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

Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service

A Documentation
by Helmut Schatz

English translation by Matthew Carver

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Bohemia, by Königgratz (Hradec Králové) east of Prague
Zámek (castle) epitaph of the son of Johann Jetrich von Zerotin, in the Opočno castle gallery, 1575, unknown master.
Photograph: Matouš Jirák, Fig. 38.

“The task of supporting the liturgy visually, which around the year 1575 fell to the sermonic-sacramental ‘triad’ of altar, pulpit, and font, was already assigned to pictorial art, particularly painting, in the period when the movement toward a “visual church” was shifting. From the time of the Wittenberg “Altarpiece of the Sacraments,” (1547, painter from the circle of Lucas Cranach the Elder), the Regensburg “Altarpiece of the Eternal Word” (1554–1555, Michael Ostendorfer), and the Weimar “Altarpiece of Justification” (1555, Lucas Cranach the Younger), works of art began to confirm the confessional-ritual identity of the Lutheran congregation then solidifying itself. At times, they were pictorial statements by specific princely houses, noble families, and cities declaring membership with the evangelical-Lutheran confession. Thus it was that, e.g., Georg von Zeidlitz, a Silesian noble, and Johann Jetrich von Zerotin, a Bohemian noble, commissioned allegorical paintings at approximately the same time, around the year 1575 . . .” (according to Harasimowicz, op. cit.).

The color photograph has been kindly furnished by Mr. Jirák. An interpretation can only be done in bits and pieces, really. At first glance, the figurally rich epitaph may be somewhat confusing. At the same time, it may be noted that the image is a treasure trove for clothing researchers!

The scenes are all played out in an roofed churchly space, a late-Gothic hall church with a chancel (this “church” is somewhat reminiscent of the evangelical church buildings from ca. 1610, such as the city church of Bückeburg and the main church of the B.V.M. in Wolfenbüttel) probably to show that the Lutheran church is the church which was always already there and which was and still is “Catholic,” but now purified of abuses. This church is built with an orderly arrangement in keeping with Holy Scripture. This is indicated by the flooring in its regular red tile pattern. Compare the print by Lucas Cranach the Younger from 1547 titled: “The Distinction between the True Religion of Christ and the False Idolatrous Doctrine of the Antichrist, in the Chief Articles.” The Roman church is depicted sitting on an uneven field, a patch of meadow or the like (also see the “Vineyard Altarpiece” by Cranach the Younger from 1582 in Salzwedel.) The motif in the flooring is found on the comparable epitaph by Abraham von Nostiz from 1565, in then city museum of Görlitz.

In the squinch of the ceiling, as it were in the “heavenly spheres,” the Institution of the Holy Supper by Christ; in the chancel below, the same Sacrament enacted. On the high altar, a retable of wood or stone, gleaming with gold and bearing an inscription in the predella. In the central panel, a depiction of the Crucifixion with several figures, above it the Resurrection, and at the very top the Lord giving a blessing (?) [i.e., at the Ascension]. Clearly a typical Lutheran “altar program.”

On the altar, a red antependium with gold fringe; on the white altar cloth to the left is the agenda (?), in the middle the chalice, and, as the most important mark of Lutheranism, the flagon. Thus it is clearly a Lutheran service. On the right side of the chancel, another epitaph. Kneeling on the altar steps, the patron’s family. The parson in talar, alb, and red stole.

The minister appears in a variety of roles in the image: as the preacher on the pulpit, pointing to Christ, the Lamb of God; in the foreground with the patron and his wife; and administering baptism at the font—in each case wearing alb and stole; but only in talar while sitting in the confessional chair at the right of the chancel. In front of the chancel in red armchairs, the patron couple. Likewise at the entrance of the chancel, an apparently young man in yellow stockings and yellow-gray tunic. He clearly does not belong to the circle of those represented, who are portrayed realistically in fine clothing (with collar, rich jewelry, etc.). According to the inscription: the court fool!

On the wall behind the right-hand pillar—parallel to the Crucifix and pulpit—is an epitaph similarly constructed to the high altar. In the central panel of this epitaph the represented scene is repeated: “picture within picture” (comparable somewhat to the image of Heinrich Göding in the city church of Mühlberg/Elbe – there the Holy Supper is depicted three times.) Thanks to the kindness of Mr. Jirak, I am in a situation to include the inscription of this epitaph:

“Epitaph . . . set up in 1575 in the castle church of Opočno by Johann Dietrich von Zerotin in memory of his deceased son: The image depicts the Utraquist service1 in the current church. In the foreground to the left, Johann Dietrich von Zerotin is joined with Barbara Bieberstein in holy matrimony; to the right, the baptism of their son is represented. In the middle, the two spouses listen to God’s Word. At the altar, they receive the Holy Supper under both kinds, and to the right of the altar, Lady von Zerotin makes her holy confession. The celebrant is Jacob Kunwaldsky from Alttischen: On the altar steps to the left sits the Baron’s court fool with heart painted on his chest.”


Unfortunately, it was not until Dec. 22, 2003 that, with the assistance of Dr. Kreisel, Ansbach (to whom I here express my heartfelt thanks), I was able to obtain a brochure from Opočno, published in 1992 by Propagnačni tvorba Praha for the Institute of Landmark Maintenance in Pardubice. Thus I leave you with one final report: “Part of the art collection is located in the various castle chambers at Opočno. Worthy of mention is, above all, the Zerotin epitaph which was originally installed in the castle chapel. The epitaph was commissioned in 1575 by Jan (John) Jetrich von Zerotin in memory of the death of his son. This image is remarkable for its subject presented in Lutheran-style didactic form: in the Renaissance interior of the former castle chapel2 a notable group, with Jan Jetrich and his wife, Barabara von Vilem (Wilhelm) Trcka, standing in front, receive the Sacrament from a Lutheran priest.”


Jan Harasimowicz: Kunst als Glaubensbekenntnis: Beiträge zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte der Reformationszeit (Baden-Baden: V. Koerner, 1996).

Matouš Jirák, “Otázky Kladené Žerotínskému Epitafu” in Orlické Hory a Podorlicko, vol. 11.2001, pp. 39–54.


  1. On the subject of Utraquists, see Lexikon des Mittelalters – the Author.
  2. Thus solving our question, since the castle chapel is still extant as the church of the Holy Trinity. –the Author.