Stefan Lochner

Stefan Lochner (the Dombild Master or Master Stefan; c. 1410 – late 1451) was a German painter working in the late "soft style" of the International Gothic. His paintings combine that era's tendency toward long flowing lines and brilliant colours with the realism, virtuoso surface textures and innovative iconography of the early Northern Renaissance. Based in Cologne, a commercial and artistic hub of northern Europe, Lochner was one of the most important German painters before Albrecht Dürer. Extant works include single-panel oil paintings, devotional polyptychs and illuminated manuscripts, which often feature fanciful and blue-winged angels. Today some thirty-seven individual panels are attributed to him with confidence.[1]

Left wing, Martyrdom of the Apostles
Right wing, Martyrdom of the Apostles

Less is known of his life. Art historians associating the Dombild Master with the historical Stefan Lochner believe he was born in Meersburg in south-west Germany around 1410, and that he spent some of his apprenticeship in the Low Countries. Records further indicate that his career developed quickly but was cut short by an early death. We know that he was commissioned around 1442 by the Cologne council to provide decorations for the visit of Emperor Frederick III, a major occasion for the city. Records from the following years indicate growing wealth and the purchase of a number of properties around the city. Thereafter he seems to have over-extended his finances and fallen into debt. Plague hit Cologne in 1451 and there, apart from the records of creditors, mention of Stephan Lochner ends; it is presumed he died that year, aged around 40.

Dombild Altarpiece (or Altarpiece of the City's Patron Saints or Adoration of the Magi),[2] centre panel. Tempera on oak, 260 × 285 cm. Cologne Cathedral

Lochner's identity and reputation were lost until a revival of 15th-century art during the early 19th-century romantic period. Despite extensive historical research, attribution remains difficult; for centuries a number of associated works were grouped and loosely attributed to the Dombild Master, a notname taken from the Dombild Altarpiece (in English cathedral picture, also known as the Altarpiece of the City's Patron Saints) still in Cologne Cathedral. One of Dürer's diary entries became key, 400 years later, in the 20th-century establishment of Lochner's identity. Only two attributed works are dated, and none are signed.[3] His influence on successive generations of northern artists was substantial. Apart from the many direct copies made in the later 15th century, echoes of his panels can be seen in works by Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling. Lochner's work was praised by Friedrich Schlegel and Goethe for its qualities, especially the "sweetness and grace" of his Madonnas.[4]

Identity and attribution

Triptych with the Virgin in the Garden of Paradise, c. 1445–50. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

There are no signed paintings by Lochner, and his identity was not established until the 19th century. J. F. Böhmer in an 1823 article identified the Dombild (meaning "Cathedral picture") or Altarpiece of the City's Patron Saints with a work mentioned in an account of a visit to Cologne in 1520 in the diary of Albrecht Dürer. The notoriously thrifty artist paid 5 silver pfennig[5] to see an altarpiece by "Maister Steffan" some seventy years after Lochner's death.[6] Although Dürer fails to mention specifically which of Maister Steffan's panels he had seen,[7] his description matches exactly the centre panel of the Dombild Altarpiece. The altarpiece is referred to in a number of other records. It was repaired and re-gilded in 1568, and mentioned in Georg Braun's Civitates Orbis Terrarum in 1572.[8]

German Gothic art underwent a revival in the early 19th-century Romantic period when the work was seen as a climax of the late Gothic period. The German philosopher and critic Friedrich Schlegel was instrumental in reviving Lochner's reputation. He wrote lengthy tracts comparing the Dombild favourably to the work of Raphael, and believed it exceeded anything by van Eyck, Dürer or Holbein.[9] Later, Goethe was enthusiastic,[10] emphasising Lochner's German "spirit and origin"; he described the Dombild as the "axis around which the ancient Netherlandish art resolves into the new".[11]

Madonna of the Rose Bower, c. 1440–42. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

Lochner's identity remained unknown for centuries, and no other known works were associated with the Dombild altarpiece.[10] In 1816 Ferdinand Franz Wallraf identified him as Philipp Kalf, based on a reading of a name inscribed on the cloth of a figure on the right of the centre panel. He misinterpreted markings on the stone floor pictured in Annunciation to read 1410, which he took as the year of completion.[12] Johann Dominicus Fiorillo discovered a 15th-century record that read "in 1380 there was an excellent painter in Cologne called Wilhelm, who had no equal in his art and who depicted human beings as if they were alive".[13] In 1850 Johann Jakob Merlo identified "Maister Steffan" with the historical Stefan Lochner.[14]

In 1862, Gustav Waagen became one of the first art historians to try to place Lochner's works in chronological order. His reasoning was based the assumption that Lochner developed from the early idealised forms usually associated with early 15th century Cologne, and later absorbed the techniques and realism of the Netherlandish painters. In this way, he placed the lighter "gaiety" of Lochner's Madonna paintings as from the beginning of his career, with the more stern and pessimistic crucifixions and doom panels at the end. Today, art historians believe the reverse to be true; the dramatic and innovative polyptychs came first, and the single Madonnas and panels of saints are from his mid-career.[15]

Based on their similarity to the Altar of the City Patrons, art historians have attributed other paintings to Lochner, although a number have questioned whether the diary entry was authentically made by Dürer. Documentary evidence linking the paintings and miniatures with the historical Lochner has also been challenged, most notably by the art historian Michael Wolfson in 1996.[3][7][16] In either case, the extent of Lochner's direct hand, as opposed to those of workshop members or followers, is debated.[17] Some panels formerly attributed to him are now thought to date from after 1451, the year of his death.[18]

Other Languages
čeština: Stefan Lochner
Ελληνικά: Στέφαν Λόχνερ
español: Stefan Lochner
français: Stefan Lochner
italiano: Stephan Lochner
Nederlands: Stefan Lochner
norsk nynorsk: Stefan Lochner
português: Stefan Lochner
Türkçe: Stefan Lochner