For All the Saints 2022: Week 2
Thomas Tallis and the Birth of English Music
A Painted Confession: The Lutheran Artist Fritz von Uhde
Staff Spotlight: Kristen Muehler
Concordia Historical Institute’s Reformation Coin and Medals Collection
Thomas Tallis and the Birth of English Music
This week, on November 23rd, we mark the 437th anniversary of the death of English musician and composer Thomas Tallis.
Thomas Tallis was born c. 1505 in England, possibly in Kent. There is little known about Tallis’s early life, but by the mid-1500s, Tallis had become a well-respected composer. Tallis was court composer and performer for four monarchs—Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I—and managed to withstand the intense religious turmoil that rocked the English royalty within his lifetime.
Tallis is extremely important in the history of English music. His work had a huge influence on early Anglican liturgical music and hymnody, which in turn has had a great impact on all English-speaking churches, including the Missouri Synod. Tallis was given a monopoly right to publish music, producing both Latin motets and English anthems. The above is an excellent example of one such English anthem, and below is one of Tallis’s most famous works, the forty(!!)-part Renaissance motet “Spem in Alium” (“Hope in any other”).
While not a Lutheran, Tallis’s work has brought beauty and opportunity for meditation on the Word of God to churches around the globe, including our Lutheran churches. The tune TALLIS’ CANON appears in the Lutheran Service Book as the tune for “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” (LSB #883), as well as in The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH #558a, 558b, 560).
A Painted Confession: Lutheran Artist Fritz von Uhde
Many people are aware that Lutherans have a very strong tradition of music composition and performance. Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Frideric Handel were both Lutheran, and a huge number of ecumenically-significant hymn texts and tunes—not to mention some entire musical movements and innovations—are Lutheran in origin. The Lutheran church has put forth fewer well-known visual artists, but there is at least one artistically significant and wholeheartedly Lutheran painter: Fritz von Uhde.
Fritz von Uhde was born on May 22, 1848 in Saxony, Germany. He came from a well-off family of civil servants, who fostered an interest in art. Uhde briefly attended art school, but he dropped out and joined the army because he was unhappy with the curriculum. In fact, Uhde learned how to paint from the mentorship of a battlefield painter during his time as a soldier. When he left the army, he was determined to be a painter, and paint he did.
Uhde was highly influenced by French impressionism, and he was integral in introducing plein-air painting (outdoor painting) to Germany. He was also, in turn, influential: Uhde taught Lilla Cabot Perry, American Impressionist painter.
Uhde is perhaps best known for his religious works. He favored “social realism” and “rustic naturalism”—painting poor farm people in the clothing and homes in which they really lived—which was controversial at the time. He is quite famous for placing Jesus into contemporary rural scenes, with normal-looking German peasants re-enacting Biblical scenes or acknowledging His presence in their daily lives.
Fritz von Uhde in the Collection
Within the Concordia Historical Institute collection, we have a fantastic black-and-white photographic print of a Fritz von Uhde painting. As you can see from the wear on the print, this is a well-loved art print. “The Wise Men from the Orient” depicts the three Magi visiting Mary (seated), Joseph (behind Mary), and Jesus (in Mary’s lap). They all wear typical nineteenth century German clothing and are inside a typical German peasant home.
This likely strikes some as odd. Why did von Uhde depict a Bible story like it was happening in his current time? By depicting biblical figures in this way, Uhde brings out the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. Jesus is present for us in all times and places, regardless of how uneventful, plain, or difficult our lives are. By coming into the flesh, Jesus took on all of our humanity, even the challenging or less-than-photogenic parts. Jesus is present and knows us, no matter who we are or when and where we live.
Staff Spotlight: Kristen Muehler
“What a joy to be a part of the mission at Concordia Historical Institute to preserve and highlight our wonderful Lutheran history! My interest in history and love for libraries has found me in the perfect spot to enjoy both. I have learned so much as I receive different kinds of donations each week, manage volunteers at the LCMS International Center CHI museum, or simply greet visitors at Concordia Historical Institute. The interaction with members, donors and researchers, either over the phone or in person, has been a blessing that I enjoy more than I can say. There are so many amazing stories to share about the work of God’s people in His Church that we may never have the time to tell them all. Your support aids Concordia Historical Institute as we seek to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to promote interest in and appreciation for the history of Lutheranism in North America. Thank you!”
-Kristen Muehler, Membership Associate and Bookkeeper
Concordia Historical Institute’s Reformation Coin and Medal Collection
Concordia Historical Institute houses an extensive collection of Reformation commemorative coins and medals. Reformation and Luther coins and medals are a historically popular sub-field of numismatics (the study of coins), providing a helpful link to the ways people of the past thought about and remembered the Reformation. These mementos are not meant to commemorate Luther as a folk-hero, nor are they meant to represent the Reformation as a triumph of reason or individualism, as much other art representing Luther and the Reformation unfortunately does. Rather, these coins were made, by and large, by Lutherans who wished to make physical, artistic representations of their faith. These are “models” of their creators’ beliefs about the redeeming life and work of Christ Jesus and the ways God used history and a German man named Martin Luther to bring about the re-discovery of His freeing Gospel.
The History of the Collection
The coin and medal collection at CHI predates the actual Institute. When Concordia Historical Institute was incorporated in 1927, there was already a collection of coins and medals that had been given to the Synod. In November 1950, Oak Park druggist and CHI Board of Governors member Edwin Theodore Schumm donated over 325 Reformation coins and medals of museum-grade quality and historical significance. Rev. Dr. Theodore Conrad Graebner, co-founder and vice-president of CHI as well as a prolific writer and editor within the LCMS, gave a further 200+ pieces. Individual pieces and funding for a purchasing budget allowed the collection to continue to grow.
For several decades, the CHI Reformation Coin and Medal Collection fell out of public knowledge. In 2009, with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation just around the corner in 2017, CHI made plans to increase the visibility of its coin catalog. September 2013 saw a flurry of activity when Rev. Dr. Daniel Harmelink and Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Schumacher, visiting Reformation numismatists, with the help of then-CHI Associate Director Marvin Huggins, carefully weighed, measured, and photographed the collection. Dr. Harmelink, who became Executive Director of CHI in 2014, spent nearly a year updating the written catalog, which now appears in print as The Reformation Coin and Medal Collection of Concordia Historical Institute: A Striking Witness to Martin Luther and the Reformation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016).
Numismatics—the study and collecting of coins and medals—may seem to many to be just another hobby. However, we at CHI believe that coins and medals are an important artistic medium through which our Lutheran forefathers proclaimed their witness to the love of Christ. Coins and medals combine image and text, literal messages and symbolism, all painstakingly cast into very valuable precious medals.
The care and creativity poured into each one of these objects reflects the seriousness with which these artists took their faith. They show great reverence to God and great respect for the individuals through whom God has chosen to work. By studying them, we can learn to treasure Christ and His work among us through history all the more.