Niklaus Manuel Deutsch

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Self-portrait of Niklaus Manuel, c. 1515

Niklaus Manuel Deutsch (Niklaus Manuel, probably 1484 in Bern – 28 April 1530, Bern), was a Swiss artist, writer, mercenary and Reformed politician.


Niklaus was most likely the son of Emanuel Aleman (or Alleman), a pharmacist whose own father had immigrated from Chieri in Piedmont, and his wife Margaretha Fricker (or Frikart), an illegitimate daughter of Bernese city scribe Thüring Fricker, he used "Manuel", the given name of his father, as his surname and used "Deutsch", as the German equivalent of the surname Alleman, as an additional appellation, signing his works with the initials NMD.

He is first recorded in 1509, when he married Katharina Frisching, daughter of Hans Frisching, a former Bernese reeve and member of the city council (Kleiner Rat). Niklaus Manuel and Katharina Frisching had six children. Two of them, Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch (1525–1571) and Niklaus Manuel Deutsch the Younger (1528–1588), were also artists.[1] Niklaus Manuel is considered the founder of the patrician Manuel family of Berne, from 1510, Niklaus Manuel was a member of the city parliament (Grosser Rat). He is first recorded as a painter in the employment of the city in 1513. Aside from Holbein he is the major representative of Renaissance painting in Switzerland.

In 1514, he bought the house at Gerechtigkeitsgasse 72 which remained in possession of the Manuel family until the 17th century; in 1516, he entered mercenary service as the secretary of Albrecht von Stein, participating in the French campaign in the War of the League of Cambrai. His famous dance macabre on the wall of the Dominican Abbey in Berne was begun in 1516 or 1517, his latest signed works date from around 1520.

Niklaus Manuel Deutsch I, Demons Tormenting Antonius, 1520

After 1520, he dedicated himself to literary production, he was a strong supporter of the Swiss Reformation and a friend of Huldrych Zwingli. He campaigned for the reformed cause in Bern with Berchtold Haller, the priest at St Vincent Münster, his carnival plays or Fasnachtsspiele were very popular, and are said to have done more for the adoption of the Reformation in Berne than the sermons of Haller. In 1522 he once again entered service with Albrecht von Stein in a campaign in Lombardy, and was wounded at Novara, he also participated in the Battle of Bicocca of 27 April. In 1523, he was given the office of Bernese reeve of Erlach, Echallens and Nidau. He was sent as a representative of Bern to the Swiss Diet in 1526, he served as a member in the city council (Kleiner Rat) from April 1528 until his death.

Literary works[edit]

  • Vom Papst und Christi Gegensatz. 1522 (Drama)
  • Ein hübsch neu Lied und Verantwortung des Sturms halb beschehen zu Pigogga. 1524
  • Vom Papst und seiner Priesterschaft. 1524 (Schauspiel)
  • Der Ablasskrämer. 1525 (Schauspiel)
  • Barbali. 1526
  • Fabers und Eggen Badenfahrt. 1526 (Poem)
  • Krankheit und Testament der Messe. 1528 (Satire)
  • Ein neu hübsch Spiel von Elsli Tragdenknaben. 1529


  • Gäbler, Ulrich (1986), Huldrych Zwingli: His Life and Work, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, ISBN 0-8006-0761-9 .
  • Cäsar Menz, Hugo Wagner (red.): Niklaus Manuel Deutsch. Maler, Dichter, Staatsmann. Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern 1979.
  • Gisi, Lucas Marco: Niklaus Manuel und der Berner Bildersturm. In: Peter Blickle, André Holenstein, Heinrich Richard Schmidt, Franz-Josef Sladeczek (Hg.): Macht und Ohnmacht der Bilder. Reformatorischer Bildersturm im Kontext der europäischen Geschichte. Oldenbourg, München 2002 (Historische Zeitschrift, Beihefte; 33), S. 143–163.