The Iron Hand of Götz von Berlich

The earliest surviving hands of this kind are those made for the celebrated Franconian Knight, Götz von Berlich (circa 1480-1562), raised to heroic status by the young Goethe in his childrens’ drama of 1772. Two are preserved in Schloss Jagsthausen, and a third in Schloss Grüningen bei Riedlingen. They were clearly made after 22 June 1504 when the twenty-four year old Götz lost his right hand to a cannon ball at the siege of Landshuf, but probably no later than 1512 when a prisoner of the Nuremberg campaign recorded that “er hab auch Gotzen von Berlingen mit de rein hend aigentlich gesehen, hab an der eysinen hand ein handschuch gehapt” (he personally saw Gotzen von Berlingen with the one hand, having had a glove on his iron hand). With his ‘iron hand’ Götz distinguished himself in a long active military career. According to a verse composed by Count Franz Pocci in 1861, it allowed him to securely grip both his lance and his sword. The earlier of the two Jagsthausen hands is constructionally very similar to the present example.

All three of the hands of Götz von Berlich, however, have a somewhat angular form, reflecting their early date. The present example, with its more carefully modeled hand, can be compared with one recovered from the grave of die Knight Hans von Mittelhausen of Balbronn, Alsace, who died in 1564, as well as another in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, which is said to have belonged to a Swedish officer who fell in the Thirty Years War (1618-48). Other examples of this mid-16th to early I7th century type can be recorded in the Museum Otto Ludwig, Eisenfeld, Thuringia, the Bayerisches Armeemuseum, Ingolstadt, the Livruskammaren, Stockholm, Schloss Skokloster, Sweden, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the Welcome Medical Collection in the Science Museum, London.