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134. Seal of Alert (Converted Jew)


Alert the Jew

Dimensions: approximately 26 mm. Impression.

Location: North Rhine-Westphalia Main Archives, Düsseldorf, Duissern No. 169.

An unusual seal shows up quite a few times on documents located in the archives of Duisburg and Düsseldorf, cities on the north Rhine. These documents all come from the early part of the sixteenth century and thus can scarcely be considered even late medieval in origin, but the seal design itself in certain respects represents an earlier style and raises some fascinating questions.

The seal belonged to Alert (sometimes written Alart, Allart or Alard), called “The Jew” but mayor of Duisburg for over thirty years. Though he must have been a convert, Alert is continually referred to as “The Jew” in documents, and his seal not only repeats this phrase but shows three Jew’s hats on the shield as well. According to Dr. Milz, the director of the Duisburg city archives, Alert was granted citizenship in 1495, became mayor in 1502, and was still functioning in that position as late as 1536.

A document at the Main State Archives of Düsseldorf dated October 7, 1513, is illustrated here. It is written in German on parchment. Its substance is that Dietrich Knyppinck, representing the Duissern Cloister, a Cistercian monastery, is certified before the mayor Alert the Jew (“Allart die Joede” in the document) and four jurors as being the lawful agent in the transfer of certain parcels of real estate to the cloister. The seal of Alert and those of the four jurors are appended to the document.

The seal shows in the center a square-faced man wearing a Jew’s hat, which, however, is designed to appear like a short helmet. Tight beneath his chin against his chest is a jousting knight’s close helmet with streamers, the type which not only covers the complete head, with movable visor, but extends down to sit on the shoulders. Beneath, at a forty-five-degree angle to the right, is a shield decorated with three Jews’ hats and two × s. Round the seal edge is the legend, whose first word requires considerable ingenuity to decipher. The words of the legend are embossed on a ribbon rather than between the usual two bordering lines, an indication of post-medieval stylistic influence.

The question has been raised several times earlier as to why a converted Jew, Alert in this case, should retain the Jew’s hat as an emblem on his seal. It is possible that the seal predates his conversion and that he simply continued to use it, but this is not likely. In this period religion was not confused with theories of race, and a conversion usually led to full acceptance in the Gentile community. The appearance on this seal by a Jewish convert of a face with a Jew’s hat, three Jews’ hats on a shield, and a reference to the holder’s being Jewish, combined with other symbols representing the knightly tradition in Germany, is therefore extraordinary, though a short distance farther north on the Rhine, across the frontier in Holland, the same odd juxtaposition of symbols is also seen.

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