The Prayer Book of Stephan Lochner, also known as Gebetbuch des Stephan Lochner, is one of the most exquisite illuminated manuscripts allegedly ascribed to the German artist Stefan Lochner. Written and illuminated in the second half of the 15th century, the manuscript was possibly created in Cologne, in the western area of Germany. With its elegantly made miniatures and 57 historiated initials of exceptional quality, the manuscript is a masterpiece of German International Gothic illumination.
Iconographic Apparatus and Its Several Elements
Written in German, the prayer book contains prayers for private use and edification of laity and it was produced in the year 1451, as this date appears in the calendar.
The manuscript iconography features a calendar with 27 astrological characters and 12 signs of the zodiac. The many historiated initials of this exquisite prayer book feature different subjects such as the story of Christ, King David, the souls in Purgatory, along with a sequence of saints.
The Annunciation Miniature and Its Superbly Executed Decoration
The only full-page illumination – the Annunciation miniature (fol. 22v.) – is to be found at the beginning of the most important text of the manuscript: the prayer to the Virgin. This miniature is part of a double-page spread, where the annunciation scene, with its simply furnished room, is especially charming and intimate.
The illustration is enclosed by a gilded frame that, in turn, is surrounded by delicately depicted ornaments. The page opposite (fol. 23 r.) is probably one of the most beautiful and well-executed ornamental pages of the Prayer Book of Stephan Lochner. The artist plays on the contrast between the splendid painting of acanthus in powerful blue and bright pink.
The Delicacy of Lochner's Ornamentations
The borders are decorated with vine stems, featuring stylized foliage intermixed with gleaming gold-leaf ornamentation, flowers, and fruit in pink, blue, and green. The historiated initials are consistent evidence of the skilled workshop that produced them, betraying an artistic delicacy that echoes Lochner’s style.
Such delicacy can be detected for example in the flight into Egypt miniature (fol. 60v.), representing the Virgin, Christ and Joseph surrounded by a landscape which is only suggested and it is rendered in hazy pastel blue and green tones.
The Unknown Commissioner of the Prayer Book of Stephan Lochner
The commissioner of the work is still undetermined, however, it might have been an aristocratic Cologne family, perhaps the Hardenrath or Judden family. Uncertain is also the authorship of the miniatures, however, like the title suggests, it is possible that Stephan Lochner and/or his workshop collaborated to the project.
Beautiful Example of Gothic Script
The Prayer Book of Stephan Lochner exhibits a superb example of Gothic script, namely littera textualis. Resembling a woven textile, some main features of this script are sharp, straight, angular lines, and bitings (overlapping bows are joined by an upright stroke).