Friday, September 19, 2014

The "Fabulous Gothic Monster:" Cologne Cathedral

While taking the train from Frankfurt to Münster, we stopped at Cologne briefly to take a look at what Günther Grass called "that fabulous Gothic monster," Cologne Cathedral, easily the largest cathedral I saw on the trip.  I didn't have to walk very far.  The Cathedral stands right next to the main train station, a huge and very busy station.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these are my photos and are freely available, especially to educators.

Construction on the present Cathedral began in 1248 and never really stopped.  The stresses of modernity (traffic vibrations, pollution, and age) require that some part of the Cathedral be under scaffolding at all times.  Cologne Cathedral is the largest in Germany and the largest in northern Europe.
The Cathedral was made to be so huge to hold a major religious relic, the remains of the Three Kings who visited the Infant Christ at Bethlehem guided by the Star.  Emperor Frederick Barbarossa gave the relics to the Archbishop of Cologne in 1160 after he took them (stole them?) from the Church of San Eustorgio in Milan.  Supposedly, part of the relics were returned to San Eustorgio in the last century.

Cologne Cathedral was begun in 1248, but not completed until 1880.  A lot of the Cathedral that we see today was built in the 19th century.

 Picture from Geopolicraticus

This is a detail from a painting by Hans Memling showing what Cologne Cathedral looked like through most of its history.  The east choir was finished in the 14th century and closed on the west side by a temporary wall so that it could be used.  At the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century work proceeded on the south tower and got as far as the base of the belfry.  Work came to a stop in 1473 shortly before Memling painted it here.  There was some sporadic work on the nave until work stopped altogether in the 16th century.  The old crane on top of the unfinished south tower became incorporated into the temporary roof, and became a landmark of the city.

Picture from DW

Construction resumed on Cologne Cathedral in 1842, this time driven by resurgent German nationalism.  The Protestant regime in Prussia actively supported and financed the construction of the Cathedral to cultivate Catholic loyalty.  The very Calvinist first Kaiser of the German Empire, Wilhelm I attended the consecration of the Cathedral in 1880, 632 years after construction began.

The enormous facade, so big I could not get it in one shot.

Red robed vergers wait to welcome us as we enter the crowded cathedral and get our first glimpse of the spectacular interior

The modern altar and the medieval choir looking east toward the old high altar.

The vaults of Cologne Cathedral, the second highest stone vaults in the world at 142 feet, just behind the 159 feet high stone vaults of Beauvais Cathedral which was never finished beyond the choir.  Indeed, the choir of Cologne Cathedral was modeled after the example of Beauvais.

Cologne Cathedral is not only the largest of German cathedrals, but also the most French borrowing liberally from not only Beauvais Cathedral, but Amiens as well.  Cologne has similar tall airy proportions with high windows as Amiens.

A window in the Cathedral designed in 2007 by Gerhard Richter, the contemporary artist, as a replacement for the south transept window destroyed in the Second World War.  He supposedly used a computer program to distribute the equally sized colors as randomly as possible.  Random patterns are indeed among the most difficult.  The window is controversial because it is not particularly religious.  The Archbishop of Cologne boycotted the dedication of the new window.

Cologne Cathedral houses the oldest surviving image of the suffering Christ on the Cross in the world, The Gero Cross, donated by Archbishop Gero sometime around 970.  This is the first Crucifix that we would recognize as such.  The Crucifix rarely appears in early Christian art or early Byzantine art, both of which are very triumphalist in their imagery.  The Crucifixion was considered a shameful subject, and when it appeared at all in early Christian art, it was thoroughly bowdlerized or rendered as otherworldly as possible.  For reasons that are not clear, the suffering Crucifix in its customary form emerged suddenly and fully formed in 10th century Germany and spread quickly to England where it appears in manuscript illustrations from the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th.

The corpus and the cross of the Gero Cross are original.  The rest is a setting from the 17th century.  The Cross is 6 feet high and the oldest sculpted Crucifix north of the Alps.

The Gero Cross is a major masterpiece of Western art.  The face contorted by despair and suffering, the body with the fallen organs and stretched muscles set a standard for later Crucifixes.

The apsidal chapels of the Cathedral behind the high altar

In the ambulatory behind the high altar, visitors file past the spectacular heart of the Cathedral, the Shrine of the Three Kings.  Ambulatories were originally created to allow pilgrims access to shrines just like this without disturbing the Mass taking place at the altar.

The Shrine of the Three Kings is the largest medieval reliquary in the Western world and the masterpiece of the great metalsmith Nicholas of Verdun who designed a large three coffin shrine to house the alleged bones of Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar.   The shrine is older than the present Cathedral, begun about 1180 and completed around 1220.  The Cathedral was built to be a much larger shrine to contain this one.

Another view of the Shrine of the Three Kings in its place behind the high altar.  The shrine was originally placed in the crossing of the Cathedral.  Nicholas of Verdun supervised a small army of master craftsmen from all over northern Europe to create this immense shrine and to cover it with small sculptures and enamel panels of scenes from Salvation history, the lives of the Kings, various saints and prophets, and with gold, jewels, and ancient cameos.

Housed in the Lady Chapel in the Cathedral is a very famous painting, the Dombild by Stefan Lochner, a local master who influenced many other later artists.

