Alfred Acres

title.none: Corley, Painting and Patronage in Cologne 1300-1500 (Alfred Acres)

identifier.other: baj9928.0207.025 02.07.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Alfred Acres, Princeton University, aacres@Princeton.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Corley, Brigitte. Painting and Patronage in Cologne 1300-1500. Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2000. Pp. v, 340. ISBN: 1-872-50151-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.07.25

Corley, Brigitte. Painting and Patronage in Cologne 1300-1500. Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2000. Pp. v, 340. ISBN: 1-872-50151-6.

Reviewed by:

Alfred Acres
Princeton University

Fourteenth- and fifteenth-century painting in Cologne presents a profile unlike that of painting anywhere else in Europe during the period. Observers generally recognize an unusually strong family resemblance among the panels, beginning with the gold grounds that occur more persistently among them-- especially over the course of the fifteenth century--than they tended to do among paintings in other major centers. More specific genes passed through the generations of figures painted in Cologne, whose faces and bodies behave in similar if not always definable ways. The palpability of this kinship is partly explained by a relatively dense survival of panels. Compared, for example, to the extant output of leading Netherlandish centers such as Bruges and Brussels, that of Cologne is far more consistently represented by objects produced over the two hundred years in question. The perceived resemblance among the paintings may also involve the fact that not one can be firmly connected to a documented Cologne painter, of whom there are many. Free from the names of their makers in a period where we tend to make those names the scaffolding of scholarship, the pictures are attached first to their city and then to the placeholding names conventionally assigned to their masters.

Brigitte Corley's Painting and Patronage in Cologne 1300- 1500 is the first substantial book to survey this material since Rainer Budde's 1986 Koln und seine Maler, and the only such survey in English. Drawing upon wide-ranging recent research by many scholars (including Corley herself) that has thus far been available only in sources not easily accessible to most students, the book's straightforward approach is underpinned by synthesis of the latest findings, some of which urge rethinking of key chapters of the story usually told about this material.

Six chapters surveying the artists and paintings are preceded by three that set the stage: one on late medieval Cologne, one on patterns of patronage, and one on workshop and patron. The first will be of use mainly to newcomers, as it sketches broad contours of rule and commerce in the city, reaching back as far as the eleventh century to trace the power of the archbishops. The political emphasis of the first chapter relates to the later ones on art in relatively general but persistent terms, since the author frequently associates styles with the taste of patrician or courtly owners. Her account of the anglings of those in charge makes for what she acknowledges to be "a very one-sided picture of real life there". (18) As a result, the elite patronage documented or, in most cases, assumed for the paintings means that the subsequent chapters will not be mistaken for a study of a more broadly projected visual culture of the city. The shape of such a study, which would look further into the society and toward interactions of imagery in sculpture, metalwork, graphic arts, and other media is well worth imagining. But Corley is clear about a focus on panel painting, with short looks along the way toward wall painting, stained glass, and manuscripts.

The chapter on patterns of patronage emphasizes competition among archbishops, patricians, and councillors for control of the city and explains patronage as a frequent matter of lobbying or propaganda for prestige among these and other constituencies. The motives ascribed to them will be familiar to students of late medieval and Renaissance art, and are recounted in a scope that may be most useful for readers new to the field.

Specialists will likely be drawn more to the third chapter, on the workshop and the patron, and especially its discussion of the guilds. This draws mainly upon the Cologne guild regulations for painters of 1397 and 1449, which are translated and made an appendix--a very welcome inclusion in the book. Since no contracts for Cologne paintings survive from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a discussion of patrons' motives and methods draws mainly from two contracts of the 1520s and a chronicler's account of ordering a triptych in 1556. The chapter concludes with cautious speculation about the relative consistency of style in Cologne, regarding it as a generally decorous, serene idiom that steered between the stable tastes of elite patrons and the new forms appearing in the work of foreign, mostly Netherlandish painters.

