This book – the first such study in English–– traces the development of later medieval painting in Cologne over two centuries, beginning with the emergence of the agitated ‘Zackenstil’ in the wall paintings of St. Maria Lyskirchen in c.1260, and ending with the exquisite altarpieces of the Master of St. Batholomew in the decades before the Reformation. The narrative is divided into ten chapters, of which the first three give a useful overview of the social, economic, political climate in which the paintings under discussion were produced, while the remaining seven, arranged in chronological order, provide an authoritative account of the paintings themselves, focusing both on broader stylistic trends as well as the oeuvre of individual artists. Chapter 1 thus paints a vivid picture of ‘Sancta Colonia,’ at the time the largest city in northern Europe, while Chapters 2 and 3 focus on patterns of patronage (episcopal, monastic and secular), and on the relationship between patron, guild regulations and the painter’s workshop.
Chapter 4 looks at the development of painting in Cologne before 1400, zooming in on a variety of media, especially wall painting – as represented by the choir screen paintings of Cologne Cathedral, made before 1322 – and panel painting, such as a small Annunciation panel of c.1300-10, executed like the choir screen paintings in the so-called Honoré Style (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum), or the complex St. Clare Polyptych, a colossal reliquary altarpiece with an elaborately carved central shrine and a double set of painted wings (commissioned in about 1360 for the Convent of St. Clare, and transferred to the cathedral in 1811).
Chapters 5 and 6 are devoted to the elegant International Courtly Style, first brought to Cologne around 1400 by the Master of St. Veronica (whom Corley believes to have been a journeyman of Conrad von Soest), and adapted and reinterpreted in the following decades by artists such as the Master of St. Laurenz, the Older Master of the Holy Kinship and the Master of the Heisterbach Altarpiece. The following chapter discusses the career of the ‘Heisterbach Master’s most gifted pupil’ (p. 133), the painter of the famous Dombild in Cologne Cathedral (c.1440), usually identified as Stefan Lochner, but renamed by Corley ‘The Dombild Master.’ The oeuvre traditionally ascribed to Lochner – and presented here as that of the Dombild Master – includes the delicate Madonna in the Rosebower (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, c.1435), the monumental Last Judgement, possibly originating from the council chamber of the Cologne Rathaus (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, c.1435-40), as well as his luminousPresentation in the Temple, painted for the high altar of the church of the Teutonic Order in Cologne, St. Katharina (Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, 1447). While the surviving documents on Stefan Lochner may indeed leave room for interpretation, the wisdom of Corley’s attempt to substitute his name with that of the Dombild Master is questionable, as it adds virtually nothing to our understanding of the paintings themselves.
The artistic developments of the second half of the fifteenth century are discussed in Chapters 8 and 9. While the former looks at the influence of Netherlandish realism, as evinced for instance by the impact of Rogier van der Weyden’s Columba Altarpiece on the work of the Master of the Life of the Virgin, the latter analyzes the oeuvre of the Master of St. Bartholomew, the most enigmatic and arguably the most gifted painter and illuminator in late medieval Cologne. Distinguished by an “intriguing combination of mystic fervour with a sympathetic understanding of the human nature” (p. 219), this master’s work includes the colorful and richly ornamented St. Bartholomew Altarpiece in Munich (Alte Pinakothek, c.1500-5), the harrowing Descent from the Cross (Paris, Louvre, c.1485-90, with a smaller version of c.1490 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), as well as smaller devotional works for private use, such as a panel depicting the Virgin and Child with Saints Adrian and Augustine (Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, c.1490-5). These chapters are complemented by a historiographical epilogue (Chapter 10), and by four useful appendices featuring translations of guild regulations, short biographies of the archbishops of Cologne and the major patrons, as well as a location handlist of the paintings mentioned in the text. This study represents an impressive achievement, and it is a welcome addition to our growing corpus of English-language studies on later medieval German and central European art.
Died March 4, 2002