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The Kabbalistic Teaching Painting of Princess Antonia of Württemberg in Bad Teinach

 

Die Kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia zu Württemberg in Bad Teinach

Village Church at Bad Teinach in Germany

 

Princess Antonia (1613-1679) and Her Circle

 

Likeness of Princess Antonia from the left outside panel of the Lehrtafel.

Likeness of Princess Antonia from the center panel of the Lehrtafel.

Prophets Ezekiel (left) and Isaiah (right) from the Lehrtafel. Isaiah has been given the likeness of Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654).

 

The 1897 Edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia contains the following article, by Moses Beer, re Princess Antonia of the Duchy of Württemberg:

"A Christian Hebraist and cabalistic scholar, born in the first half of the seventeenth century; died 1679. One of the effects of the Reformation in Germany was an increased interest in the Hebrew language among Christian scholars, and royal and noble families included it sometimes even in the curriculum of their daughters' education. In the seventeenth century many German women attained to quite a considerable knowledge of Hebrew. One of the best known of them was Antonia, the sister of Duke Eberhard III of Würtemberg (Duke from 1629-74). She acquired a remarkable mastery of Hebrew, and, according to contemporary evidence, was well versed in rabbinic and cabalistic lore. Esenwein, dean of Urach and professor at Tübingen, wrote as early as July, 1649, to John Buxtorf at Basel that Antonia, "having been well grounded in the Hebrew language and in reading the Hebrew Bible, desires to learn also the art of reading without vowels," and three years later he wrote to Buxtorf that she had made such progress that she had "with her own hand put vowels to the greatest part of a Hebrew Bible." Philipp Jacob Spener, another pupil of Buxtorf, during his temporary stay at Heidelberg, was on friendly terms with the princess, and they studied Cabala together. Buxtorf himself presented her with a copy of each of his books. There is a manuscript extant in the Royal Library of Stuttgart, entitled "Unterschiedlicher Riss zu Sephiroth," which is supposed to have been written by Antonia. It contains cabalistic diagrams, some of which are interpreted in Hebrew and German. Her praise was sung by many a Christian Hebraist, and one poem (in twenty-four stanzas with her acrostic) in honor of the "celebrated Princess Antonia" has been preserved in the collection of manuscripts of John Buxtorf."

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had left the principality of Württemberg completely impoverished and devastated. Princess Antonia was the sister of Duke Eberhard III of Württemberg (born 1614 - died 1674), who had returned to Stuttgart with his whole family in 1638, after four years of exile in Strasbourg. Their mother had died during their time in exile and their father had previously died in 1628. Antonia and her two younger sisters, Johanna and Anna Sibylla, were unmarried and their life was of a quite simple nature; they only had a modest stipend upon which to live and were required to live quite frugally. Princess Antonia and her sisters devoted much of their time to the study of science and the arts. All three ladies were musicians; Anna Sibylla was especially gifted in the play of musical instruments. Along with her sisters, Antonia engaged in mathematical and astronomical studies; she also liked to paint. However, her most significant interest was her enthusiasm for the Hebrew Language and the Jewish Kabbalah. At that time, every educated person in Germany was fluent in the reading and writing of Latin, but few had mastered Hebrew. Antonia's erudition was praised by all of her contemporaries; she was also known for her piety, charity and exemplary personal conduct. Where possible, she comforted and helped the needy to the extent possible given her very modest wealth.

From 1662 to 1665, the family built a summer residence, with a small church beside it, in the village of Bad Teinach. The village was in the northern part of the Black Forest, an area already well known for its curative waters. The small church was known as the Trinity Church of Teinach. In this church, on the south side of the choir, is a triptych shrine flanked by two spiral columns of impressive height and width. It was erected in the spring of 1673, just after the 60th birthday of Princess Antonia. This shrine, a "Lehrtafel" to use the German term, had been completed ten years earlier, as a present for the princess on her 50th birthday.

