Stefan Lochner

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The Last Judgement, c 1435. 124.5 x 172 cm. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

Stefan Lochner (c. 1410 – 1451) was a German painter working in the late International Gothic style. He produced panel paintings, often altarpieces, and illuminated manuscripts. As there are few surviving records of his life, he was long known as the notname The Dombild Master. Research by art historians in the 19th century associated that master's painting with Lockner, and the outlines of a biography have been established. Today 33 works are attributed to him, dated between the early 1430s and c 1450.[1] Circumstantial evidence suggests he perished during an outbreak of plague in the winter of that year. Due to lack of documentary evidence many attributions remain problematic.[2]

Lockner was active in Cologne, Germany, and is best known for the Altar of the City Patrons triptych, commissioned for the Town Hall chapel in the 1440s and now in Cologne Cathedral. Lochner was one of the most important German artist before Albrecht Dürer; an artist who held Lochner in great esteem and is most identified with continuing his legacy.[3]

Lochner was one of the last major painters working in the "soft style" (weicher Stil) of the International Gothic tradition. His work is known for its clean appearance, virtuoso surface textures and innovative iconography. He was praised by Friedrich Schlegel and Goethe for the "sweetness and grace" of his Madonna portraits.[4] His paintings combine a Gothic tendency towards long flowing lines in brilliant colours with a Flemish-influenced realism and attention to detail. Lochner's compositions often include fanciful angels, singing and playing musical instruments. He was skilled both as a miniaturist and a painter of monumental works. He seems to have had knowledge of metal work, given his realistic deceptions of objects such as the Magi's gifts in the Cologne altarpiece.[4]


Early life, Meersburg[edit]

Crucifixion, 1445. Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The known details of Lochner early life are scant, not helped by the destruction of local archival records during the French occupation of Cologne.[5] He is thought to have come from Meersburg, near Lake Constance, as his parents, Georg and Alhet, were citizens and are recorded as having died there in 1451. He is referred to as "Stefan Lochner of Constance" twice in documents, in 1444 and 1448.[6] However there is no archival evidence that he was there, and his style bears no traces of the art of that region.[7] Recent research has found no record of him or his family in the town, although there is mention of Lochner's (a fairly uncommon name) in the village of Hagnau, two kilometers from Meersburg.[6]

Lochner's talent was recognised from an early age.[8] He may have been of Netherlandish origin or worked there for a master, possibly Robert Campin. His work seems influenced by Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden; elements of their styles can be detected structurally and in colourisation. In his mature works, especially in his Last Judgment,[9] although neither is thought to be the master under whom he had studied.[10]

Move to Cologne[edit]

Saint John the Evangelist, c 1448-50. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, oak, 45cm x 14.8cm
Mary Magdalen, c 1448–50. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdamoak, 44.6cm x 14.6cm

He first appears in surviving records in 1442; nine years before he died.[1] Lochner had moved to Cologne, commissioned by the city council for decorations in connection with the celebration of the visit of Emperor Frederick III.[11] The city had a long tradition of producing high end visual art, and in the 14th century its output was considered equal to Vienna and Prague. In the 15th century its artists concentrated on more personal, intimate and homely forms, and the area became known for its production of small panels of "great lyrical charm and loveliness, which reflected the deep devotion of the writings of the German mystics".[12] However by the 1430s, painting there had become very conventional and somewhat old fashioned, still under the influence of the International courtly style of Master of Saint Veronica, known to have been active until 1420.[13] and after his arrival, Lochner, exposed to the Netherlandish artists and working with oil,[14] eclipsed other artistic work in the city.[15] According to art historian Emmy Wellesz, after Lochner's arrival "painting in Cologne became infused with a new life", perhaps enriched by the earlier exposure to the Netherlandish artists.[12]

He was already a master at this stage, and although other artist were involved in preparing for the celebration, Lochner was responsible for the most important decorations; the resulting Dombild Altarpiece has been described as "the most important commission of the fifteenth century in Cologne".[16] He is recorded as having been paid forty marks and ten shillings for his effort.[5] He became widely celebrated as the most capable and modern painter in the city, where he was known as "Maister Steffan".[17]

Sucess, city councilor[edit]

Triptych with the Virgin in the Garden of Paradise, c. 1445 – 1450. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

