The reconstruction of Freising Cathedral after a great fire in 1159 was completed only in 1205. It was an important step in proclaiming the city of Freising as a pilgrimage destination. The new enlarged Crypt was built by 1161, in a fairly short time span because of the necessity to accommodate the Sarcophagus and altar of St Corbinian.
The Crypt has reused old columns with simple capitals, and new columns with decorated capitals. Embellished with foliage and floral motifs, they create an atmosphere of a magical forest inhabited with various creatures, fantastic birds and griffins, and anthropomorphic characters. Taking into account the semi-darkness of the hall, with its flickering candlelight, it is possible to envisage what effect such decoration might have had on the medieval pilgrims descending into the Crypt.
|Figure 1. The Crypt of St Corbinian, Freising Cathedral. Photo by Klaus Rommel.|
The motifs of vine and transformation demonstrate the central idea of the sculptural programme in the Crypt of St Corbinian. It is an idea of a spiritual journey to God and salvation that Christians undertake by freeing themselves from sins and vice. Some capitals have figures of men entwined with floral stems, probably symbolising the sins restricting their freedom. This metaphorical idea of spiritual rebirth is reflected in a signed capital of a column in the Eastern part of the Crypt. The floral stems in it transform from bonds to gracefully curved vines; one of the two bearded men represented at the capital holds a bunch of grapes that indicate Eucharistic connotations. Placed directly above the representation of the second bearded man, the name LIVT / PRECHT is broken into two syllables by the angle of the abacus; it completely follows the structure of the capital. This makes a firm association with the figurative representation. The man’s individualised face and thoughtful expression stand out among all the fantastic creatures found on other carved capitals and allow suggesting that it may be an image of a sculptor or a donor.
|Figure 2. The Capital signed: LIVT / PRECHT (detail). Ca 1159 – 1160. Crypt of St Corbinian, Freising Cathedral. Photo: Legner 2009, p. 293.|
The column with Liutprecht’s capital is located next to the most important object in the Crypt, the Sarcophagus of St Corbinian. When facing the Sarcophagus, the viewer would see the column to their right and exactly at an angle that would permit them to observe Liutprecht’s face and read the inscription of his name. Thus, Liutprecht has purposely selected a very specific audience that would have been able to see his name. It is what a praying priest or a pilgrim would notice while standing in front of the Sarcophagus and altar of St Corbinian. This guaranteed that Liutprecht will be remembered and that his devotion to St Corbinian will be expressed permanently, securing him a place in Heaven.
|Figure 3. Bishop Prof Dr Reinhard Marx praying in front of the Sarcophagus of St Corbinian. Note the column with the capital signed LIVT/PRECHT. Freising Cathedral, Crypt of St Corbinian. Source.|
On the contrary, people wondering in the Crypt would instead notice fragments of his name LIVT or PRECHT, depending upon the direction from which they approached the column. This attempt to humbly conceal his name from a wider audience shows that Liutprecht was concerned with religious values rather than gaining recognition among people. All these factors reveal complex spatial thinking, artistic intelligence, and spirituality of the sculptor.
|Figure 4. The Capital signed: LIVT / PRECHT (detail). Ca 1159 – 1160. Crypt of St Corbinian, Freising Cathedral. Source.|
The Christian male name Liutprecht can be interpreted as the light (brightness) of people, where liut stands for people and associates with the pilgrims visiting the Crypt, and precht, in Old German, means the bright and glorious (Steub 1870, p. 66; Yonge 1884, p. 430). In the darkness of the Crypt this would have had an even more special significance, as it interconnects with the symbolism of light associated with pious life and God.
The name Liutprecht is rarely cited in medieval documents from around the time when the works in the Crypt took place and Liutprecht’s capital was carved. However, the First Necrolog of Kremsmünster Abbey (beginning of the 12th century - end of the 13th century) mentions a certain Liutprecht among those commemorated and honoured by the Abbey. He is listed as a conversi or lay bother, of the Benedictine Abbey of St Lambrecht at Styria, now Austria (Altinger 1897, pp. 22, 128). The manuscript also commemorates the bishops of Freising, and clergy and lay brothers from other Benedictine monasteries in the neighbouring areas. It indicates that there existed good connections between the Benedictine abbeys in this region.
The period covered by the Necrolog coincides with the time of restoration works in the Crypt of St Corbinian. Taking into account the rarity of the name Liutprecht, its presence in the manuscript and in the Crypt suggest that it actually might refer to the same person, who was active at that particular period and in that specific area. In addition, a long-standing tradition of communication and exchange between the Benedictine abbeys around Freising makes it is feasible that Liutprecht may have become engaged in works on Freising Cathedral. Being a conversi, and not a regular monk, Liutprecht had more possibilities to travel, was likely to be involved in manual labour, such as sculpting, and would have had more freedom in manifesting his authorship with a signature (Dohme 1877, p. 51).
It was quite common for conversi to be architects, masons, carpenters and sculptors (Hélyot and Bullot 1863, p. 462 ; Johnston 2000, p. 748). The lay brothers, or conversi, in the Benedictine Order were those who renounced the world in adult life (‘Lay Brothers’, The Catholic Encyclopedia). According to the rule for conversi, they had to dedicate themselves to hard manual labour, wear simple habits, and have beards (sometimes conversi were referred to as laici barbati). They were not allowed to have a tonsure, could not enjoy the privileges of regular monks, and were required to remain illiterate (Johnston 2000, p. 748). The latter might explain the simplicity of Liutprecht’s signature: as an illiterate conversi, he may have known how to write his name, but was evidently unable to compose long inscriptions in Latin.
The image of Liutprecht at the capital shows him as a mature bearded man. These details are vital and might indicate that it is indeed a representation of a conversi, or, at least, of a layman. Just like any conversi, he must have renounced the world and entered religious life as a mature man. The overall idea of sculptural decoration in the Crypt showing the conversion from a pagan (or a sinner) to a pious Christian, who aspires to salvation, may interconnect with Liutprecht’s personal life choices. This, however, did not restrict his freedom in travelling for work and producing self-representations.
Altinger, A. (1897). Die zwei ältesten Nekrologien von Kremsmünster. Wien: Gerold.
Dohme, R. (1877). Kunst und Künstler des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit: Biographien und Charakteristiken. Volume 1, Part 1. Leipzig: E.A. Seemann.
Hélyot, P. and Bullot, M. (1863). Dictionnaire des ordres religieux ou, Histoire des ordres monastiques, religieux et militaires, et des congrégations séculières. Paris: Chez l'éditeur.
Johnston, W. M. (2000). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. London: Fitzroy Dearborn.
‘Lay Brothers.’ The Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09093a.htm. Accessed December 9, 2015.
Legner, A. (2009). Der Artifex. Cologne: Greven Verlag.
Steub, L. (1870). Die oberdeutschen Familiennamen. München: R. Oldenbourg.
Yonge, C. M. (1884). History of Christian Names. London : Macmillian.