Walter IV von Eschenbach in Kappel am Albis and the Ogee Arch in the Upper Rhine
In the north clerestory of the former Cistercian church of Kappel am Albis in Switzerland (Canton Zürich) is the kneeling figure of a ‘donor’ whose career and image encapsulated some of the more dramatic historical and art-historical events of Hapsburg rule in the Upper Rhine in the early fourteenth century (Figs 1–2). Placed alongside the image of the Annunciation (to his right) and the Crucifixion (above him), the kneeling figure shows an armoured knight in prayer, his two armorial shields beneath him, and with an inscription in the vernacular that flows out from his praying hands: ‘GOT HILF HER DIM DIENER MIR IUNGE WALTH(ER) VO(N) ESCHIBACH’ (‘Lord God, help me your servant, the young Walter von Eschenbach’).
The plea was heartfelt, for von Eschenbach had been involved in nothing less than regicide. The one-eyed Hapsburg king, Albrecht I (1298–1308), of whom it was said that he ‘could not smile’, was a ruthless and unpopular prince. On the morning of 1 May 1308, in the castle of Baden in Aargau, just south of the old road from Basel to Zürich, Albrecht’s young nephew, John, once more demanded from the king the lucrative lands of the Upper Rhine – the Hapsburg homeland – that had been in the possession of his recently deceased father, the king’s brother. Once more Albrecht, keen to unite under his single control the new Hapsburg territories of Austria with the older heartlands of the Upper Rhine, refused to grant them. The young 18-year-old John, barely come of age, left the castle in a fury. Later that day, the court, en route to meet the queen, found it necessary to cross the small river Reuss. The king, eager to ford the river, momentarily rode ahead without any following, purloined a small boat, and having reached the far bank, was met by John and his three sworn companions – among them Walter von Eschenbach. The impulsive John seized his chance. He and his knights attacked the lone Albrecht with daggers and swords. A splitting blow to the head caused the king’s instant death. The court, seeing the spectacle from the other bank, thought it was a joke.
John the murderer, now known as parricida, was able to escape, but only to a life of vagrancy and disguise. He appeared before Emperor Henry VII in the guise of an Austin friar, and died a year later in the custody of the Pisans. Walter von Eschenbach was outlawed in 1309, and disappears from the record in 1310. His window in Kappel, the monastery that his family (the lords of Eschenbach-Schnabelburg-Schwarzenbach) had founded in 1185, represents his final, and most lasting, appearance. It is not certain if Walther’s ‘donor-portrait’ shows him as the giver of the window (in which case it pre-dates May 1308), or simply as a ‘donor’ in the wider sense (what Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz would place in the category of benefactors whose images were installed after their death in order to promote commemorative prayer on their behalf, in which case, it dates to c.1310). The confiscation of the family’s lands after the murder, and the family’s consequent impoverishment, suggests that the window pre-dates the dramatic events of 1308.
The immediate and prominent artistic fall-out from the regicide was the foundation, by Albrecht’s widow Elizabeth, of the magnificent Poor Clares’ convent of Königsfelden on the actual the site of the murder. Albrecht was buried in Speyer, next to his father, Rudolf I, but Königsfelden became his cenotaph, and his praying image was joined with other Hapsburg rulers in the dynastic commemorative cycle installed in the side-aisle windows of the nave, glazed between 1358 and 1364. 25 miles or so to the north-west, Kappel am Albis offered its ‘donor’ a far more modest commemoration, but one with particularly interesting implications, especially for the art historian. The kneeling figure of Walter is crowned by an arch with a modest but distinct ogee curve. This timid curvature would hardly be worth pointing out, were it not for the fact that the ogee became the basis of double-curved decorative forms – in arches, tracery and vaults – in much later medieval decoration, and that such forms are by common consent one of the hall-marks of later Gothic architecture in Europe. Where they originated is therefore a matter of some interest to the historian of stained glass, especially when they seem to have made a particularly precocious appearance in glass in the Upper Rhine, around Lake Constance, in the first and second decades of the fourteenth century.
The ogee or double-curved arch , probably of Persian and near eastern pedigree, first appeared in the Gothic west in the last two decades of the thirteenth century, and in an area between Paris, Rouen, Arras and the Franco-German border. It occurs prominently in the porches of St-Urbain at Troyes (c.1262–66). It was popular as the enclosing arch on tomb slabs (in Rouen, Notre-Dame Paris, Preuilly, and in Royaumont); it was used for framing arches in north-eastern French illuminated manuscripts (e.g., an illustrated codex now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fig. 3), and it appears early on in metalwork (Paris and Artois, the lost shrine of St Gertrude at Nivelles, 1272–98). All these examples can be described as belonging to a Parisian ‘court style’ and its northern French offshoots, and there is little doubt that it excited the interest of patrons and artists in the Lake Constance area around the year 1300.