Lochner bought a house around 1442 with his wife Lysbeth. Nothing else is known about her, and the couple apparently had no children.[5] In 1444 he was able to afford to sell it for two larger properties, one named "zome Carbunckel", near Saint Alban Church,[18] and another called "zome Alden Gryne". Historians have speculated if the acquisition of larger premises indicates increased activity on his behalf, a need for a larger space to accommodate an increased workshop and additional assistants. It is likely that he lived in one house, and worked in the other.[16] The purchases may have strained him financially, as around 1447 he seems to have encountered financial difficulties, forcing him to remortgage both. Second mortgages were taken out in 1448.[5]

He was elected in 1447 by the local painters guild to serve as Ratsherr; their representative municipal councilor. The appointment implies he had lived in Cologne since at least 1437, as only those who had been living in the city for ten years could take up the position. He seemingly had not taken up citizenship immediately, possibly to avoid paying the 12 guilder fee, and anyway the guild did not require it. However he was obliged as Ratsherr, and on 24 June 1447 became a burgher of Cologne.[19]

The role of municipal councilor could only be held for a one year term, with two years vacated before it was occupied again. In this way, Lochner was re-elected for a second term in the winter of 1450, which was cut short by his death.[5]

Plague, early death[edit]

Germany was undergoing an outbreak of plague in 1451, and there are no surviving records of him after Christmas of that year.[11] On 16 August the council of Meersburg was informed by the council of Cologne that Lochner would not be able to travel to attend to the will and estate of his parents, who had recently died.[6]

It is presumed he was then already ill. The area Lochner was living in was particularly affected by the outbreak; on 22 September his parish of Saint Alban requested permission to burn plague victims in a lot next to his house as the cemetery was full. He died sometime between this date and January 1452, when a creditor took possession of his house. The latter record does not mention Lysbeth, who was presumably already dead.[6]

Identity and attribution[edit]

There are no signed paintings by Lochner,[11] and his identity was not established until the 19th century. The reclamation of his identity took place in two stages. Firstly, in an article published in 1823, J.F. Böhmer identified the Altar of the City Patrons with a work mentioned in an account of a visit to Cologne in 1520 in the diary of Albrecht Dürer, during which the notorious thrifty artist paid 5 silver pfennig[20] to see an altarpiece by "Maister Steffan", some seventy years after Lochner's death. The description given matches exactly the "Adoration of the Magi" center panel of the Altarpiece of the City's Patron Saints, now at Cologne Cathedral.

The Altarpiece of the City's Patron Saints, or the Dombild Altarpiece. Tempera on oak, 94in x 14in. Cologne Cathedral. The ecntral panel shows the Virgin and child receiving the magi. The left wing has Saint Ursula, accompanied by her husband Eutherus and her companions, 11000 virgins. The right panel contains Saint Gereon presented as a knight holding a flag and cross[21]

The altarpiece is mentioned in a number of later records. It was repaired and re-gilded in 1568, and mentioned in Georg Braun's "Civitates Orbis Terrarum" in 1572. German Gothic art underwent a revival of appreciation in the early 19th century during the early Romantic period, and the work was seen as a climax of the earlier period. Friedrich Schlegel, who was instrumental in reviving Lochner's reputation, compared it favourably to the work of Raphael, writing that it exceeded anything by van Eyck, Dürer or Holbein.[22] Later, Goethe was enthusiastic.[23]

However the artist's identity remained unknown, and he was referred to simply as the "The Dombild Master", with no other known associated works.[23] In 1816 Ferdinand Franz Wallraf identified him as Philipp Kalf, based on a reading of an name inscribed on the sheath of a figure on the right of the center panel. He also misinterpreted markings on the stone floor of the "Annunciation" to read 1410, which he took as the year of completion.[24] Later, 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".[25]

In 1850 Johann Jakob Merlo identified "Maister Steffan" with the historically recorded Stefan Lochner.[26]

Over the years, based on their stylistic similarity to the Altar of the City Patrons, other paintings have been attributed to him, although in recent years some art historians have questioned that the diary entry was authentically made by Dürer. Other documentary evidence linking the paintings and miniatures with the historical Lochner has also been challenged, most notably by art historian Michael Wolfson in 1996.[27] In other case the extent of his direct hand, as opposed to those of workship members or followers is debated.[28]


Panel paintings[edit]

Annunciation scene on the reverse of the Altarpiece of the Patron Saints of Cologne, c. 1440–1445, Cologne Cathedral. Outer wing of a triptych altarpiece. Mary receives the word of god, delivered by a dove fluttering over her head. The lily in the vase behind her is a symbol of her virginity.[29]

