The Staufen frieze

The ceremonial entry of Conradin of Staufen into the town of Gamundia in the year 1266

Conradin, the 14-year-old Duke of Swabia, grandson of Emperor Frederick II, son of King Conrad IV and Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, visited Schwäbisch Gmünd at Christmastide in 1266. A member of the southern German Staufen dynasty, he was by common consent the heir to the royal and imperial throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Eight months later he departed for Italy with a great army of mounted knights, intending to recover the Kingdom of Sicily, a Staufen possession, which Charles of Anjou had illegally annexed. On 23rd August 1268, he was defeated by his French adversary at Tagliacozza in the hills of Abruzzo. He was taken prisoner and beheaded at Naples on 29th October.

The Staufen frieze cannot give, and is not intended to give, a realistic representation of Conradin’s ceremonial entry into Gamundia. Instead, the artist Ballehr has selected from a wide range of symbols, composing a picture of the historical event from typical motifs drawn from other ceremonial entries into royal properties. While Conradin and his followers ride towards the town from left to right, another procession has formed moving from right to left, led by the mayor and consisting of prominent laymen of the town, the representatives of the Guilds, and the clergy. The standards the Duke’s men display indicate the identity of the ruler whom the citizens of Gmünd are about to welcome.

Because Conradin, like his father and grandfather, bore the title “King of Jerusalem”, there is a standard with the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem directly in front of him. The banner with the three lions identifies Conradin’s Swabian dukedom. At the end of the procession, the four standards with the arms of the Crusaders recall the Crusades of Conradin’s ancestors, Conrad III, Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick II. As Conradin was a Wittelsbach on his mother’s side, the Bavarian standard with its diagonal lozenges also appears in the procession. At the head of the city’s reception committee, next to the unicorn standard and in front of the standard with the eagle indicating the imperial status of the city, the mayor of Gmünd, with a key in his hand, awaits the prince. At the end of the city procession, the wheel of the Seven Liberal Arts invokes Conradin’s much-admired scholarship.

Members of the House of Staufen were Dukes of Swabia from 1079 to 1268. A boss in the ambulatory of the Holy Cross Minster displays the ducal arms, with the three golden lions on a red ground. The mighty Swabian imperial dynasty, which took its name from the family’s stronghold, Hohenstaufen Castle, governed the Holy Roman Empire from 1138 onwards. Its rulers were King Conrad III, Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, Emperor Henry VI, King Philipp of Swabia, Emperor Frederick II, King Henry (VII) and King Conrad IV. Conradin, who died in 1268, was the last of the dynasty.
Photo: einhorn-Verlag.
Conradin hunting with falcons, accompanied by his friend Frederick of Baden (from the Codex Manesse.) Like his great-grandfather Henry IV and his grandfather Frederick II, Conradin also wrote love poetry.
Photo: Heidelberg University Library.
Schwäbisch Gmünd, hunting map by Balthasar Riecker, 1572. The map still shows the towers of the inner city wall of the Staufen era, through which Conradin made his entry.
Photo: – Henricus – Edition Deutsche Klassik GmbH.

The work and its evolution

Photo: Volker Klei

The artist Ballehr was inspired to design a Staufen frieze while watching the production of Stephan Kirchenbauer-Arnold’s “The Staufen Saga” in 2012, in which over 2,000 of Gmünd’s citizens took part both on and behind stage. He felt that there should be a monumental work of art in the town centre to remind people of the history of the town in the Staufen era. In his studio in Schwäbisch Gmünd, he experimented with proportions, perspectives and materials (see photos.) Eventually he found the best solution: the figures of the Staufen frieze were to be cut from panels of stainless steel. As in all his works of art, Ballehr paid most attention to the effect of light and shade. The four phases of the creative process can be followed from the diagram below: on the left, the sketch of the design, then the fair copy with its finely pencilled lines and the vectorised CAD file, and on the right the production template with the surface outlines to facilitate the cutting.

Dr Helmut Maximilian Gruber-Ballehr (artist’s name: Ballehr) was born in Munich in 1939. He is an artist and art historian, and lives and works in Schwäbisch Gmünd.

Realisation with the help of donations and sponsorships

Help to ensure that this great art project can be completed. Sponsor one of the figures or support the Staufen Frieze with a donation. See donation details.