Uta who? Project with Uta School Naumburg has started

At the beginning of November 2021, the Uta-Who? - In the footsteps of our patron saint Uta of Naumburg", the annual project of the Uta School started in Naumburg Cathedral. The fourth grade students were first given a guided tour of the cathedral with a focus on the famous founder figure. This was followed by the project "Uta. Well heeled." in the KinderDomBauhütte. Is the most beautiful woman of the Middle Ages also a fashion icon? The elegant drapery and flowing movement of her robes make Uta seem amazingly alive, as if the Naumburg Master had petrified her in mid-motion. The clothing of the twelve donor figures in the west choir tell the children a lot about everyday life in the late Middle Ages. The children of the Uta School were able to examine the garments best on a dressing figure, and they became medieval fashion designers themselves and helped Uta to dress.

The aim of the project is to learn about the patron saint of the Uta School through guided tours, readings, creative workshops, writing workshops and Internet research, and to visualize her in a lasting way in a Uta extra and a permanent exhibition in the Uta School. The project's cooperation partners are the city library, the AuH, the Boedecker Circle and the Vereinigte Domstifter. The project is fully funded by the Ministry of Education through the "Creative Potentials" of Saxony-Anhalt.

The head of the cathedral archive and library, Matthias Ludwig, answered questions about Uta of Naumburg for the Uta School, for example "Who was Uta of Naumburg?", "How did Uta live?" and "What is beauty?" in a child-friendly way.

Uta from Naumburg

Who was Uta von Naumburg?

It is the most famous of the twelve donor figures of Naumburg Cathedral. All the donor figures were made of sandstone by the Naumburg Master, a famous stone sculptor of his time, around the middle of the 13th century. They are located in the west choir of Naumburg Cathedral and are among the most important sculptures of the Middle Ages in Germany.

Made of stone and yet alive?

All 12 figures are depicted quite differently and differ not only in their clothes and weapons. Originally, these sculptures were painted with a particularly bright colorful paint. The special feature of these life-size figures is above all the liveliness of the faces and the movements. They immediately show the viewer what distinctive character these people must have had. Unusual and something very special for the time was to depict not holy persons, but secular people.

What was the reason for this honor?

Founders are people who donated parts of their property or land to build churches. These donors were later depicted to remember and honor them. The Naumburg donor figures were noblemen of the Middle Ages who donated a lot of their wealth for the construction of the Naumburg Cathedral. Therefore, they were depicted as sculptures in the west choir of Naumburg Cathedral. The greatest benefactors were the brothers Ekkehard and Hermann, both Margraves of Meissen, with their wives Uta and Reglindis. Thus, the most important benefactors of the church could be thanked during church celebrations even after their death. They also served as role models for other benefactors: for those who supported the church so generously were assured a place in the heavenly realm after their death and the subsequent period of purification in purgatory (not to be confused with hell!). The more good deeds someone did in life or the more one donated to the church, the shorter the time in purgatory. Martin Luther later criticized this form of selling indulgences, i.e. using donations to buy oneself out of eternal damnation in hell.

How did Uta live?

The name giver of our school is actually Uta von Ballenstedt. She was born around the year 1000. She came from a wealthy and influential family of the high nobility and belonged to the court of the emperor. She spent the first years of her life at the ancestral castle of her parents, the counts Adalbert and Hidda von Ballenstedt. Uta probably learned to read and write as well as courtly manners and dance in the monastery of Gernrode. In 1026 Uta was married to Ekkehard II, Margrave of Meissen. At that time it was common to arrange marriages to increase power or keep peace. Girls were considered marriageable at the age of 12. Love marriages among nobles were not common in the Middle Ages, but there were very happy couples (like Elizabeth and Louis of Thuringia). While Ekkehard was away on war campaigns or near the king, Uta stayed at Nuwenburch in Naumburg. She died on 23 October 1045, the cause of death is not known. Uta was buried in Naumburg Cathedral under the altar of the cross. Her dowry went to the monastery of Gernrode. One year later, in 1046, her husband Ekkehard also died. The entire estate and wealth was given to Naumburg by the emperor because of her childlessness.

What is beauty?

Uta and Ekkehard had therefore already been dead for over 200 years when they were created by the Naumburg Master between 1243 and 1250. The Naumburg Master therefore did not know what the real donors had looked like. There were no photographs at that time. But also painted pictures, that is paintings, were not common at that time. So he created the sculptures according to his own imagination. He depicted Uta as a beautiful woman because she was noble, God-believing, pious and a generous benefactress. The Naumburg Master was an important artist in his time and very modern at that time. Thus, he also "dressed" Uta according to the current fashion of the High Middle Ages around 1243 and not in the trend of the Early Middle Ages around 1043 during Uta's lifetime!

Her headdress and raised collar make her look very elegant. She wears a gilded hood, above which sits a magnificent crown of lilies with precious stones. The so-called giving is a band of linen that runs under the hood and is looped around her ears and chin. It shows that she was married, because this ribbon was common only for married women since the 12th century. The hair is braided into a pigtail, with only a small curl peeking out from the giving end. Uta wears a red coat with golden hem and green fur trim. In addition, a sleeve tunic, which is decorated with a golden embroidery at the neckline. This sleeved tunic reaches to the ground, so that only the tips of her leather shoes peek out. Under the tunic she wears a long-sleeved slip dress, but only the red cuffs are visible. Everything is held together with a magnificent brooch on her chest. She holds her coat collar with her right hand, half protecting her face. The folds of her coat reach to the floor. The left hand with the wedding ring pulls the other part of the coat to itself.

This noble woman seems to protect herself and yet she shows herself dignified and sovereign. What does she want to protect herself from? Next to her, Margrave Ekkehard II of Meissen holds his sword firmly and resolutely. His gaze is just as determined. He is a man who can also assert his will. Ekkehard has self-confidence and strength, which he needs for his tasks in the war and at the royal court.

Uta von Naumburg is considered the most beautiful woman of the Middle Ages. The Naumburg photographer Walter Hege created legendary black-and-white photos of Uta in the 1920s, which made her the ideal image of the German woman like an icon. These pictures hung in every girl's room at the time and Uta became a popular first name. Her beauty even shone as far as Hollywood. Walt Disney used the portrait of Uta von Naumburg as a model for the drawing of Snow White's evil stepmother in his animated film 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (from 1937). Therefore, her facial features are still familiar to millions of people today.

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