Wartburg - Magazin - Foto: bbsmedien

The Wartburg Castle art collection Goethe's museum idea

A plan to decorate the historical building with elaborate religious carvings, which was proposed in 1815 and originated with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was never implemented. It was only when building renovations began that the collection was built up to ensure that the furnishings were in keeping with the monument itself.


A 'treasure chamber' with a European outlook

Inspired by Goethe's ideas for a museum, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and her son Carl Alexander of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach laid the foundation for an art collection with a European outlook. The main emphasis of the collection continues to focus on the historical and architectural periods that were most important for Wartburg Castle. A tour of the museum illustrates the fascinating history of Wartburg Castle using highlights from the Wartburg collection, which today includes around 9,000 objects.

Romanesque aquamanile

Lower Saxony, 1st half of the 12th century, brass

An aquamanile – from 'aqua' (water) and 'manus' (hand) – is a vessel, normally in the shape of an animal, that contained water for priests to wash their hands during mass.

Such vessels were also popular at the courts of secular rulers where they had more profane uses.

This stocky lion with his wide-open eyes and flared nostrils is a particularly impressive example. 


'Trese' document case

Lower Rhine / Flanders (?), around 1400, beechwood, linen, chalk, gold varnish and opaque colours, iron fittings

The oblong shape of this lavishly decorated case makes it likely that it was used to store precious documents, such as scrolls of parchment and official deeds.

Reliquary casket

Limoges, start of 13th century, wooden interior, copper, champlevé (pitted enamel)

In the 12th century, an area around the city of Limoges in the south-west of France became home to manufactories that supplied the whole of Europe with liturgical utensils made from brazed copper. Shallow recesses in the copper (pits) were filled with vitreous enamel, which was then fired and polished. This casket in the form of a shrine crowned by an open-work crest was used to store a relic.


Wall hanging 'The life of Saint Elisabeth'

Basel, around 1480/90, dyed wool and linen

This wall hanging depicts events from the last four years of the life of Elisabeth of Thuringia (1207-1231), who would later be canonised, after she left Wartburg Castle in 1228.



Hans Ott (Oth), Nuremberg, around 1450, maple and spruce

The body, neck and pegbox of this small lute are made from a single piece of maple. The soundboard is made of spruce and has a particularly ornately carved sound hole, cut out as a rosette.

Inside the instrument is a note with red letters that reads 'Hans Oth, Nuremberg'. The presence of this important master craftsman has been documented in that city until 1463.

'Wartburg Bible'

Bible translation by Martin Luther, printed by Hans Lufft, Wittenberg, 1541

Biblia: das ist:/ Die gantze Heilige Schrifft: Deudsch/ Auffs New zugericht./D. Mart. Luth./ Begnadetmit Kür-/ fürstlicher zu Sachsen Freiheit. Gedrückt zu Wittenberg, durch Hans Lufft./ M.D.X L l

Bible translation by Martin Luther, printed by Hans Lufft, Wittenberg, 1541

Luther's most important Bible printer, Hans Lufft, published the very first edition of the full Lutheran Bible in 1534. This was followed by several corrected reprints during Luther's lifetime. In the summer of 1539, Luther and his collaborators embarked on their first great revision of his Bible, some of the results of which are already reflected in this edition.

This priceless Bible is particularly special because it bears the signatures of Martin Luther and some of his fellow reformers. On its inside cover, the book contains an inscription by Luther dated 1542, and one by Philipp Melanchthon below that.

There are annotations by the Bible's first owner, Wolfgang Wesemer, a town magistrate from Halle, throughout the entire text.

Gothic harp – known as the Wartburg harp

Alpine, after 1450, maple, Certosina mosaic

The elongated shape of this instrument is markedly different from the more compact medieval harps. The resonating body and pillar are inlaid with ornamental Certosina mosaics of bone and ebony.

The top inlay on the pillar spells the word 'wann' (when), which remains a mystery to this day – it is possible that the harp belonged to the minnesinger Oswald von Wolkenstein, who began many of his songs that way.


