - Cypress; Simeon - Willow; Issachar - Fig; Judah - Cedar; Zebulun - Fir; Asher - Olive; Dan - Apple; Naphtali - Pomegranate; Benjamin - Almond; Joseph - Palm; and Levi - Oak.
The Heart of the Lehrtafel Center Panel - The Two Pillars
The Heart of the Lehrtafel Center Panel - The Two Crucifixions
Lehrtafel Center Panel - Temple Dome
The mid-dome portion of the Temple of Solomon contains a representation of the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just below the Trinity is a strange symbol. This symbol is a composite of a circle containing a square; the square contains a triangle; the triangle contains an image of a clover within which is the image of an eye. This may be a disguised Rosicrucian symbol. The image of a rose within a triangle is a symbol frequently used by many Rosicrucian societies. Also, the use of a circle containing a square which contains a triangle is a symbol occasionally used by certain German Rosicrucian groups. Also, depictions of an eye within a triangle or an eye within a pyramid are frequently used Masonic symbols.
For comparison purposes, see the Lehrtafel image compared with two Rosicrucian symbols as follows:
Lehrtafel Center Panel - Crown of the Temple Dome
The dome of the Temple is capped by a crown, which is suspended above a strange and enigmatic symbol (see image at the left above). The large golden crown hovers protectively over this meaningful symbol and contains Hebrew letters which say: "He is" - "the Almighty" - and "He has given."
The symbol below the crown may be an only slightly disguised Masonic symbol. The letter "O" is overlaid by an upside-down letter "A" which is overlaid by another letter "A" and all three letters are overlaid by a large "T" Square. Compare this symbol with the standard symbol of Freemasonry (see image at the right above); it is reasonable to conclude that, although disguised, a Masonic connection is being suggested.
1) Adam McLean, "The Kabbalistic-Alchemical Altarpiece in Bad Teinach" - Hermetic Journal, Number 12, Summer 1981, pages 21-26.
2) Anne Frommann, "Lehrtafeln" (2005) - Online Article.
3) Otto Betz, Licht vom unerschaffnen Lichte. Die kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia in Bad Teinach (1996).
4) Ernst Harnischfeger, Mystik im Barock : Das Weltbild der Teinacher Lehrtafel (1980).
5) Eva Johanna Schauer, "Jüdische Kabbala und christlicher Glaube - Die Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia zu Württemberg in Bad Teinach" (2001) - Online Article.
I currently support twenty-four websites. Fifteen sites are related to philosophy and art and nine are related to genealogy and local history. Hyperlinks to these sites are shown below.
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Copyright© 2010-2011 by Phil Norfleet
All Rights Reserved. Published in the United States of America. Essays provided at this web site, may be reproduced for nonprofit personal or educational use only. Photos used at this site were taken or adapted from photos posted with the Wikipedia articles re Eberhard III, Princess Antonia and Johannes Valentinus Andreae; or from the books by Otto Betz: Lich vom unerschaffnen Lichte: Die kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia in Bad Teinach and Ernst Harnischfeger: Mystik im Barock: Das Weltbild der Teinacher Lehrtafel. Commercial use of any of these materials is a violation of United States copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.