Is the Hebrew Inscription on This Crossbow a Secret Code? (Video)
Art history resembles detective work, often concealing mysteries waiting to be unraveled. Among the array of crossbows at the New York Met, one stands out as truly exceptional. Its ivory panels bear religious inscriptions and the coat of arms of Count Ulrich von Württemberg, the owner, alongside a telling date, 1460. These details already shed light on its significance. Yet, beneath the surface lay an enigmatic Hebrew inscription, confounding scholars for over a century. A Hebrew scholar's phonetic transcription unveiled a German phrase: "hab got lieb hoch herze," translating to "Hold God dear and be high-hearted." The meaning remained elusive until a connection emerged.
Ulrich's wife, Margaret, had championed this phrase in her commissioned manuscripts, emphasizing its importance as a guiding principle. Furthermore, military writings hinted at its use in secret codes, emphasizing the power of knowledge protected through encryption. Digging deeper, the initials "HH" in the inscription coincided with Heinrich Heid, a crossbow maker in Ulrich's employ. Could this be his clandestine signature? This crossbow embodies the intrigue of art, always revealing new facets. Just when we think we comprehend an object fully, another layer emerges, inviting us to explore further.
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Top image: Crossbow of Count Ulrich von Wurttemberg. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain.