by Jan-simon Hoogschagen
16th of January 2012
This article was inspired by a request for information by Carl Ratliff on the Stamporama Discussion Board. He showed the following souvenir sheet and asked if anyone knew what it was.
The text on the sheet reads as follows:
25 Jahre Philatelie im deutschen Kulturbund
2. Kreis-Briefmarken-Austellung 1970
des Kreisverbandes Naumburg – Nebra
This was probably a souvenir sheet that was sold at a stamp exhibition in the East-German city of Naumburg in 1970. The stamp with simulated perforations shows the Naumburg Cathedral and in front of it we see the statue of Uta von Ballenstedt, wife of Ekkehard II von Meissen. Today, this couple is remembered simply as Uta and Ekkehard, the two best known of the twelve founders of Naumburg Cathedral. These founders were immortalized as lifesize statues, the so called “Stifterfiguren” in the western choir of the church. These statues, made in the thirteenth century by an unnamed sculptor known only as the “Naumburg Master”, are recognized as some of the finest and most lifelike ever made in the Middle Ages.
I had the fortune of seeing the statues myself two years ago, and everything that is said and written about these statues is true; they are really amazing.
Every single one of these founder figures is shown as a real person, with different character traits: a bit arrogant (Margrave Ekkehard), distant and sinister (Uta), loving (Reglindis), in agony (count Syzzo) or afraid (count Dietmar), to name just five of them. What is amazing about these statues, apart from the fact that they appear so alive one almost expects them to step off of their pedestals and start talking to the tourists, is that somehow they survived for almost 800 years with the original colorization. Medieval statues were always brightly coloured, not bare white or grey stone as we imagine them so often today.
The Founderfigures stood in their church for centuries and were forgotten and ignored. It is hard to believe that until the early nineteenth century no one took notice of the statues that are today considered as some of Germany’s greatest cultural treasures. On the other hand, perhaps this complete ignoring has helped to preserve them. Famous Germans like Goethe and the brothers Grimm visited Naumburg, but they did not see the statues and if they did, did not think them worth writing about.
This all changed at the end of the nineteenth century, slowly but steadily art lovers and scholars discovered the founder figures and by the end of the 1920s they were well known throughout the country. Somehow the attention was also focused on the most enigmatic figure, that of Uta – even so much that in 1938 Naumburg was simply known as “Uta-town”.
This brings us to the period in which Uta-fever reached its first peak: the nazi era. The national socialists adopted the figure of Uta as the paragon of German art and strength and it was used as a role model for all national socialist art. Of course it was also used for propaganda purposes, as can be seen on this drawing from the Leipziger Illustrierten Zeitung from December 1944.
Perhaps you think you have seen this Uta-person somewhere before, and you are probably right. In 1935 Walt Disney travelled through Europe in search of inspiration and examples for the big projects he had in mind: feature animation films based on classic fairytales. To make a long story short, in the first animation feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we can see the Evil Queen who is based on both Joan Crawford and Uta von Naumburg.
Amazingly, given the iconic status Uta and the other Founderfigures have reached, only a few stamps have been produced showing Uta and the other statues from the Naumburg Cathedral.
The first was issued by Berlin, strangely enough, in 1957 to advertise the annual meeting of the East German Cultural Society in Berlin. The beautifully engraved stamp shows the statue of Uta, but fails to really capture her look, both distant and hautain, and at the same time a bit sinister the way she looks over the high collar of her coat.
In 1983, the DDR issued a series of four stamps showing four pairs of founders. These stamps are even more flawed than the Berlin one as the statues are shown in a cheap black and white that does not show the real beauty of the figures. The only remarkable thing about this, is that it shows that the love affair the Nazis had with Uta and the other Naumburg statues has not tainted them so much the communists would not touch them. The opposite appears to be the fact, The founder figures withstand all ideological annexation and remained widely loved and highly regarded in East and West Germany the entire twentieth century.
Finally a few words on the souvenir sheet that started this story.
The German "Kulturbund" was the Cultural Association of the DDR, founded in 1945 by the Soviet occupational forces in the eastern part of occupied Germany in order to create a "democratic and antifascistic" cultural life in the eastern zone, what was later to become the DDR.
In fact it was more meant to install a state-led and state-controlled socialist culture. All kinds of cultural societies were grouped together in a federation: the Kulturbund. Philately was also an activity that was incorporated, and this souvenir sheet commemorates the fact that in 1970 the Kulturbund existed 25 years, and philately was part of it for the same period.
Scott and Michel catalogues
Brita Sachs - Wie Caspar David Friedrich ins Disneyland kam (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30 Sept. 2008)
Wolfgang Ullrich – Uta von Naumburg, eine deutsche Ikone (Berlin, 1998)
Various internet sites
Souvenir Sheet Naumburg stamp exhibition
City of Naumburg with cathedral (photo Jan-Simon Hoogschagen)
Uta and Ekkehard (photo Jan-Simon Hoogschagen)
Uta and Ekkehard again
Uta in nazi propaganda
The Evil Queen – Grenada Sc. 1540b
Berlin Sc. 9N157
DDR Sc. 2355-2358