Kaminbehang — Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst

@medievalpoc said, “This has gotta be in the top ten ugliest arts I’ve ever seen and I love it.” Robert and I thought it was pretty freaky also. When we visited the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst last Thursday it was unchallenged as the most wtf? of anything we saw. It’s deeply entrancing with its sheer strangeness.

So, with all the attention Der Kaminbehang got, I started to poke a little deeper. Turns out the Grassmuseum appreciates its weirdness, devoting an entire Digital Kinderkatalog (digital children’s catalogue) to the work. I can totally see kids going bonkers over it.

I’m not sure the Kaminbehang.pdf answers all questions being asked, but anyway, I slapped up a quick and rough translation. I also did a number on the text above each figure. I think it’s in Frühneuhochdeutsch, but there’s some words that are either Süddeutsch, imports from other Germanic languages, or possibly (in the case of the Roma figure) not German at all.

A couple of notes: These translations are on the literal side, not trying to dress them up beyond getting the meaning across. For the Kaminbehang, all characters are in uppercase, which can lend vastly different translations based on whether a word is noun or verb (e.g. herkommen/Herkommen). I presume this would be easier to differentiate for a German speaker, but even Robert had trouble teasing out the meaning. Words are separated with small stars. But not always. There are no umlauts, ‘V’ is used for ‘U’; ‘I’ is used for both ‘I’ and ‘J’ and sometimes ‘L’; some of the letters are so worn it took a while to work out what was what; there are both standard-ish Early New High German spellings (from what I can tell — not my thing at all), plus variations that seem according to how much space there was. I’m giving the original text (as close as I could work it out) plus a flat translation to English. I also did a translation to Standard German, but not including it.

First, the text above each figure, in original Frühneuhochdeutsch followed by my English translation:

Der weise Mor bin ich vorogen
alle ins Vien bin ich durch Zogen
mit meinem Pfeile und Bogen in meiner Hant

The white Moor I am before others’ eyes
all in my veins can I be seen through to
with my arrow and bow in my hand

So bin ich der Unger geant 1571
an meiner Kleidung wol bekant
durch deutsch und welsch Lant

So am I the Hungarian named 1571 (date of manufacture)
by my clothing well-known
through german and foreign lands

So bin ich der Zegeuner vor Hant
den deutschen nihi bkat als voe Jaren
da sie an uns kein Gelt deten sparenn

So am I the Gypsy before hand
the Germans are not generous as years before
since they no longer spare money on us

Ein Welscher bin ich bei zimlichen Jaren
und bin von Welschen genomenn
trag Kleidung nach unserm Herkomen

A Welsh am I for quite a few years
and am from foreign lands come
I wear clothing according to our tradition

So bin ich von schwartzen More genom
kein Kleidung drag ich in meinem Lant
von der sonnen Hitz die mich vorbrant

So am I known as the black Moor
no clothes do I wear in my country
from the sun’s heat am I burnt

Ich bin Frantzose wol bekant
meinem Herrn dem diene ich
bei meiner Kleidung bleibe ich

I am French, well known
my Lord do I serve
by remaining in my apparel

Einen langen Spies fur ich vor mich
ein Schweitzer und trever Helt
meine Kleidung mir also wol gefelt

A long spear for me before myself
a Swiss and loyal hero
my clothing pleases me indeed

So bin ich der Turck gezelt
kombt ein Christen meine Hant
er mus mir lasen ein teur speant

So am I the Turk tented (i.e. enveloped in a tent-like cloak)
a Christian comes to my hand
to leave he must make an expensive donation

So bin ich der hohe Deutsche genan
aller Nation Kleidung gefelt mir wol
weis doch nicht wie ich machen sol
mir doch ein bas dan die ander gefelt
damit ich ein Ansehen hab als ein Helt
so will ich hin zum Werckman gan
und im die Sache selber zeigen an