Two-level cabinet – 'Dürer cabinet'

Franconian (Nuremberg), around 1515, limewood, cherrywood, ash

This cabinet is one of the most remarkable treasures in the Wartburg collection. Even when it was purchased in 1841 it was deemed to be an extraordinary item by experts. The relief carvings are based on engravings by Albrecht Dürer, designs by the Italian master craftsman Moderno and a detail from Lucas Cranach's 'Adam and Eve'. The accomplished realisation of the scenic reliefs, the fascinating interplay of light and shadow on the smooth surfaces, the late-Gothic arabesques and the use of the different types of wood testify to the great skill of the craftsman, who was probably from Nuremberg.



Pair of angels with candlesticks

Workshop of Tilman Riemenschneider, around 1510, limewood

Riemenschneider's realistic, lyrical figures differ from late-Gothic sculpture in several elements. His work marks the beginning of the modern era. Intricate light-and-shadow effects and the unified form of the sculptures showcase the mastery of the artist and his workshop.

The pair of angels was a Christmas present from Grand Duchess Sophie to her husband, Carl Alexander of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the founder of the Wartburg art collection.


The Egloffstein collection of historical cutlery

From 14th to early 19th century

Since 1843, Wartburg Castle has been home to a remarkable collection of historical cutlery. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Saxe-Weimar acquired these treasures for the castle from their original collector, Baron Gottfried Friedrich Ernst von und zu Egloffstein (1774-1848).

It is the oldest known German cutlery collection – apart from the contents of some royal art chambers – and by becoming part of the Wartburg collection it has been able to avoid the fate of being broken up and auctioned off.

It consists of around 650 knives, forks and spoons dating from the 14th to the early 19th century, made from a vast variety of different materials and originating primarily from Germany and the rest of the German-speaking world.


Luther as Squire George

Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1522 (?), woodcut

This woodcut of 'Squire George' is probably the last printed portrait of Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Following the Diet of Worms, the Elector Frederick the Wise arranged for Luther to be taken to the safety of his border fortress, Wartburg Castle. As his life was thought to be in grave danger, Luther changed his appearance quite radically. He grew out his hair, getting rid of the tonsure which marked him out as a monk, and he substantially altered his face with the addition of a full beard.

However, he left the safety of the castle for a few days in the beginning of December 1521.

He travelled to Wittenberg, where he met up with his good friend Lucas Cranach, who began to work on a portrait of him. Unfortunately the drafts from this sitting have been lost, as have most of Cranach's sketches.

The final woodcut based on that preliminary work is unlikely to have been completed before Luther returned to Wittenberg for good on 6 March 1522, as suggested by the Latin inscription and the date above the portrait:

IMAGO MARTINI LVTERI EO HABITV EX= PRESSA QVO REVERSVS EST EXPATHMO VVITTENBERGAM ANNO DOMINI 1522 (An image of Martin Luther, as he appeared when he returned from his Patmos to Wittenberg).

Middle Ages

The Romanesque-style palas (great hall) dates back to the Middle Ages and is home to many artefacts from that time, such as the magnificent Romanesque lion aquamanile and other pouring vessels, an ornate document case and a reliquary casket.

Furnishings, textiles and exquisite everyday objects paint a picture of life in the ruling houses. A tapestry made in Basel in the 15th century depicts events from the life of Saint Elisabeth. A Tyrolean harp, said to have belonged to the last minnesinger Oswald von Wolkenstein, and a richly decorated lute attest to the golden age of culture at the court of the Thuringian Landgraves.

Renaissance and Reformation

The Renaissance and the Reformation are closely intertwined at Wartburg Castle and give the place a special atmosphere. The unique cabinet with relief carvings in the style of Dürer, the intricate sculptures by Riemenschneider and Lucas Cranach the Elder's 'Young Mother with Child' are on display alongside the famous portraits of Martin Luther's parents, the wedding portraits of Luther and his wife Katharina, and a Bible printed in Hans Lufft's workshop in Wittenberg containing annotations by Luther.

A walk along the medieval battlemented parapet brings you to the bailiff's lodge, where you can see the ornate study chamber of the humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, a contemporary of Luther. Next door is the room where Luther translated the New Testament into German under the alias of Squire George.