Only two attributed paintings are dated; the 1445 Presentation in the Temple now in Lisbon, and a second, much larger treatment of the same subject also from 1447, now in Darmstadt.[23]

Lochner's major works are three large polyptychs, his Last Judgement, Altarpiece of the City Patron Saints, Nuremberg Crucifixion and Martyrdom of the Apostles. Like many 15th-century religious pieces, they were broken apart over the centuries, and are today spread across various museums and collections. There are two dated versions of the Presentation in the Temple, one in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (1445) and another in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt (1447); two wings from an altarpiece, with images of saints (now in the National Gallery, London and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne).[11]

His Last Judgement, the central panel of an altarpiece from the church of St Laurenz in Cologne, is also in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, while other elements from the same work are in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.[30][31]

The Crucifixion is considered one of his earliest works, reminiscent of earlier medieval painting. It has a heavily ornamented gilded background, and the smooth flowing quality of the 'soft' Gothic style. The Last Judgement is probably also from early in his career, but in subject matter and background differs from other extant and attributed works. While the elements are arranged in typical harmony, it is unusually dark and dramatic in composition and tone.[32]

A number of drawings have been associated with him, but only one, a c.1450 brush and ink on paper Virgin and Child, now in the Musee du Louvre, is attributed with confidence.[33]

Illuminated manuscripts[edit]

Three prayer books survive that are attributed to him, although the extent of his involvement is debated; workshop members were probably heavily involved. The most famous is the Prayer book of Stephan Lochner ("Gebetbuch des Stephan Lochner") book of hours of 1451, now at Darmstadt, the other two being the "Berlin Book of Prayers" (1444) and.... The illustrations in this work contain his characteristic application of deep blue, reminiscent of his Virgin in the Rose Garden panel. According to art historian Ingo Walther, his hand is revealed by the "pious intimacy and soulfulness of the figures, always expressed so gently and elegantly, even in the extremely small format of the pictures".[15]


Conrad von Soest: St. Dorothea (dyptych), c 1420
St. Odilia

His art seems indebted to two very different sources; Jan van Eyck and both Conrad von Soest and the Master of Saint Veronica. From the former Lochner drew his realism in depicting naturalistic backgrounds, objects and clothes. From the latter he adopted the somewhat antiquated manner of depicting figures, especially females, with doll-like, eloquent and sensitive features, to present "iconic, almost timeless" atmospheres, enhanced by the then old-fashioned gold backgrounds.[2] Lochner gave his figures the common idealised facial features traditional of medieval portraiture. His female subjects especially have the usual high foreheads, long noses, small rounded chins, tucked blond curls and prominent ears typical of the late Gothic, giving them the characteristic monumentality of 13th art, placing them on seemingly similar shallow backgrounds.[35] Unlike the painters in the Low Countries, Lochner was not so concerned with delineating perspective; his pictures are often set in shallow space, with the backgrounds giving little indication of distance, and dissolve into solid gold. Related to this, often the ancillary figures lack volume in their rendering. For these reasons, and because of his harmonious colour choices, Lochner is usually described as one of the last exponents of the International Gothic style. This is not to say his paintings lack contemporary northern sophistication, but that his arrangements are often innovative.[32]

Madonna of the Rose Bower, c. 1440–42. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne. The Virgin is seated under a canopy held by angels, and wears a crown and medallion, symbols of her virginity. Christ holds an apple, while hobering angels offer gifts or play music. The painting is heavily infused with symbols of innocence ans purity.[34][36]

Lochner's art seems indebted to van Eyck, and it can be taken that he saw the Ghent Altarpiece during his visit to the low lands. He borrowed a number of motifs and compositional elements; most especially the Ursula and the central Dombild panels quote passages from van Eyck's "Soldiers of Christ". The similarities include the manner in which the figures engage with their space and the emphasis and rendering on elements such as brocades, gems and metals. Some figures in Lochner's paintings are direct quotes from Ghent, and a number of facial features match those seen in van Eyck.[37]

It is difficult to detect any evolution in Lochner's style. Art historians are unsure if his work became progressively more or less influenced by Netherlandish art. Recent dendrochronological examination of attributed works indicate that his development was not linear; suggesting that the more advanced Presentation in the Temple is of 1445, but predates the more Gothic Saints panels now divided between London and Cologne.[38]


Lochner left many followers who painted or drew in his style. Examples in ink after his Virgin in Adoration are in the British Museum and École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.[39]