Duke Eberhard III

The “Lehrtafel” was the fruit of many years of work. The sheer scope of the work was extraordinary: the use of both Old and New Testament themes; the knowledge of both the Jewish and Christian Kabbalah; an awareness of early Christian literature, art, and symbolism; and knowledge of the latest science of the time. It is obvious that the thought and planning that went into this work required more than one scholar. The Lehrtafel had to be the creation of a circle of learned men. The triptych was created just after the end of the Thirty Years War; it was primarily for the personal educational use of Princess Antonia.  The work was created by the Württemberg court painter, Johann Friedrich Gruber. The  "erectionis annus" of the work was 1659; this means the year that the draft was completed. The "descriptionis annus" or year of description was the year 1660. It is believed that Johann Laurentius Schmidlin (1626-1692) added the poetry that appears at the top of the outer panels. It is quite possible that this work, which so strongly shows the influence of Jewish Kabbalistic teachings, may have been deemed heretical by the Consistory in Stuttgart; thus its installation would have been prohibited in a Christian church in Stuttgart.
 

The initial impetus for the creation of this work probably was given by Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654). This man is believed by some scholars to have been one of the authors of the three Rosicrucian Manifestos that were published in Germany during the years 1614-1616. In 1639, he came to Stuttgart where he took the position as the Court Clergyman and Church Counsel; he remained in this post until 1650. In his autobiography, Andreae speaks of Antonia and her two sisters in a very warm-hearted and grateful way, calling them a “cloverleaf of Graces.” He admired their peace of mind, their patience in suffering, and the basic kindness of their characters, which had provided great comfort to him. Andreae was a great lover of art. It would not be surprising if the idea of a great theological painting originated from him. His image is painted on the Lehrtafel as the Prophet Isaiah - further evidence that he had probably played a role in designing the work.

Johann Jakob Strolin (1620-1663) was the Pastor in the nearby towns of Cannstatt and Münster. He taught the Princess both Hebrew and Aramaic; he also introduced her to the rabbinic interpretation of Scripture and the teachings of the Kabbalah. Probably Strolin did the main work in devising and planning the “Lehrtafel,” but he died just before the completion of the shrine.

Strolin's funeral oration was done by his friend and colleague Johann Laurentius Schmidlin (1626-1692). He is thought to have been another key advisor in the creation of the Lehrtafel. Schmidlin's special talent lay in the field of classical Languages , he was also the secretary of Princess Antonia's scholarly circle. With his Latin poem “Pictura docens” Schmidlin made an important contribution to the understanding of the Lehrtafel. Also, it was Schmidlin who provided the three verses in German which appear at the top of the outer panels of the Triptych.

Johann Valentin Andreae

Another probable contributor was the mathematician, Johann Jakob Heinlin (1588-1660), Prelate of the monastery school of Bebenhausen in Tübingen. He was one of the teachers of both Antonia and Johanna. Heinlin was primarily concerned with chronological questions and also studied the rabbinic texts.

We know very little about the man who actually painted the triptych for the Teinach shrine. This painter was Johann Friedrich Gruber (1620-1681), the Württemberg court painter in Stuttgart. He had the difficult task to integrate the terminology of Kabbalah, an understanding of the essential elements of the Christian Faith, and knowledge of the important events of biblical history into a single triptych that should also be a work of beauty. Princess Antonia and Strolin were both very talented in drawing; thus Gruber undoubtedly got suggestions, instructions, and sketches from them both. It is probable that he had only limited freedom to create his own figures and scenes, but had to fulfill to the last detail the demands of his clients. Gruber was employed from 1659-1663 by Princess Antonia for the Lehrtafel and in subsequent years as an art teacher for the Duke of Württemberg's children.

Princess Antonia worked for years with the above cited group of men to plan and implement this work. It represents a compound of Jewish and Christian philosophies. Its purpose was to describe a possible path of fulfillment and self-actualization that people could use throughout their entire lives. The Princess and her advisors wished to dissolve the contradiction between reason and disposition, not only by meditation and the deepening of faith, but also by the remembrance and recollection of knowledge that had been accumulated from ancient cultures and languages. They didn’t want to present their findings in the form of a learned treatise, but in a jointly designed set of images which would be intelligible to every spectator; these images could be “read” with both knowledge and reverence at the same time.

In accordance with her wishes, when Princess Antonia died in 1679, her body was buried in the Collegiate Church at Stuttgart; however, her heart was buried in the wall behind her beloved Lehrtafel.

References:

1)  Anne Frommann, "Lehrtafeln" (2005) - Online Article.

2)  Otto Betz, Lich vom unerschaffnen Lichte: Die kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia in Bad Teinach (1996).

3)  Eva Johanna Schauer, "Jüdische Kabbala und christlicher Glaube - Die Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia zu Württemberg in Bad Teinach" (2001) - Online Article.


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