Renaissance jewellery from the Lauingen royal crypt

The Bayerisches Nationalmuseum’s (Bavarian National Museum) collection includes a singular ensemble of jewellery from the 16th and early 17th centuries. They are precious pendants, chains, bracelets, belts, rings, agrafes (hat jewellery) and buttons, mostly made in gold enamel. The total of 135 individual objects come from the family crypt of the Protestant Palatinate-Neuburg line, built in 1565 by Count Palatine Wilhelm of Zweibrücken and Neuburg (1526-1569) in the church of St Martin in Lauingen on the Danube. Until 1664, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as women who married into the Palatinate-Neuburg line, were buried in the crypt, provided they were Protestant.

In 1781, Elector Karl Theodor (1724-1799) had the crypt opened for the first time, as a description from 1664 had revealed that the tin coffins contained valuable jewellery. The jewellery, which did actually exist, was removed and initially handed over to the Königliche Münzsammlung (Royal Coin Collection). In 1862, the collection was transferred to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum at the instigation of King Maximilian II (1811-1864). In 1877, the royal crypt was opened again on the occasion of restoration work in St Martin’s Church. At that time, the majority of the tin coffins were badly decayed; 12 coffins were taken to Munich to ensure their preservation. Along with the coffins, some of the still completely preserved royal vestments as well as other textile fragments were transferred to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. The remains of the deceased were reburied in a new shared stone sarcophagus in Lauingen.

Since 1998, the finds from the Lauingen royal crypt have been exhibited in a separate room at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. The objects, distinguished by their provenance and quality, offer an excellent insight into jewellery art and fashion in the late Renaissance and early Baroque period in southern Germany. They also document the function of jewellery in the early modern period. It served above all to make a person’s social standing visible – even at the time of burial. Jewellery from graves also has a high degree of authenticity. The date of burial provides a terminus ante quem for dating. On the basis of the records of finds made in 1781, the individual pieces of jewellery can be assigned to historical people – from Friedrich of Palatinate-Zweibrücken-Vohenstauß-Parkstein (1557-1597) to Sophia Agnes of Palatinate-Hilpoltstein (1604-1664).

The part collections of "Renaissance jewellery from the Lauingen royal crypt" available on bavarikon

>> This collection is part of the holdings of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.