Historically unique

The wooden bridges with their triangular works of art

Each of Lucerne’s wooden bridges features an exceptional cycle of paintings. Scenes are depicted from the Bible, the lives of the patron saints of Lucerne, Swiss national history and the Dance of Death.

Cycles of paintings in a rare form

The creation of the cycles of paintings for Lucerne’s wooden bridges is unparalleled. The paintings were financed in a special way.

The three cycles of paintings of Lucerne’s wooden bridges are unique in the world. Picture stories in public spaces and triangular paintings are rare in the history of art. How these cycles of over 460 paintings in all were planned and executed is also unusual.

The approach taken was developed around 1550 when the first cycle of paintings on the Court Bridge was created. The City Council – in this case the ecclesiastical and secular authorities – decided to furnish the Court Bridge with paintings. They were to hang in the gables, where they would be protected from the elements, and tell churchgoers biblical stories.

Pictures from the Court Bridge’s cycle of paintings

A public-private partnership

The City Council paid for a small number of paintings itself. It also selected the developer for the content of the paintings, the composer of the verses and the painters. Council members’ families were then invited to sponsor paintings, choose from a given set of themes for the pictures, designate a painter and pay for the paintings. In exchange, the bottom corners of the panels would bear their name and the family’s coat of arms. Thirty years later, all the around 240 paintings had been completed.

So well received were the results that shortly afterwards a second cycle for the Chapel Bridge was embarked upon. The City Council stipulated expressly that the sponsors had to choose themes from a list and commission the paintings, and that the concept behind the cycle could not be changed. Finally, the last cycle of paintings for the Chaff Bridge was created in the same way and completed around 1637.

Over 460 triangular paintings...
... were originally hung on Lucerne’s
wooden bridges.

Composition with main and secondary scenes

The themes are depicted on the panels in such a way that the triangular shape of the paintings is used creatively. The main scene is in the foreground. At the top of the triangle is an architectural perspective or a distant landscape. In the more dramatic depictions, the main figure assumes a dominant position at the tip of the triangle. Besides the main action, there are often smaller secondary scenes that are set back, or the same figures may appear several times.

Two to four lines of verse on the black picture frames explain the theme, though the content of the verse does not always match the image. The verse writers obviously did not always confer closely with the painters.

This picture from the Chapel Bridge shows “The Killing of Amasa.”
The verse writers obviously did not always confer closely with the painters.
Heinz Horat, art historian and author

Pictures from the Chapel Bridge’s cycle of paintings

Family research

With their coats of arms and names on the gable paintings, the sponsor families have a prominent presence. Both men and women are mentioned by name. This means that the paintings are an important source of family history. Which public functions did the men exercise? Who were the women, who were often not named in other historical documents? If you take a close look, you will find the answers.

Templates from the Vatican?

Where the idea actually came from to furnish Lucerne’s wooden bridges with paintings is not completely clear. Raphael’s art at the Vatican could have provided a stimulus.

The meticulous work of the restorer
Marco Rebel inspects and restores the triangular paintings – despite his arachnophobia.

Pictures from the Chaff Bridge’s cycle of paintings

Would you like to view all the pictures from the cycles of paintings?
Court Bridge
Biblical riddles
Find out more
Find out more
Find out more