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140. Seal of Hartwich Said the Jew


Dimensions: approximately 25 mm. Impression.

Location: North Rhine-Westphalia State Archives of Münster, St. Ägidii No. 117.

The Münster archives holds a seal of extraordinary aesthetic interest. The field is 260 dominated by a distinguished face looking slightly to the left, with long flowing hair and equally flowing beard and surmounted by a Jew’s hat at a rakish setting. Around the image, between solid lines, is the Latin legend. The seal is in superb condition except for a few letters, particularly the last two.

Debt reduction agreement from Münster, April 8, 1402, sealed by Isaac. North Rhine-Westphalia State Archives of Münster, Rietberg Collection, No. 196.

This seal is still attached to a document in Latin from June 11, 1356, illustrated here. In substance, it states that Hartwich called the Jew, citizen of Münster, and Kunnegunde appeared before the official of the court of Münster to sell for forty marks in Münster denars a farmstead called “Clay Twenhuzen,” in Billerbeck parish, to the priest Johann, called “The Brown.”

The records indicate that Hartwich was a convert to Christianity, and this is corroborated by the fact that he is specifically called a citizen of Münster, an appellation rarely accorded a Jew in fourteenth-century Germany, where such references are usually to a “resident.” The name Hartwich, surely adopted at baptism, and that of his wife, Kunnegunde, support this conclusion. However, the sale document still refers to him as a Jew; Hartwich’s seal is clearly engraved “said the Jew” or “so-called Jew” (translated as “dictus Jode” in the Münster records), and the portrait of the seal owner (for so it may be presumed) shows an undeniable Jew’s hat.

Real estate sale from Münster, June 11, 1356, sealed by Hartwich. North Rhine-Westphalia State Archives of Münster, St. Ägidii No. 117.

The fact that a Jew converted did not mean that he abandoned the use of a seal which depicted him either in portrait or symbolically as by origin a Jew or, indeed, that he eliminated any reference to his Jewish background in the legend. In fact, a late thirteenth-century seal of a citizen and knight of Cologne (see No. 150) is inscribed DANIELI DICTI IVD[EI], as in this case.

The probability is that the face shown is not an actual life portrait of Hartwich but a stylistic representation. E. H. Gombrich, the noted art historian, points out that “there were no portraits as we understand them in the Middle Ages. All the artists did was to draw a conventional figure and to give it the insignia of office—a crown and sceptre for the king, a mitre and crozier for the bishop—and perhaps write the name underneath so that there would be no mistake” (1972, p. 147). This is the function of the Jew’s hat in the case of Hartwich. Two typical portraits of Jews with Jew’s hats from this same period illustrate the point, one supposedly a portrait of Süsskind, the Jewish troubador, the other a Jew depicted on a French psalter. The facial resemblances are so close that we must be dealing with a stylized type rather than specific individuals. The same is true for the cruder examples of other Jews seen up to the fourteenth century. In the late fifteenth century we have several Jewish portrait seals from northern Italy and from Hungary, but the evidence indicates that these portraits are not taken from life but from prototypes.

“Süsskind the Jew of Trimberg,” 13th century miniature. Note resemblance of stylized face and hat to Hartwich seal. University Library of Heidelberg, Codex Manesse, Cod. Pal. Germ. 848, fol. 355r.

The entombment of Christ, from a Psalter manus cipt, ca. 1250–1300. Note resemblance of Jew with Jew’s hat at upper left to Hartwich seal. Municipal Library, Besançon, Manuscript 54, fol. 17.

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