Stefan Lochner

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Annunciation scene from the Altarpiece of the Patron Saints of Cologne, c. 1440–1445, Cologne Cathedral

Stefan Lochner (1400 or 1410 – 1451) was a German painter working in the late Gothic style. He was active in Cologne, Germany, and is best known for the Altar of the City Patrons triptych, painted 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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[2]


The known details of Lochner life are extremely scant. He is thought to have come from Meersburg, near Lake Constance, as his parents, Georg and Alhet, are recorded as having died there in 1451. However his style bears no traces of the art of that region.[3] His talent was recognised from an early age.[4] It is believed he trained as a painter in the Netherlands under a master whose name is now lost and while there he may have been influenced by the work of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden; elements of their styles can be detected structurally and colouristically in his later works, espically in his Last Judgment[5] although neither is thought to be the master under whom he had studied.[6]

The Martyrdom of the Apostles, c 1435–40

Lochner had moved to Cologne by 1442, when he was commissioned by the city council for decorations in connection with the celebration of the visit of Emperor Frederick III.[7] He became widely celebrated as the most capable and modern painter in the city, where he was known as "Maister Steffan".[8]

Lochner bought a house around 1442 with his wife Lysbeth; in 1444 he was able to afford to sell it for a larger property near Saint Alban Church.[9] He was elected town councilor by the painters' guild in 1447 and 1450. Around 1447 he seems to have encountered financial difficulties, forcing him to re-mortgage his house. There are no surviving records of him after Christmas 1451;[7] his parents died at the end of that year and it is known he was unable to travel to Meersburg to attend to their will and estate. It is presumed he was then already ill and died shortly thereafter. Cologne was undergoing an outbreak of plague that year, and the area Lochner was living in was particularly affected; however it is not know if this was his cause of death.[9]


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

There are no signed paintings by Lochner,[7] and no works were attributed to him 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 artist paid to see an altarpiece by "Maister Steffan".[10] It was not until 1850, however, that Johann Jakob Merlo identified "Maister Steffan" with the historically recorded Stefan Lochner.[11]

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.[12] Lochner gave his figures the common idealised facial features traditional of early medieval portraiture, especially his female subjects have the usual high foreheads, long noses, small rounded chins, tucked blond curls and prominent ears typically of late Gothic, he sets these rather traditional characters within innovative and highly active, monumental settings; the main feature that defines his work as superior.[13]

Lochner's major works were polyptychs which, like many 15th-century religious pieces, 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, are in London and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne).[7] 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.[14][15]

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.[16]




  1. ^ Corley, p. 78
  2. ^ a b Borchert, p. 249
  3. ^ Borchert, p. 248
  4. ^ Borchert, p.70
  5. ^ Stechow, 312
  6. ^ Borchert, p.71
  7. ^ a b c d Rowlands
  8. ^ Borchert, pp. 70–71
  9. ^ a b Singer, p. 16
  10. ^ Billinge et al.
  11. ^ Unverfehrt, Gerd (2007). Da sah ich viel köstliche Dinge: Albrecht Dürers Reise in die Niederlande. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 107. 
  12. ^ Corley, 78
  13. ^ Corley, p. 82
  14. ^ "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. 
  15. ^ "Altarflügel mit den Apostelmartyrien". Städel Museum. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Borchert, p.254


  • Rachel Billinge, Lorne Campbell, Jill Dunkerton, Susan Foister, Jo Kirby, Jennie Pilc, Ashok Roy, Marika Spring and Raymond White (1997). "A double-sided panel by Stephan Lochner". National Gallery Technical Bulletin No 18. 
  • Corley, Brigitte. "Plausible Provenance for Stefan Lochner?". Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 59. Bd., H. 1, 1996
  • "Galerie des Frères Boisserée / St Antony, Pope Cornelius and Mary Magdalene". British Museum.  quoting Griffiths, Antony; Carey, Frances (1994). German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe. British Museum Publications. 
  • Rowlands, John. "The Age of Dürer and Holbein: German Drawings 1400–1550". London: British Museum Publications, 1988. ISBN 0-7141-1639-4
  • Singer, Hans W. "Stories of the German Artists". Wildside Press, 2010. ISBN 1-4344-0687-3
  • 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 0-500-23883-9

Further reading[edit]

Stefan Lochner Meister zu Köln Herkunft - Werke - Wirkung, herausgegeben von Frank Günter Zehnder, Köln, 1993, 224 s. + katalog (s. 225-469)