Plettenberg and Setting Up of the Image of Our Lady in Riga Castle

The aim of the Wars of the Mary’s Land was the defense against brutal Russian Tsar invasions. In the early 16th century, Moscow Tsar’s army invaded Livonia with troops of about 100 000 Russians and 30 000 Tatars. Walter von Plettenberg, the Master of the Livonian Order, had 7 000 armed horsemen and 6 000 infantry troops. Moscow troops encircled Plettenberg’s soldiers and hoped to destroy them easily. In such hopeless circumstances, Livonian knights rushed with a superhuman heroism in the fight against the tsarist troops. They not only broke the encirclement, but also dispersed and defeated the Tatars. This victory was seen as a miracle. In 1515, Walter von Plettenberg, the Master of the Livonian Order, set up the image of Our Lady as a gratitude for the victory. It is a life-size sandstone relief located at the main entrance of the Riga Castle. Supported by two columns and placed in a semi-circle, Our Lady, i.e. the Guardian of the Livonian Order, wears a crown, mantle over shoulders and holds the Child Jesus in Her arms. The medieval image of Our Lady in the relief of the Riga Castle has survived until nowadays. Some historians think that this relief represents the medieval image of the Queen of the Mary’s Land.

Image of the Queen of the Mary’s Land

In Latvia, medieval stone sculptures are few. Speaking about secular buildings, Madonna and Plettenberg are the oldest medieval sculptural monuments whose importance has been further enhanced by the prominent role of Walter von Plettenberg in Latvia in the late 15th century and early 16th century. Of all the Masters of the Livonian Order, he has ruled the large State of Livonian Order – a part of the present Latvia and Estonia – for the longest period of time, i.e. from 1494 to 1535. He arrived in Livonia from Westphalia (Germany) as a teenager. The first Order castle in the Baltics where he stayed was in Narva, then in Aizkraukle and Aluksne. At the age of about 20, Plettenberg became the Vogt of Rezekne – one of overlords of the counties of the Livonian Order State. In 1489, he was elected to be the commander of the Order’s troops and became the landmarchall whose castle was located in Sigulda. Walter von Plettenberg became the most prominent politician in Livonia. In 1494, in Cesis Castle, overlords of the Order’s counties unanimously elected him to be the Master – the overlord of the whole Livonian State.

Both sculptures – Our Lady and Plettenberg – have been attracting attention of explorers for several centuries. Johann Christoph Brotze, famous collector and promoter of historical materials in late 18th and early 19th century, was the first one not only to mention but also to describe the sculptures and to express his opinion about them. He is the first and only person to have described the polychromy of sculptures.

All explorers have evaluated the sculptures to be very important in the Baltic art and history. It is considered that the Plettenberg’s statue was minted later, after his death in 1535 and then Plettenberg stood alone. Both statues were joined together in 1739, as shown in J.Ch. Brotze’s drawing.

The oldest known sculptural depiction of Walter von Plettenberg

Art historian J. Döring wrote that both sculptures had been explored in 1891 and that the possible original paintwork had been restored on plaster copies.

History of the restorations of the reliefs has survived and the first direct, although short and incomplete information was found only in 1880.

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