- Conrad Laib: Ein spätgotischer Maler aus Schwaben in Salzburg
"ALS ICH CHUN" reads part of the inscription on a painting made originally for a church in Salzburg and dated 1449. The text appears boldly on the [End Page 1327] saddle cloth of the horseman who points at the crucified Christ. The prominence of this cloth, which covers the rump of the foreshortened horse in the picture's central foreground, quickly attracts the eye. The motto ("as I can"), though literary in origin, is associated normally with Jan van Eyck. It is read as the artist's disclaimer and, therefore, proof of his exceptional skill. The Salzburg picture is not by one of van Eyck's wandering followers. Rather as Antje-Fee Köllermann and earlier scholars have shown, the author is Conrad Laib, a Swabian painter whose career flourished from ca. 1430 to the mid-1450s. Specialists often celebrate the intellect and self-awareness of van Eyck, who signed so many of his pictures, as unique during this period. Yet the German masters Laib, Lucas Moser (1432), and Hans Multscher (1437) inscribed their paintings in a manner that self-consciously celebrates their talents. The issue of emerging artistic identity is obviously not one restricted to just the Netherlands and Italy. Where Laib learned of this motto remains a mystery, though Salzburg, as the archiepiscopal seat, had no lack of scholars who could have suggested the phrase.
Köllermann offers her readers an excellent monograph on Laib, the revised product of her 2004 dissertation at the Free University in Berlin. Information about his life is scarce. The author explains how two inscriptions on an even grander Crucifixion, dated 1457 and in Graz Cathedral, provide the artist's name. From this signature, a few documents in Nördlingen and Salzburg can be linked with Laib. Köllermann uses these and several unsigned and attributed paintings to reconstruct the artist's career. She demonstrates the impact on Laib around 1440 of Multscher and other Ulm artists, some of whom had knowledge of Netherlandish painting. In 1449 Laib registered as a citizen in Salzburg, where he settled a few years earlier.
The author begins by examining Laib's Salzburg paintings, notably the Crucifixion of 1449, which she uses as the foundation for assessing his artistic style. While her remarks about Multscher's influence seem apt, I question whether it is necessary to posit Laib's knowledge of Altichiero's Crucifixion in the Oratorio di San Giorgio in Padua or of Pisanello's medals as sources for his own horses. Since the archbishopric of Salzburg straddles the Alps, a variety of Northern and Italian sources were available locally. The discovery in 1953 of two large fragments of mural paintings, plausibly attributed to Laib, in Salzburg's Franciscan church suggests that such pictures once might have been a central part of his production.
Later chapters build upon the Salzburg paintings to reconstruct his oeuvre. She looks at Laib's origins, including paintings made for the church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg in the mid-1430s. Köllermann considers how Laib's style relates to the prevailing school of painting in Salzburg and how he changed its course. His major works of the mid-1450s were an altarpiece in Pettau (Ptuj in Slovania) and the Graz Crucifixion. While at times I think that Köllermann is rather generous in her attributions to Laib, such as the Nuremberg pictures, or maybe my understanding of the artist is too restrictive, I applaud her careful explanations.
Most of this book is of interest primarily to art historians; however, Köllermann includes an unusual indulgence tablet (ca. 1445/47), now in [End Page 1328] Bischofshofen (Museum am Kastenturm). This diptych's painted exterior depicts a clerical donor kneeling before Maximilian, patron saint of the local church. When opened, both wings are covered with parchment texts recording indulgences awarded over the centuries for the veneration of Maximilian and other...