Under the Spell of the Netherlands
At the time of Stefan Lochner’s death in 1451, three artists initially dominated painting in Cologne: the Master of the Legend of St George (named after the triptych in Gallery 2), the Master of the Lyversberg Passion (named after two large panels in this room), and the Master of the Life of Mary (named after a suite of paintings on the museums of Munich and London). At times their styles were so similar that it is difficult to tell their works apart. It has even been suggested that the three painters ran a cooperative workshop. Their main feature in common is the strong influence of their Netherlandish colleagues, which makes itself felt in their paintings.
What did the Cologne artists find in Netherlandish painting that was so worthy of emulation? A triptych painted in Brussels and exhibited in this room underlines a particular strength of the artists there: landscape painting. It came to be of increasing importance for the backgrounds of Biblical scenes and the lives of the saints. This development can be read in “fast motion” in the paintings from Cologne on show here: initially the impression they give is still dominated by a large gilded background set above a low horizon. Then the horizon shifts upwards so that the landscape is given more space. And finally the last remnant of the gilding is replaced by blue skies with little clouds. The result is a uniform space that creates the illusion that one is looking out onto the world.
This is accompanied by the illusionism we find in the details, as is clearly to be seen in the Lyversberg Passion: the differences in the almost palpable consistency of the skin and hair, of the brocade and fur, and of the stone and wood was rendered with great virtuosity – once again a skill that had been learned from the Netherlanders.