Evidence suggests Lochner's paintings were well known and widely copied during his lifetime, and remained popular until the 16th century. Albrecht Dürer knew of him before his stay in Cologne, and his Feast of the Rose Garlands of 1505-1506 is indebted. Rogier van der Weyden saw his paintings during his travel to Italy; the Altar of Saint John bears influences from Lochner's Flaying of Bartholomew, especially in the executioner's pose.[40] Hans Memling similarly was exposed to his work as he passed south during a visit to Italy, and the influence of Lochner's Last Judgement can be seen in Memling's Gdansk altarpiece, where the gates of Heaven are similar, as is the rendering of the blessed.[41]



  1. ^ a b Chapuis, 103
  2. ^ a b Smith, 427
  3. ^ Corley, 78
  4. ^ a b Borchert, 249
  5. ^ a b c d e Chapuis, 26
  6. ^ a b c d Chapuis, 27
  7. ^ Borchert, 248
  8. ^ Borchert, 70
  9. ^ Stechow, 312
  10. ^ Borchert, 71
  11. ^ a b c d Rowlands
  12. ^ a b Wellesz, 3
  13. ^ Corley, 80
  14. ^ Nash, 206
  15. ^ a b c d Walther, 318
  16. ^ a b Chapus, 156
  17. ^ Borchert, 70–71
  18. ^ Singer, 16
  19. ^ Chapuis, 26-27
  20. ^ Chapuis, 28
  21. ^ Wellesz, 7
  22. ^ Chapuis, 14
  23. ^ a b c Wellesz, 2
  24. ^ Chapuis, 16
  25. ^ "Eodem tempore 1380 Coloniae era pictor optimus, cui non fuit similis in arte sua, dictus fuit Wilhelmus, depingit enim homines quasi viventes". See Chapuis, 33
  26. ^ Unverfehrt, Gerd. "Da sah ich viel köstliche Dinge: Albrecht Dürers Reise in die Niederlande". Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. 107
  27. ^ Corley, 78
  28. ^ Chapuis, 261
  29. ^ Wellesz, 7
  30. ^ "Magdalen (Left hand wing of the two wings of the "Altarpiece of the Last Judgement" (C. 1445) Stefan Lochner (1410-1451)". Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  31. ^ "Altarflügel mit den Apostelmartyrien". Städel Museum. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  32. ^ a b Wellesz, 4
  33. ^ Borchert, 254
  34. ^ a b Wellesz, 8
  35. ^ Corley, 81-82
  36. ^ "Madonna of the Rose Bower, c. 1440 – 1442". Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Retrieved 19 April, 2015
  37. ^ Chaptius, 207
  38. ^ Chaptius, 259
  39. ^ Chapuis, 182
  40. ^ Chapuis, 30
  41. ^ Chapuis, 31


  • Billinge, Rachel; Campbell, Lorne; Dunkerton, Jill; Foister, Susan. "A double-sided panel by Stephan Lochner". National Gallery Technical Bulletin, No 18, 1997
  • Chapuis, Julien. Stefan Lochner: Image Making in Fifteenth-Century Cologne. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004. ISBN 978-2-5035-0567-1
  • Corley, Brigitte. "Plausible Provenance for Stefan Lochner?". Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 59. Bd., H. 1, 1996
  • Nash, Susie. Northern Renaissance art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-1928-4269-5
  • Rowlands, John. "The Age of Dürer and Holbein: German Drawings 1400–1550". London: British Museum Publications, 1988. ISBN 978-0-7141-1639-6
  • Singer, Hans W. "Stories of the German Artists". Wildside Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4344-0687-3
  • Smith, Jeffrey Chipps. The Northern Renaissance (Art and Ideas). London: Phaidon Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7148-3867-0
  • Walther, Ingo. Codices illustres: The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts. Taschen, 2014. ISBN 978-3-8365-5379-7
  • Wellesz, Emmy; Rothenstein, John (ed). Stephan Lochner. London: Fratelli Fabbri, 1963
  • Wolfgang, Stechow. "A Youthful Work by Stephan Lochner". The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Volume 55, No. 10, 1968. 307-314
  • Borchert, Till-Holger. Van Eyck to Dürer. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. ISBN 978-0-5002-3883-7

Further reading[edit]

Stefan Lochner Meister zu Köln Herkunft - Werke - Wirkung, herausgegeben von Frank Günter Zehnder, Köln, 1993