The first of the chronological chapters surveys the fourteenth century, while the rest divide the fifteenth. Three of the fifteenth-century chapters are devoted mainly to individuals: the Master of St. Veronica, working around the beginning of the century; Stefan Lochner (a name here reconsidered) working toward its middle; and The Master of St. Bartholomew at the end. Sandwiched among these three are two more broadly cast chapters, on "Cologne under the Spell of the Courtly Style" and "The Influence of Netherlandish Realism". In addition to the appendix on guild regulations, a second gathers short biographies of the archbishops of Cologne 1300-1500, a third gathers short biographies of major patrons, and a fourth is a location handlist of paintings mentioned in the text, including dimensions and approximate dates.

The most prominent contribution of the book may come in the chapter devoted to Lochner, the central argument of which is that this one great Cologne painter with a real name is probably not who we thought he was--and that he should therefore be called, alas, the Dombild Master. The title is derived from his most renowned work, the altarpiece of the Magi painted for the city councillors' chapel and since 1809 displayed in the Cathedral. Doubts have been raised before (mainly by Michael Wolfson) about the assignment of a major oeuvre of the 1430s and 40s to Lochner, a painter from Constance documented in Cologne 1442-51, but never as tenaciously as Corley raises them here. Noting that the association with Lochner hinges almost exclusively on Albrecht Durer's mention in a 1520 diary entry of having paid a small amount "to have the altarpiece opened that Master Steffan has made in Cologne", she reminds us that the entry does not specify the work he was shown. Eager to establish attributions, nineteenth-century researchers forwarded the Stadtpatronen altar as the likeliest candidate--a proposal with the added appeal of making a link between Durer and Cologne's most famous painting. Among the arguments cited against identifying this as the work he saw is the possibility, noted here as a near certainty, that the wings of the Stadtpatronen altar would already have been open during his visit to the city, which coincided with the feast of St. Ursula--one of the city patrons honored in the altarpiece. The author argues further that this and the rest of the work traditionally associated with Stefan Lochner betrays no hint of the style discernible in painting from Constance, his recorded place of origin. Whether or not these arguments eventually find wide acceptance (I, for example, do not find the painter's style totally dissociable from that found in Swiss painting of the period), it is unlikely that the name Lochner will fall away from these paintings any time soon.

The heavy attributional emphasis of the Lochner/Dombild Master discussion reflects the concern with style that propels all the chapters on painters and painting. Altarpieces and artists' oeuvres are analyzed as cocktails of influence, with frequent attention to the relative strength or weakness of a native Cologne style in the mix. While these analyses reveal sensitive observation and an impressive familiarity with the range of painting produced in the city, their abundance diminishes the weight of individual observations. It would be difficult and probably misguided to survey this material without serious attention to style, but its starring role in Corley's account feels overdetermined. It is hard not to think that this comes at the expense of other angles on such rich material, which might have included more attention to iconographic and related conceptual instincts of Cologne's painters. These and other frames of inquiry--including some of the stylistic ones already favored here--would benefit from judicious comparison to related paintings and trends from other major centers, which would deepen and usefully complicate our understanding of an exceptionally lively market of pictures. The book prefers a tidied narrative of stylistic development that concludes with the Master of St. Bartholomew, who is presented as a wonderful eccentric who left no real artistic heirs and therefore shines as the last gleam of a golden age of Cologne painting. Readers encountering him for the first time in this light--which is cast partly by the structural limitations of a survey account--can seek a more layered acquaintance through the catalogue to a recent groundbreaking exhibition on the painter and his milieu, Genie Ohne Namen: Der Meister des Bartholomaus-Altars (Cologne, 2001).

For students, Painting and Patronage in Cologne 1300- 1500 will provide a solid introduction to material and bibliography for which they previously had no comparable resource. Most scholars will read more selectively and may find it most useful to begin with the book's epilogue, which concisely summarizes the pivotal claims with pointed reference to recent technical and archival research. The text is generously illustrated with 221 black and white images of generally fair or good quality and 33 color plates, most of which are very good.