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« Tuna 3 / 2020

Business and Piety: Lutke van Minden and the Inventory of his Estate

On 30 January 1523, a probate inventory of the merchant and shipmaster Lutke van Minden was compiled. This is one of the earliest such inventories in Tallinn, which mirrors the material culture of an individual whose final years fell into an interesting period of time, when the first signs of the Reformation began to appear in medieval Livonian towns. The article first discusses the family relations and trade networks of Lutke, and thereafter analyses his probate inventory.

Lutke van Minden first appeared in the Tallinn sources as a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Heads (an association of young unmarried merchants) in March 1508. His place of origin is not known: his last name refers to a town in Westphalia, but several Mindens lived, for example, in 15th-century Lübeck. Lutke was admitted to the Great Guild at the Christmas drinking feast of 1514/15 and took the burgher’s oath on 12 October 1515. Most likely, in the same year he also got married to a daughter of the local merchant Bernt Clever. Lutke received a dwelling house on Viru Street 22 as his wife’s dowry. He and his wife Elseke had only one child – a daughter called Anneke. Lutke was widowed by April 1522.

Lutke’s activities as a merchant and shipmaster can be studied on the basis of his three account books from the years 1510–1521, 1517–1522 and 1518–1522. He mainly sailed to Finland and Sweden, most often to Viipuri and Stockholm, but also to Porvoo, Pernaja, Turku and Raasepori. He also traded in Gdańsk, Lübeck, Copenhagen and Helsingør. He exported flax, rye, malt, wax, pelts and fur, and imported salt, cloth, herring, wine, etc. Within Livonia, he traded in Narva and Riga. One of his long-term business partners was the Commander of the Teutonic Order in Kursi.

From about 1520, Lutke’s business was not going well and his debts were rising. In April 1522, he appointed legal guardians to his daughter and delivered her the jewellery, clothes and some pieces of furniture, which had belonged to her late mother. Lutke himself died in the same year, leaving huge debts behind.

His probate inventory sheds light to the structure and interior of his house. The most remarkable items among his possessions were several religious images and objects that shed light on the practices of domestic devotion: a carved crucifix, two paintings of the Virgin Mary, the Veil of Veronica and a holy water stoup of brass. However, he also owned two Gospel books, which, judging from the keen interest towards them, were probably the translations by Martin Luther. These Gospels were among the few items, which immediately found buyers among the local merchants and their widows. Thus, there was a great demand for vernacular Evangelical literature in the 1520s. Lutke’s probate inventory demonstrates that, at that time, Catholic devotional images and Evangelical books both found their place in the homes of the laity.