(active 1090s)

Tombstone of Rudolf of Swabia

Church of St John the Baptist and St Lawrence, Merseburg

The most important form of medieval grave is the tombstone made out of stone or bronze, which would be placed on the floor of a church covering a grave below, or onto a sarcophagus-like tomb. While early Romanesque churches and crypts were at first used exclusively to bury martyrs and saints, members of the clergy were gradually also buried there, and eventually even secular lords or the founders of the church.

In the crossing of the cathedral of Merseburg (Saxony-Anhalt) is the grave of Rudolf of Swabia, who was killed in 1080 at the Battle of Elster. As the anti-king to Emperor Henry IV, he was furnished with the insignia of the imperial orb, sceptre and stirrup crown, though he was not actually entitled to these. In addition, his bronze tombstone was originally gilded, giving it a noble quality. The important feature for art historians is that this is probably the earliest figured tombstone.