It would be wrong to conclude however that this part of the Upper Rhine had the monopoly of early interest in the ogee: double-curved tracery forms appeared in upper and lower Saxony in the 1270s and 1280s (the choirs of the Cistercians at Schulpforta, and of the Benedictine church of St Agidien in Brunswick), and the ogee was not unknown nearer to Constance, in Alsace (the choir of Our Lady in Rouffach, last quarter of thirteenth century). Yet Constance, next to Strasbourg the most important episcopal and mercantile city in the Upper Rhine, seems to have been especially sensitive to northern French uses of the ogee, and to northern French influences generally. The Constance-made Markus shrine that the Bishop of Constance (Heinrich II von Klingenberg) gave to Reichenau-Mittelsell in 1305, the Gradual of St Katharinenthal, the Nuremberg chronicle, the martyr cycle of paintings in the Dominican church in Constance, the Rudolf von Ems World Chronicle, the large parchment drawing of Mary as the Throne of Solomon (c.1310, made in Paris in a style close to Picardian illumination and destined for a commission in the Lake Constance area, perhaps a wall-painting or glass) – all these works show a direct knowledge of Parisian and north-eastern French sources. A glimpse of how these French ideas may have reached Constance is provided by the celebrated journey to Paris in 1299 of Bishop Heinrich to negotiate the marriage of the eldest son of Albrecht I with the daughter of Philip the Fair.
Little wonder that the Lake Constance Kunstlandschaft, which extended to the city of Basel on the western border of the diocese, should show a more precocious interest in the ogee arch than any other Upper Rhenish milieu. The exceptionally prominent ogees that frame the effigies of Queen Anna of Hohenburg, wife of Rudolf of Hapsburg, and her son Charles, date to between c.1281 and 1290, surpass in curvilinearity their French models (Fig. 4). The micro-cathedral held by the figure of St Heinrich on the west front of Basel Cathedral also has a prominent ogee over its portal (c.1290). Both sculptures may have been carved during the reign of Bishop Henrich von Isny (1275–86). The finest ars sacra of the Constance workshops also used ogees – in the gilt copper shrine from Chur (c.1300), the Mehrerau Abbey chalice (made in Zürich in the early fourteenth century?), and the Beromünster book cover of c.1311. Similar examples, all dating to c.1310–20, can be found in manuscript illumination and wall-painting, in (for example) the Nuremberg Gradual, or the Gradual of St. Katharinenthal, or in the murals of the Dominican church in Constance.
But it was in stained glass as much as in any other medium that the Lake Constance Kunstlandschaft showed a special receptivity to the French ogee. With its centre of production in Constance, the glass of the Constance area in the first quarter of the fourteenth century is distinguished from contemporary workshops in Strasbourg, Colmar and Freiburg by its remarkably early use of the ogee (Becksmann). The ogee of the von Eschenbach window of c.1310 is paralleled by the ogee-tipped niches in a fragment in the Burrell Collection (Glasgow) also of c.1310, and then in the so-called Klingenberg window from the St Maurice rotunda in Constance Cathedral (c.1315/17), and in the axial window of the former Dominican church at Constance, now in the castle chapel of Heiligenberg (c.1320). A more systematic version of the Heiligenberg composition appeared about ten years later in the east window of the Dominican church of Frauenfel-Oberkirche, just west of Lake Constance. The similarities in colour, ornamental detail and micro-architectural structure between the ogeed niches of these windows and the contemporary micro-architectural forms in the Zürich and Lake Constance manuscripts and metalwork just listed strongly suggest that the ogee forms in the glass grew out of local traditions of micro-architectural design, probably associated most intimately with goldsmiths’ patterns.
