Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service: Hamburg

Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service

A Documentation
by Helmut Schatz

English translation by Matthew Carver

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Holy Supper, ca. 1649–50.
Oil on linen. 77cm x 49cm.
Painting by Otto Wagenfeldt (1610?–1671). Fig. 16.
For St. James’ Church, Hamburg.
Now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle (on loan from the St. James church), Inv. 262.
Photograph: Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Two clerics in front of an altar distribute the Supper to the laity under both kinds, the Bread on the left and the Wine on the right. These are Lutheran ministers. Admittedly, this ornate clothing is only present during the Supper; for the Sermon and Baptism they wore, as they do today, the black academic gown of the Reformers. The liturgical vestments from the pre-Reformation era were not finally eliminated until the eighteenth century. However, a glimpse of the altar shows us immediately where we are: in Hamburg, part of the Reformation since 1529. On the right and left next to the open Bible stand the pyx and flagon. Not mass utensils, but the Word, occupies the center, and in accordance with this Word the two elements of Bread and Wine are administered, though with the assistance of a silver straw, as is clearly evident on the right.

“The Supper (not “Eucharist” in the Tridentine sense) is part of a series of fifty scenes of the Old and New Testament and dogmatic illustrations from the liturgy and the present, which Otto Wagenfeldt painted for the organ gallery of St. James’ Church. They are, so to speak, pictorial objects for the textual-musical content of the sort sung by the congregation and choir. It should not be forgotten that the organ stationed behind them was restored by Arp Schnitger in 1689 [1693] and that Johann Sebastian Bach applied (in vain) for a position as organist here in 1720” (Catalog GNM, op. cit.)

This painting is among the most sensual depictions of the Supper of which I am aware. It is possible that this is not a depiction of an actual celebration, although certain figures are represented in a portrait-like manner. The priests are portryaed in the regalia of the ancient church, the chasuble and alb. Conspicuous in this doubtless Lutheran celebration is the communion of the Chalice by means of a drinking straw. In several churches this fistula was kept, though, like the houseling cloths, these straws have not been employed for Communion in a long while. The Reallexikon der Deutschen Kunstgeschichte (RDK) mentions and includes depictions of a few.

In the article “Außer Gebrauch gekommene kirchliche Kultgeräte” in the Monatschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst (1930 ?): Prof. Georg Stuhlfauth writes:

“. . . if the drinking straw continued to enjoy an active existence in the Roman-Catholic church through the solemn pontifical mass, it vanished completely from the evangelical church and her eucharistic practice from the eighteenth century. While the Reformed church had always rejected it without exception, it was still in use in the Lutheran church up to the eighteenth century during the distribution of the Supper. [further evidence is found in Paul Graff, Geschichte der Auflösung der alten gottesdienstlichen Formen in der evangelischen Kirche Deutschlands bis zum Eintritt der Aufklärung und des Rationalismus. Göttingen, 1921, p. 101f.] Indeed, a tin drinking straw, still preserved and bearing the inscription: ‘Matt. 11:28. Come unto me,’ &c., is in the possession of the church at Marienhafe (Hannover). And the date ‘1781’ indicates that in a few places it was still being used by churches at the close of the eighteenth century. The disappearance of these drinking straws from both churches, and the inevitability of their disappearance, is understandable as far as the Catholic church is concerned, and will find no complaint in the evangelical church . . . !”

Fig. 16: “The Holy Supper.” Otto Wagenfeldt, ca. 1650 Photograph: Hamburger Kunsthalle

Also remarkable is the celebrant’s chasuble, an extremely long chasuble type also to be found in other preserved examples (e.g., Fredenhagen chasuble of 1697 in Lübeck, the chasuble in Kamenz, and other places. Contemporaneous pieces from the Roman Catholic church already feature the “fiddleback shape” as early as the seventeenth century. Examples in K. Antons, op. cit.)

Johann Hinrich Pratje writes in his Liturgisches Archiv (1786), volume 2: “9. In Hamburg, on Michaelmas, 1785, the chasuble, which heretofore had been retained during the distribution of the Supper, was finally removed from service.”

“Black no longer tightly frames the radiant center of the Supper, but is used in a broad half-circle to accentuate the holiness of the altar along with its priests distributing the Wine and Bread. For the same reason, a liberal amount of white is used in the ornate vestments of the priests, in the altar cloth and the collars of the congregants, and, grayed by admixture of black, in the lighting of the walls, the altar steps, and the semispherical, nine-sided choir apse. Colorful effect is achieved in the center of the image, with yellow highlights reflected in the gold brocade of the priest on the left, here set against bluish and purplish gray and in the golden vessels and the angel above the altar, as well as the subtle decorative trim on the vaulting. Rather than softness, the image exudes a sense of strength and resolve bespeaking a strong-willed nature.” (Röver, op. cit.)


Sr. Klara Antons, Paramente-Dimensionen der Zeichengestalt (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 1999).

Werner Hofmann, Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1983).

Kunsthalle Hamburg, Alte Meister (Kunsthalle Hamburg, 1966) catalogue, no. 262.

Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg, Von teutscher Not zu höfischer Prach 1648–1701, exhibition catalogue (Cologne: DuMont, 1998), no. 181, p. 267.

R. Klee/P. Wiek, Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmale der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg (Hamburg: Gerhardt, 1968).

Piepkorn (op. cit.)

Hermann Röver, Die hamburgischen Maler Otto Wagenfeldt und Joachim Luhn und ihre Schule (Uelzen: C. Becker, 1926). Dissertation.

Georg Syamken, catalog (Hamburg, 1983) [= Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst, &c. ?], pp. 372–373.