In the early 15th century the Cologne city council commissioned Stefan Lochner to paint this large triptych for the altar of their chapel in the old Rathaus or city hall.  Albrecht Dürer made a special point of seeing this altarpiece, paying to have it opened for him to inspect, when he visited Cologne in 1520.  The painting features all of the local saints of Cologne.  The altarpiece was moved to the Cathedral about 1810 after being hidden from invading French Revolutionary troops in 1794.

Picture from Study Blue

The center panel shows the Visit of the Magi.  The left wing shows Saint Ursula and some of her 11,000 virgins who were all slaughtered with her by the Huns at Cologne according to pious legend.  On the right panel is Saint Gereon and his companions, supposedly beheaded by the Roman legions in Cologne.

My not very good photo of the center panel; it was very dark and I refuse to use flash.

My detail shot of the center panel showing one of Lochner's doll-like Madonnas and some of the rich color for which he was famous.  I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed those rich varied colors together with the gilding and the carved shrine-work at the top.  I also enjoyed the grand almost symmetrical composition of the magnificent throng around the Virgin and Child over three panels.

Another show-stopper in the Cathedral, this 16th century altarpiece dedicated to Saint Agilulfus.  It was originally made in Antwerp for the Church of Maria ad Gradus in Cologne and moved to the Cathedral in the early 19th century.

Next to the Altar of Saint Agilulfus is this 12th century shrine which I think I recognize, but cannot name.  It is not mentioned anywhere on the Cathedral's website.  I will hazard a guess that this is the Shrine of Saint Heribert (?) made for the Deutz Church in Cologne.  I could be wrong, since all the pictures of that shrine show it securely housed in the Deutz Church.

A couple of women admire the workmanship on the maybe Heribert Shrine.

*I'm now guessing that this shrine once formed part of the nearby altarpiece.  The Cathedral website says that the altarpiece has been greatly reduced and modified over time, but once contained a compartment for a shrine.  Maybe this was that shrine.

** It is the shrine to Saint Agilolfus.  Gerrit did what I should have done before posting this little identification problem; he took a close look at my photo of the end of the shrine above, and sure enough, there are the words OSSA S. AGILOLFIAM... inscribed on the base of the shrine.


I end with a little footnote, a painting that is not in Cologne, but is now in Munich and was painted by a Fleming.  It was made for a church in Cologne, and maybe shows some inspiration from Stefan Lochner.

My picture of visitors to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich gazing at my favorite painting by Rogier Van Der Weyden, the Columba Altarpiece made sometime around 1460 for the church of Saint Columba in Cologne.
I traveled to Munich on a day-trip from Nuremberg.  I was in that city for an afternoon.

The painting shows the Visit of the Magi in the center panel (appropriate for an altarpiece for a Cologne church), the Annunciation in the left panel, and the Presentation in the Temple on the right panel.  The colors really are that rich and that bright.
The composition here is far more complex and subtle than anything Stefan Lochner painted.  And yet in the Virgin and Child almost but not quite in the center, and the pyramidal group she forms with the kneeling Gaspar, there may be some slight nod here in the direction of Lochner's Dombild.

Picture from Wikimedia

A detail from the center panel.  This Virgin and Child by Rogier gets my vote for the most beautiful of all Flemish Madonnas.  She is noble without being haughty.  She is serious and yet graceful, warm, and approachable.  Apparently other artists of the time thought so too because you can see echoes of her in most subsequent Flemish painting, in the work of Dirk Bouts, of Hans Memling, and of Gerard David.
I also love the thoughtful looking cow behind her.

This is one of the few Renaissance paintings where the Christ Child is actually appealing.  He is the best example of the Flemish taste for frail newborns over the fat muscular one-year-olds favored by Italian artists.  The Baby's fingers and toes are wonderful.

This magnificent and noble figure I presume is Balthazar, traditionally the youngest of the Three Kings.  Showing the saint with a young man's mop of unkempt hair in contrast to his magnificent clothes is a real stroke of imagination.  Legend says that Rogier used the likeness of the young Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold.

Another stroke of imagination; showing the Star partially hidden behind the Stable as though it is very bright and high in the sky.

The 15th century Flemish countryside in the background.  Renaissance artists rarely cared about literal history.  What mattered was the importance of the story in the here and now.
Another striking anachronism is the small Crucifix above the Virgin's head.  Rogier was much more interested in human beings and how they revealed meaning through character and action than he was in symbolism.  When he does use symbols, they can sometimes be heavy handed.

My vote for the most beautiful Virgin Annunciate in all of Northern Renaissance art.


Each and every bell of Cologne Cathedral:

Goodbye to Cologne; the view from the train as we head out to Münster.


Gerrit said...

Agilolfus, bisshop of Köln

At your service....


Counterlight said...

Interesting that no one has yet caught that I spelled Balthasar with 2 different spellings.

The earth trembles.

Counterlight said...

The Cathedral website is not consistent with its spelling either:

Gerrit said...

'Next to the Altar of Saint Agilulfus is this 12th century shrine which I think I recognize, but cannot name.'

I meant: that represents Agilu/olfus as well

Gerrit said...

Right. And Museum Ludwig, though huge, is crammed with modern art, much USA. Excellent city for a long wekend, or even a week's stay. ( Cologne is 150 km from Nijmegen, a retour train ticket costs me €60,-. )