The early appearance of ogees in stained glass invites us to consider the possible overlaps between glazier and masonic workshops at this moment of experiment. Did the propensity of metalworkers to twist their micro-architecture into double-curved patterns, and then to relay them to their artistic colleagues in manuscript and glass painting, find its way, via the glazier’s workshop, to the mason’s yard? For glazing belongs, more than any other figural art, to the world of the architect’s lodge. Such a transmission is now impossible to prove, but it is surely significant that the architecture in the Lake Constance Kunstlandschaft, including the Zürichsee, was more advanced in the use of the ogee arch than any other area of the Upper Rhine; indeed, it represented the most concerted set of experiments in unorthodox, curvilinear tracery patterning outside England in the early fourteenth century. The key building here was the Cistercian abbey church of Salem on the Bodensee, begun in 1297/99, whose choir and transepts were complete by c.1305. Here, as opposed to the tracery forms of the more prominent lodge at Strasbourg Cathedral, curvilinear and proto-curvilinear forms abound with an inventiveness and variety exceptional in any Continental church of its date: merging mouchettes, double-curved vesica-like tracery heads, and the colossal central mouchette of the north transept façade (Fig. 5). Very similar tracery forms are used, significantly, in the nave clerestory of Kappel am Albis, at exactly the same time, and by Salem masons. The architecture of Kappel is in many respects a reduced version of Salem, and the von Eschenbach window itself has tracery very like a particular pair of Salem clerestory windows (north and south in the second bay of the choir counting from the east). It was also Salem masons who were responsible, a little later (?c.1300–17) for the astonishing curvilinear tracery of the east walk of the cloister of Constance Cathedral.
Unfortunately, none of the medieval glass at Salem survives, though an idea of its spare elegance is suggested by the prominent ogees and svelte, capital-less Reduktionsgotik of the micro-architecture of the east window (c.1320–30) of the Cistercian nuns’ church of Heiligkreuztal, 50km north Salem, over which Salem had rights of visitation. There is, of course, a categorical gap between the unobtrusive ogee arches above single niches in the von Eschenbach window and its affiliates, and the free, curvilinear tracery of Salem and Kappel. It took a critical jump of genres to move from the ogeed niche, and all its implications of static and discrete framing, to the almost unlimited play with flowing curves inherent in tracery design. Yet Constance and its artistic territory provided just the kind of milieu – one of intense cross-fertilization of media – in which such creative connections could take place. Proof that this process of transition from glazing to architecture, from fictive micro-architecture to real architectural composition, was taking place with special subtlety in the Constance Kunstlandschaft is provided by the strange double-sided tomb shrine of St Euphrosyne, once in the Dominican nuns’ church of Klingental in Klein-Basel, now moved to the Small Cloister of Basel Cathedral (Fig. 6). The tomb resembles a ‘softened’ and ‘pictorialized’ version of the tomb of Bishop Konrad von Lichtenberg (1299) at Strasbourg Cathedral, but now with pronounced ogees, and with complex interlocking ogee tracery in the three blind oculi at its base. These oculi, and the florid petal forms within the skeletal tracery above them, resemble the repetitive, geometrical-leaf compositions that compose the ornamental glazing of contemporary stained glass, and their presence in Basel below the ‘lights’ of the ‘windows’ exactly mirrors the distinctive glazing schemes of the Constance workshops, where the ornamental glass appears below the micro-architectural motifs, not above them, as was usual in Alsace. Interestingly the Kappel glass is an early instance of this positioning, though its origins lie in French glass (notably St-Urbain at Troyes).
It is a pleasing irony that Walter von Eschenbach’s commemoration at Kappel took place in a setting, and in an artistic language, that owed much to Hapsburg patronage and Hapsburg institutions. Many of the works produced in the first and second decades of the fourteenth century in Basel, Salem and Constance are associated with Hapsburg interests and the patronage of a higher clergy loyal to Hapsburg power: Albrecht I was a generous benefactor to Salem, and the bishops of Basel were the staunchest allies of Rudolf I and Albrecht I. But clearly artistic ideas knew no political boundaries in the creative ferment that constituted the Constance workshops of the early fourteenth century. Walter von Eschenbach’s ogeed niche participated in a language of modernity and experiment that recognized no political or media-based boundaries. Nothing in the formal demeanour of these works suggests the traumatic events that accompanied them. As Eliot put it in the Four Quartets: ‘These men, and those who opposed them / And those whom they opposed / Accept the constitution of silence / And are folded in a single party’.
E. J. Beer, Die Glasmalereien der Schweiz aus dem 14 und 15 Jahrhundert, CVMA Schweiz, III, Basel, 1965
R. Becksmann, Die archtektonische Rahmung des hochgotischen Bildfensters. Untersuchungen zur oberrheinischen Glasmalerei von 1250 bis 1350, Berlin, 1967
P. Crossley, ‘Salem and the Ogee Arch’, in Stephan Gasser et al. (eds), Architektur und Monumentalskulptur des 12. -14. Jahrhunderts. Produktion und Rezeption. Festschrift für Peter Kurmann zum 65. Geburtstag, Bern/Berlin, 2006, pp. 321–42
B. Kurmann-Schwarz, Glasmalerei im Kanton Aargau: Königsfelden, Zofingen, Staufberg, Canton Aargau, 2002