The Chapel Bridge’s cycle of paintings

Art in the gables,
partially destroyed

Most of the Chapel Bridge’s triangular paintings succumbed to the fire of 1993. However, you can still admire the artworks here.

The Swiss Confederation,
Leger and Maurice

The Chapel Bridge’s cycle of paintings depicts scenes from the history of the Swiss Confederation and the lives of the patron saints of Lucerne, St Leger and St Maurice.

The biblical cycle of paintings on the Court Bridge was completed around 1580. It was obviously a success because soon after the Lucerne city chronicler Renward Cysat began to draw up concepts for a program of paintings for the Chapel Bridge. In 1599, he submitted his proposal to the councils. They decided that the Chapel Bridge should also have a cycle of paintings. This cycle should feature no religious pictures but only worldly ones. In 1611, the council decided to go ahead with the project. All council members were invited to sponsor picture panels. A sponsor family normally paid for two panels, with paintings on both sides. Its coats of arms and inscriptions can therefore be seen once in the national history cycle and once in the Leger and Maurice cycle.

Three different cycles of paintings

The verses were composed by Renward Cysat and the literature enthusiast and Lucerne councilor Hans Rudolf Sonnenberg. They appear as captions under the paintings explaining the depicted themes. Starting from the left bank of the Reuss, around 76 picture panels depict scenes from national history. From the right bank of the Reuss, 40 picture panels portray the life of St Leger, followed by 29 paintings depicting the legends of the second patron saint of Lucerne, St Maurice. The Lucerne heraldic pyramid opened the passage of paintings at both ends of the bridge. There was also a painting sponsored by the papal nuncio, who lived in Lucerne at the time.

Painted politics

The Chapel Bridge’s cycle of paintings is closely linked to the history of the Swiss Confederation and its neighboring countries. Looking back at the political events of 1560 to 1620, it is clear why the sequence of paintings was created in this way. It was a politically uncertain time with domestic policy dominated by confessional disputes and foreign policy influenced by the changing alliances between France, Spain, Savoy and the pope. The detailed depiction of the French Saint Leger was an homage to the French king, on whose payroll numerous Lucerners figured. The eloquent tribute to Thebäerheiligen Mauritius, executed in the Valais, was directed at Savoy, an important Catholic ally.

The “Die älteste, aufgrund des Lichtes benannte Stadt Luzern” (“The oldest city of Lucerne, named for the light”) painting on the Chapel Bridge shows all three of Lucerne’s wooden bridges.
86 triangular paintings...
... from the Chapel Bridge were partially or completely destroyed by the fire of 1993.

The best painter

It can be assumed that the execution of the entire cycle was entrusted to Hans Heinrich Wägmann, the leading Lucerne painter of the time. In 1614, he was paid for the four panels that had been sponsored by the authorities. In addition, three of his drawings, which are drafts for the Chapel Bridge paintings, have been preserved. Since the panels have been renovated and painted over a number of times, it is difficult to identify the work of individual artists. Only the painting style of Hans Heinrich Wägmann can be determined and also that of Hans Jakob Wysshaupt, whose elegant, dancing figures appear occasionally. However, there is no doubt that other local painters were also involved in creating the bridge paintings.

You can see all of them here

The paintings on the Chapel Bridge are important from an art history perspective and are among the city of Lucerne’s key landmarks. Experts and travelers from all around the world have been viewing and commenting on them for centuries. The bridge fire on the night of 17 August to 18 August 1993 destroyed around two thirds of the paintings. Fortunately, professional photographs had been taken of the paintings some two years before. These photographs and thus all the works of art that existed before 1993 are reproduced here.

The way from the Freienhof to St Peter’s Chapel – from the left to the right bank of the Reuss

The way from St Peter’s Chapel to the Freienhof – from the right to the left bank of the Reuss
The cycle of paintings is closely linked to the history of the Swiss Confederation and its neighboring countries.
Heinz Horat, art historian and author

Book tip

Heinz Horat was commissioned by the city of Lucerne to investigate the history of the Chapel Bridge and the triangular paintings. He has produced two non-fiction books, which are regarded as classics.

Die Bilder der Kapellbrücke in Luzern, Band I, Geschichte, Konzepte, Künstler, Ikonografie, Verlag Hier und Jetzt, 2015, ISBN 978-3-03919-368-4

Die Bilder Kapellbrücke in Luzern, Band II, Die Gemälde, Verlag Hier und Jetzt, 2015, ISBN 978-3-03919-368-4

Would you like to find out more about the triangular paintings and view the other cycles of paintings?