Museumgoers in Germany can now see 'Snow White's' gravestone

An aristocrat from a German town likely inspired the fairy tale character.

August 6, 2019, 2:50 PM

BERLIN -- Once upon a time, there was a wealthy woman named Maria Sophia von Erthal. Born in 1725 in the castle of the Medieval German town of Lohr am Main, she was a baroness and the sister of bishops.

But she went on to be known culturally as the possible inspiration for the fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century.

The Bamberg Diocesan Museum in Bavaria just added her refurbished gravestone to its collection, sparking renewed interests in the parallels between the life of von Erthal and the fairy tale heroine.

While the jury is still out as to whether she was "the fairest one of all," there are certainly a number of provocative parallels between von Erthal's life and that of the poison-apple-eating protagonist.

The gravestone for Sophia Maria von Erthal, who is thought to be the model for "Snow White" is on display at the Diocesan museum in Bamberg, Germany.
Dominik Schreiner/Press Office Archbishopric Bamberg

For starters, von Erthal was said to have helped many of the area's unfortunate, including children working in the mines of nearby districts -- thought to be the inspiration for the seven mining dwarfs in the famous tale, the museum stated. A disused mine outside of Lohr can be reached by crossing seven hills, which are also mentioned in the fable, reported the BBC.

Von Erthal's father also got remarried to a woman who was said to favor her own children to those of her new husband's, similar to the wicked stepmother in the tale.

As if that wasn't enough, von Erthal's father even owned a mirror factory and one of his mirrors, currently housed in the Spessart Museum in Lohr am Main was inscribed with the words "amour propre" or "pride" in French, which could have been inspiration for the stepmother's infamous "mirror on the wall" in the fairy tale, according to the museum.

The Grimm brothers first published the fairy tale called "Schneewittchen" in 1812, and Disney subsequently released the animated film "Snow White" in 1937.

Given that the Grimm brothers lived just 60 miles west of Lohr am Main, which is now referred to as "Snow White City," it's possible they may have caught wind of the baroness' tale and used it as fodder for their story. The tale of von Erthal was well-known in the 19th century, museum director Holger Kempkens told the BBC, adding that the brothers typically wrote stories they heard from other people.

A still from Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is seen here.

Kempkens told the BBC that there are "indications" that von Erthal was the model for Snow White.

"Today when you make a film about a historic person there is also fiction in it. So in this case I think there is a historic basis, but there are also fictional elements" he told the network.

Von Erthal's life did not have an overtly romantic ending. She became blind in her youth and died at the age of 71 in a monastery in Bamberg, according to the museum.

At the time, women did not typically get their own gravestones, which makes von Erthal's historically significant, whether or not she inspired the fairy tale, points out the museum.