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Vierge à l'Enfant

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Grollemund Hélène

"Maister Steffan zu Cöln" (Master Stefan of Cologne) was a fifteenth-century German painter, saved from obscurity by a mention of him in Dürer's account of his journey to the Low Countries. A native of the shores of Lake Constance, Lochner was a contemporary and compatriot of the realist painters of the Swabian school. His own work, however, is suffused with the gentler style of his adopted city, Cologne.

A new vision of motherhood

The drawing of the Virgin and Child covers the whole of its sheet, the top of which has been cut off. Mary is shown seated, holding a small fruit (apparently an apple) with her left hand and supporting the infant Christ with her right arm. She is dressed in a flowing cloak whose folds extend across the floor, open at the torso to reveal her tight-waisted gown. Her hair is loose, tumbling about her shoulders. The chubby infant stands on his mother's right knee and, looking upwards, reaches for the fruit with his left hand. By contrast, the Virgin's head is bent slightly forward, seemingly in contemplation of the apple. There is no indication of an architectural or landscape setting for the two figures. Instead, the drawing focuses on the tender intimacy between Virgin and Child: halos and other celestial motifs have been omitted in favor of a tightly-composed, realistic depiction of the mother-child relationship.

The child Christ: a second Adam

The Virgin's pose, seemingly holding the apple beyond Christ's reach, and the child's eagerness to grasp it, are a reminder of the Passion. The apple, the fruit by which sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, anticipates Christ's role as the redeemer of sin; he is the second Adam whose sacrifice expiates man's fall. The inference is clearly understood by Mary, the new Eve, whose meditative gaze confirms her knowledge of Christ's fate, from the moment of his birth.

The Cologne School: tenderness and subtlety

A stylistic and thematic analysis of the drawing suggests a close connection to Stefan Lochner. The youthful Virgin is a near-perfect illustration of a type characteristic of the Cologne school, with her high, prominent forehead emphasized by swept-back hair. Equally typical are the slender necks and delicate modeling of both figures, the child's chubby face, and the bold execution and subtle transitions of the draperies. The Virgin is of a type similar to the Virgin of Humility, the inspiration for a number of works by Lochner and his entourage, for example, the Virgin with a Rose Bush, or, more specifically, the little altarpiece of the Virgin in a Small Garden by Lochner's studio (both in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne). Despite the rather dry treatment of the draperies, this Virgin and Child is widely held to be, if not an autograph drawing by Lochner, then at least a highly sensitive work after a composition by the Cologne master.

Bibliography

Täube Dagmar, in Stefan Lochner, Meister zu Köln : Herkunft, Werke, Wirkung, cat. exp. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, 1993, notice 87.

Technical description

  • Stefan LOCHNER (Meersburg, on Lake Constance, circa 1400-Cologne, 1451)

    Virgin and Child

    Circa 1440

  • Black chalk and wash

    H. 12.4 cm; W. 9.4 cm

  • Saint-Morys collection; confiscated as the property of emigrés, 1793; returned to the Museum, 1796-97

    3920698

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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