Often I get emails from people trying to find information about a particular town that is off the beaten research path. I was recently asked about finding information about Lübeck Germany, but the steps I give below will work for any town or region.
“Hi, I’m trying to research the clothing and sumptuary laws of Lübeck, but all I can find is material for Southern Germany. Do you have any specific pointers on finding information specifically about Lübeck?”
So, how to find Lübeck or other area specific information?
First you need to gather a bit of information to help you with your searches. Look it up on Wikipedia and read a bit about the history. You need to answer the following questions to proceed further in the search:
- Did it exist in the time period you want to research? Some towns that people want to research are not as old as they are assumed to be.
- What state is it in?
- Are there any museums or churches mentioned in the writeup?
- What other large cities are in this state?
The next step is to look up the town on Google Maps, and see what large towns are nearby it. They may be in a different state, or country even, but most likely the clothing styles will be similar.
Kiel, Flensburg, Neumünster and Hamburg are other large towns near Lübeck. Go look those places up in Wikipedia there to see if there are churches or museums mentioned in the entries which would have artworks depicting clothing. If the entries are not well written, google the town name and “museum” to see what you can find.
Once you have the place and church names look them up on Wikimedia Commons. For example, here is the page for Lübeck Cathedral, which is is not linked to the main Lübeck page on Wikimedia Commons.
As you look through the Lübeck Cathedral page and other pages, take a look at the categories found at the bottom of each page. These are rich with links to follow to find more photos of historical monuments and artwork from Lübeck, and will lead you to other categories of interest. Lübeck is in Schleswig-Holstein, so look up museums and other churches in that state to see if there are any other locations that would have artwork that would help your research. Two categories that look particularly promising are Interiors of churches in Schleswig-Holstein and Brick Churches in Schleswig-Holstein.
Wikimedia Commons is not cross-referenced very well, so you will have better results by searching for the town or church name plus the term that you are looking for. For instance, searching for “Lübeck altars” brings up a results page with a category of “Altars in Lübeck”. Following all the subcategories, I found a photograph of the right wing of the Brömbsenaltar in St. Jakobi, Lübeck, dated 1515 showing Elisabeth Brömse, wife of Heinrich Brömse and her daughters wearing very unique clothing. This did not show up on my original search through Lübeck’s churches, so make sure you approach the hunt for information from various angles.
At the bottom of the page, you can see what other categories this particular picture appears in:
One that particularly captures my attention is “1515 in Lübeck”, and clicking this takes me to a subsection of Lübeck by decade:
Clicking on Lübeck in the 1510’s takes me a top category page where I can explore the rest of the 16th century items for Lübeck which are under those categories. Follow all the categories down into each level, and keep looking for photos that have information that you are looking for.
Thanks to the Wikipedia entry, I learned that Lübeck’s art museum for the period 1500-1530 is the St. Annen-museum. The Sammlungen (Collections) page doesn’t have a large amount of photos – however it does have a link at the bottom of the page to the digitized objects of this museum at Museen Nord. Museen Nord is a digital collection website that covers all the museums in Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg. More and more small to medium museums in Germany and Europe are moving to a shared digital collection website.
Once you have located a painting that you are interested in, take note of the artist’s name and look them up on Artcyclopedia.com. If the name is “Master of the _______ Altar”, they may not be listed there, but if they are, there will be a listing of all of the holdings of that artist in the major art museums and digital collections from around the world.
Now Lübeck is very close to the border with Denmark, so the National Gallery of Denmark may have some portraits in style similar to what people were wearing in Lübeck. However, one must be careful when looking at museum portraits to identify the correct geographical location of the sitter and the artist. Art travels from place to place during its lifetime, which is why I recommend using altars and church art (which don’t tend to travel) as your base references and then find other examples in museum collections to further clarify the details.
Hamburg’s Kunsthal (Art Museum) is another possible source for portraits, and has recently put some of their collection online via their website.
So, time to dig into the deep databases!
Digging Deep, Beyond Google and Wikipedia
What is a deep database? It is a database driven website which is not easily searchable by Google or other search engines. This means that you have to go search and filter the records yourself. Most museum collection websites are deep databases. They might have a highlights page that appears in search engines, but to really get to the good stuff, you have to put in some sweat equity.
For Germany, the major deep databases for artwork and objects are:
For this search, Museen Nord should also be searched for material, as it is a specialized, regional database focusing on the area around Lübeck.
For France, the main database site is Joconde: Portail des collections des musées de france
I do not currently know of a unified museum search database for any other European country or the UK, but please share by commenting below if you know of one!
Searching the German Digital Library
To search the GDL, I start by switching the language to English (top right of the page), and clicking the Advanced Search link under the search box. I chose “Location” from the dropdown box, and put “Lübeck” into the box. Accent marks are important for searching in German, don’t forget them!
This returns a lot of results, 5,000+, so time to use the handy filters on the side to narrow down the results.
First, I only want records between 1500 and 1600, so I put that in the boxes under Time, and this reduces the results down to 500.
There’s a lot of texts presented, and right now, I just want pictures, so I click “Media Type” and chose “Images. Then I reduce it further by choosing “Sector”, and chose “Museum”. So now I am only going to see images, provided by a museum, of objects dating 1500-1600 which relate to Lübeck somehow. The list from this is 100+ images, which is plenty to sort through.
Finding Text Information
How to find text information? There are many different ways to go about this, but we’ll start with the easiest; Google Books. While you can search for foreign words in the English version of Google Books and get some results, you will get much better results when you search in the Google Books version for the language you are searching for.
For our example search, I will start by doing a search in books.google.de for “lübeck kleidung ordnung” without the quotes. This will return the easy results for clothing ordinances that specifically reference Lübeck. I would also do a search for the capital city of the relevant state, as well as including “hanse” into the search, as Lübeck was part of the Hanseatic League which had its own legal system separate from the Imperial one.