In Renaissance Europe, tomb sculpture was subject to strict social and political conditions. In commemorating the dead, publicly displayed tombs were aimed at the living by pointing to the position of individuals and their families, by expressing their ambitions, and by promoting political, religious, and moral convictions. Their choice was therefore the result of sociopolitical and cultural factors rather than purely artistic considerations. This is evident also in the Baltic region, which had a complex social and political structure, and included kingdoms and principalities as well as affluent commercial cities. Tombs and epitaphs were made for kings and princes, for the nobility, and for members of the urban elite of the major cities, such as Copenhagen, Lübeck, Stettin [Szczecin], Danzig [Gdańsk], Königsberg [Kaliningrad], and Riga. Because the choice of a tomb was dictated above all by the position of the commemorated person and the founders of the tomb in the social hierarchy, they differed considerably. Members of the nobility were usually honored with either free-standing or wall tombs with full-length effigies, while for civic elite epitaphs were displayed on church walls.

Patrons’ religious sympathies also had a major impact on tomb sculpture. By the mid-sixteenth century the kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden, the North German principalities, and the Duchy of Prussia all had implemented Lutheranism as a state religion. Most Baltic cities were also Lutheran, although the elite in some of them turned to Calvinism around 1600. From the mid-sixteenth century tombs and epitaphs were made in the newly fashionable antique style and were often embellished with figural sculpture and rich ornamental detailing. The most popular was the Netherlandish variety of the antique visual language, propagated by migrant artists from the Low Countries, imports mostly from Antwerp and Mechelen, and widely circulating pattern prints.