Information from the museum, 15 December 2015
The altarpiece of the Cologne Brothers of the Cross caused a sensation when it arrived from Antwerp around 1520. Measuring no less than five metres by seven, it was sumptuously executed and richly detailed. Once it was installed in the brotherhood’s monastery, not far from the artists’ quarter where Stefan Lochner and his fellow painters had once had their workshops, the astonishing import effectively put an end to the great age of painting in Cologne. Its inventive painting and virtuoso carving told the story of Christ’s life and Passion in the monastery for some three hundred years. Then, in 1802, the monumental altarpiece fell victim to the secularisation of church property. It was taken apart and its various components sold separately. Eventually, it fell into oblivion.
This will change in the spring of 2016, when the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is presenting a reconstruction of the altarpiece on the basis of research undertaken over the past twenty years. The exhibition A Forgotten Masterwork will combine paintings and sculptures identified as belonging to the altarpiece with photographs of lost sections, putting them together like an oversized picture puzzle. In this way the huge work will be brought to life again.
The creation of the altarpiece is to be elucidated by specially taken infrared photographs of selected panel paintings and by comparison with prints by Dürer. A large, moveable wooden model will show how the work’s pairs of shutters could be arranged in three positions. The first, everyday position featured the outer pair in the closed position. The second, with the outer pair opened, was visible on Sundays, while the third, with the second pair of shutters opened, was reserved for special feast days. Visitors will have a unique opportunity to experience the compelling richness, beauty and narrative complexity of this major work of art.