So am I the High German named
all nations’ clothing pleases me greatly
but I have no idea how I should wear them
first one then another enjoyed
thus I have the reputation of a hero
I will go to the artisan
and in these items display myself

And then the text from the Kaminbehang.pdf. This is intended for children or school groups, not sure what age range, but presuming pre-teens. It includes each of the figures, but their text does not correspond entirely or at all to the actual text on the Kaminbehang. It does provide additional information to its history, as well as elaborating on the figures, for example describing the first figure as Albino. I’ve also translated the figures’ nationalities or ethic groups literally. Some, like Moor or Gypsy or Turk are pejorative, either within their use context here or generally. German — the language as well as the thinking, people, country — still has ‘issues’ with both words used as well as concepts behind them. Let’s just say it’s late-’70s here.

The fireplace hanging

The fireplace curtain on display probably originates from southern Germany and was manufactured in 1571. It is 40cm high and 284cm wide. Previously it was used to decorate a fireplace in summer, when it was too warm for heating. It belonged to the old art collection of the Leipzig Town Hall (Leipziger Rathaus), the so-called Leipzig Council Treasure (Leipziger Ratsschatz). This work of art which we will look at in more detail together dates back to the Renaissance era.

It is meticulously made of precious materials such as silk, velvet and linen. Gilded metal wires along with real gold and silver thread were also used in the process. The figures’ weapons are comprised of metal or carved from wood.

It consists of nine alternating yellow, white, and black fields, on each of which a male figure is identifiable. The embroidered figures were stuffed with linen and paper, and are semi-sculptural in shape — that is, they lie like bisected puppets on the cloth.

Shown are different nations in their country’s traditional clothing. As early as the 16th century, people in Germany were interested in knowing how other peoples lived. In addition the artist was making fun of the vanity of the people of the time.

What is important is:

  • The individual figures are representations of how foreign peoples and cultures were imagined in the 16th century.
  • The European peoples are depicted as very rich and progressive; the Africans however, as a wild and impoverished people.
  • Today we are fortunate to know much more about other nations and the similarities or differences between our lives. Have you ever thought about this?

The White Moor
“Although I am an African, I have a fair complexion. They call me Albino. Not only in the 16th century were there often people like me on the west coast of Africa. I am depicted half-naked, like a wild hunter, clothed only with a hat and loincloth. In my left hand I carry a bow, and in the right an arrow.

The Hungarian
“My clothes are a long, colourful coat, a scarf around my neck, white trousers and short boots. In my hand I have a war hammer.”

The Gypsy
”I wear a pointed cap, a striped cloak, short trousers, and shoes. With my hands I open my cloak a little — can you see my naked belly?”

The Italian
“I prefer to dress myself very elegantly — according to the latest fashion, all in black with a flat hat and long hose. To this attire also belongs a long dagger, which I hold in my hand.”

The Black Moor
“I am also an African and on my naked body wear nothing but armlets and a torc. In my hands I have two arrows. The white blemishes do not mean I am wearing a leopard skin, rather the black fabric is worn out in these places. Now the light linen base shines through.”

The Frenchman
”Like the Italian, I am very fashionably dressed. On my head sits a beret. In addition, I wear a ruffle at my neck, slit trousers, and dainty shoes. My bright hose are especially striking. My left hand rests on the hilt of a sword.”

The Swiss
“With a long, forked beard, I have been depicted in the colourful garb of a mercenary. This includes a beret, doublet, funny knickerbockers, decorated hose, and elegant flat shoes. Sword, dagger, and a long spear are my weapons.”

The Turk
“I wear a moustache and a cap, a wide collar over my coat, long hose and ankle boots. In my left hand I hold a small, naked baby by one leg. The scimitar is my weapon.”

The German.
“I am still naked, but over one arm I carry many items of colourful clothing. But for which of the different fashions should I decide upon? Best for me to go to a tailor and avail myself of him for advice. After all, I will not get warm by looking at the clothing!”