Stephan Lochner

The German painter Stephan Lochner (ca. 1410-1451) was the greatest artist of the school of Cologne in the Rhineland. His paintings express the serene beauty of an otherworldly orientation.

Stephan Lochner was a native of Meersburg near Lake Constance. In 1442 he settled in Cologne, the center of mystical religious thought in Europe as the Middle Ages drew to a close. A document of that year states that he married and bought a house. Elected twice as councilor of the painters' guild, he died during an outbreak of the plague.

The earliest of Lochner's few pictures, all in tempera on wood, seem to date in the 1430s. Among these is St. Jerome in His Cell, which is still very Gothic in form and spirit, in contrast to the new realism being pioneered at the time in Flanders. This miniaturelike painting reveals his propensity for softly modeled forms placed in a stagelike architectural setting. His first important altarpiece, the life-sized Madonna with Violets (ca. 1435), is an elegant, blissfully sweet image of the Mother of God. At her feet the figure of the female donor, tiny as is usual in medieval art, kneels in supplication.

Another altarpiece is the cataclysmic Last Judgment (ca. 1435-1440). The central panel seethes with the blessed who smile, the damned who scream, legions of devils, and wispy blue angels-a Lochner trademark.

The Adoration of the Magi altarpiece, resplendent in gold and dazzling with the powdery colors of an otherworldly reality, is Lochner's masterpiece. It is still in the Cathedral of Cologne, where it was placed about 1440. Albrecht Dürer paid it homage in 1520, in the diary of his trip to the Netherlands. This huge triptych honors the patron saints of the city: the Three Magi, St. Ursula and her 10,000 virgin companions, and St. Gereon.

Tenderest, most intimate, and joyous of Lochner's pictures is the 20-inch-high panel of the Madonna in the Rose Garden (ca. 1438-1440). Here he comes as close as possible to a painterly realization of the experience of the mystic in "losing himself with God." While the Father superintends above and the dove of the Holy Ghost descends, the sweetly contemplative Virgin displays an innocent Child. A quartet of infant angels in pastel robes makes music, while others pick roses and offer the fruits of paradise to the Queen of Heaven and her Son. In the upper corners two angels have drawn back curtains to reveal the mystery, which exists before a tooled gold background. It is the supernal Christian revelation that exists beyond space and time, that takes place "nowhere for always, " to use the mystic's terminology.

Further Reading on Stephan Lochner

For a biography of Lochner see Emmy Wellesz, Stephan Lochner (1967). Background studies include Pierre Descargues, German Painting from the 14th to the 16th Centuries (trans. 1958), and Hanspeter Landolt, German Painting in the Late Middle Ages, 1350-1500 (1968).