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Aristocraty

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The society of the 16th century was, according to our standards, extremely class divided. The nobility consisted of a small upper class of 2-300 families immensely rich and influential. At the same time there was a growing underclass at the absolute bottom of society, who was completely dependant on handouts.

Nobility
The society of the 16th century was, according to our standards, extremely class divided. The nobility consisted of a small upper class of 2-300 families immensely rich and influential. At the same time there was a growing underclass at the absolute bottom of society, who was completely dependant on handouts. This was partly due to the fact that many social and health tasks, which earlier had been taken care of by the monasteries, slowly began to be taken over by new institutions, like the Holy Spirit houses in the larger towns. Often such tasks were also left to private persons, who (partly from religious reasons) devoted themselves to charity. This seems to have been the idea behind the altarpiece, which was hung in the Mary Church in Helsingborg in 1583.

Good Deeds
The altarpiece has a double portrait and three pictures above each other on the left side. The portrait shows a noble couple, perhaps the vassal of Helsingborg´s castle, Arild Urup and his wife Thale Thott. Their gold chains can identify them, which symbolize noble wealth and power.
The motif is, like in the dining hall in the Our Lady monastery in Elsinore, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The poor beggar Lazarus will get his reward in Heaven, while the rich man is tormented in Hell.The subtext says:
You Christians, whom God have given enough, consider the poor, who suffer grief, sickness, misery and distress, poverty and hunger for bread, with something in this collection box. Show your faith with good deeds and God in his Heaven will look agreeably upon you.
The old notion that God looks agreeably on good deeds seems to have outlived the reformation.
Nobel couple
Nobel couple

Donations
Private charity did not only include handouts to the poor, but also the establishing of schools. A good example is the couple Herluf Trolle and Birgitte Gøye.
A portrait of Birgitte Gøye from 1550 shows a woman bedecked with gold chains, the symbol of noble dignity. Birgitte Gøye was the daughter of the chancellor Mogens Gøye and belonged to a small flock of noble families, where marriage always was united with land. But Birgitte Gøye refused to marry the one that the family had chosen for her and had to wait for 15 years to have the one she loved, the later admiral Herluf Trolle.
Herluf Trolle was born in Lillö in Scania as number 12 in a crowd of children of 15. His personal property was thus limited. In his marriage to Birgitte Gøye he married into large properties, among them Hillerødsholm and Græsede in North Zealand, which the couple later traded with the king for Skogkloster.
Birgitte Gjöe (1551-1574)
Birgitte Gjöe (1551-1574)
Herluf Trolle
Herluf Trolle

Art Collections
Birgitte Gøye was one of the great art collectors of the time. She imported among other things, three altar pieces in renaissance style, probably from Antwerp. An altarpiece from 1568 was donated to the St. Olai Church in Elsinore. The altarpiece came with a donation and was to remind people of the generosity of the donor.
Birgitte Gøye and Herluf Trolle, who remained childless, also gave donations to the grammar schools in Elsinore, Roskilde and Næstved.
The couple also founded the Herlufsholm boarding school for noble students.
Scholarship table
Scholarship table

Near God
The wish to be portrayed and immortalized in the presence of God spread among the nobility and the middle classes in the time after the reformation. Examples of noble portrait art can be seen in the church at Bosjökloster in Scania, where there is a portrait gallery. A large family portrait shows the influential widow Thale Ulfstand, kneeling with her family members, the late husband Poul Laxmand (the younger) two sons and the daughter, Birthe with her two husbands, all in almost life size.
The need of the aristocratic families to be immortalized also led to that it became common to have plaques in the churches. Unlike the medieval paintings authentic persons were depicted.
Family Portrait in Bosjökloster
Family Portrait in Bosjökloster
Detail of Family Portrait
Detail of Family Portrait
Thale Ulfstand
Thale Ulfstand
Bosjö2
Bosjö2

©  Øresundstid 2009