- Stefan Lochner: Image Making in Fifteenth-Century Cologne
It comes as a welcome surprise that the author of the excellent recent National Gallery of Art, Washington/The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999, 2000) catalogue and exhibition devoted to the sculpture of Tilman Riemenschneider, should prove equally well-versed in the area of early German painting. Julien Chapuis's Lochner monograph is most emphatically by far the best ever devoted to that ever-popular early-fifteenth-century painter. This could be misunderstood as damning with faint praise, since poor Lochner has never before received a highly commendable study such as the one under review. Not even Franz Günther Zehnder's lavish monographic exhibition (Cologne, 1993) was as well-prepared (though it was partially redeemed by a lengthy series of essays written by others bringing important new scholarship to light).
Sometimes it even seems as if a curse were laid upon all those Old Masters best loved in the earlier nineteenth century, dooming them to eternal disapproval or misunderstanding by subsequent generations. A perfect example of so dismal a fate was that of Fra Angelico, all-too-recently rescued by the revelatory, stimulating scholarship of William Hood from a tidal wave of Alinari Gebrauchsgrafik in the form of San-Marco-fresco-covered cigarette boxes, and, worse yet, from the deadening excesses of un-Brotherly, far from Angelic, connoisseurship!
Chapuis, a student of J. R. J. van Asperen de Boer and of Molly Faries, has collected and interpreted the vast quantities of technical data brought to light by teams investigating the reflectographic material accumulated over the last decades, also working with Peter Klein for dendrochronological studies — dating panels by tree-ring formation. His book includes extraordinarily enlightening investigations of the role of anti-Semitism in Lochner's day and of the role of the same sentiment, [End Page 651] along with the excesses of German nationalism, in Kunstgeschichte in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Chapuis's Cologne history is particularly lively. His perceptive historiography and criticism of Lochner literature could not prove more welcome.
Some of Chapuis's arguments based on dendrochronological dating may not prove definitive since that technique always allows for a very considerable latitude in time. Nor is his evaluation of the prophetic character of Lochner's underdrawing, seen to anticipate later progressive graphism, completely convincing. He may pay too much attention to the van Eycks and too little to Robert Campin in terms of the artist's genesis. Among his most interesting suggestions are those relating Lochner to the goldsmith's art, highly plausible since the Limbourg brothers, the van Eycks, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Albrecht Dürer were all probably concerned with designing for works in precious metals.
Accompanied by many excellent reproductions in black and white (some of those in color after manuscripts are less satisfactory), this publication includes many very clear, never-before-reproduced details in infrared reflectography. All in all, Chapuis's exhaustive publication, with its extensive notes, bibliography, and publication of the Cologne painters' guild charter, is an absolutely invaluable resource for all those interested in early German art.