Court Bridge

A series of paintings with biblical motifs

The triangular paintings of the Court Bridge, which no longer exists, are stored in Lucerne’s City Archives.

239 paintings from the Old and New Testament

The Court Bridge was “bare” for roughly 300 years. A project was started in about 1552 to furnish the bridge with a cycle of biblical paintings unique in Europe. By 1580, the project was completed.

The Court Bridge’s cycle of paintings comprises an impressive 239 pictures with scenes from the Old and New Testament. This flood of paintings was without doubt Lucerne’s reaction to the theses of the Reformers and in particular to the vehement Protestant hostility toward images.

It is not known who developed the concept and content. One possibility is the Lucerne city chronicler Zacharias Bletz, who also wrote plays for the theater. The Lucerne priest Johannes Hürlimann is also likely to have played an important role. He came to Lucerne in 1561 and was known as a prominent humanist and theologian.

There are 239 paintings...
... in the Court Bridge’s cycle of paintings.

Paintings on both sides of the panel

Unlike the pictures on the Chapel Bridge and the Chaff Bridge, which have only been painted on one side of the panel, the gable panels of the Court Bridge have paintings on both sides. Local spruce was preferred for the panels, which were made from boards planed and glued together. The chromophoric layer was applied using a mixed technique of oil and tempera. Of the 239 known paintings, six panels with twelve paintings are missing. After the bridge was demolished in 1852, the cycle of paintings was stored in various depots. Between 1997 and 2001, it was conserved and inventoried. Today, it is stored in a repository for cultural artefacts at the City Archives.

Art historian and author Heinz Horat is a specialist on the paintings from the bridge stored in the City Archives.

The way from the Court Church to the city

The way from the city to the Court Church

A mysterious painter from Holland

It is difficult to identify the original artists involved in creating the cycle of paintings because many of the pictures were painted over to some degree during renovation work. Comparisons in style point to the painter Martin Moser, who worked in Lucerne in the second half of the 16th century, and his workshop. Most of the paintings date back to between 1571 and 1578. Many are attributable to the Dutch painter Johannes von Leiden. His signature is on one painting. Although he is not documented in the archives, his elegant figures and enchanting landscapes are readily identifiable.

Optical sermon and painted theater

Through adorning the Court Bridge with the many paintings, the clients of the state and the church created a medium that depicted the ancient truths of faith simply and effectively. And so for churchgoers in those days, this painted path to salvation turned into an optical sermon. It was complemented by the powerful presentation of these same beliefs for the Lucerne Passion plays (“Luzerner Osterspiele”) performed in a contemporary theater in the center of the city. Numerous paintings depict scenes from the plays.

Between 1997 and 2001...
... the Court Bridge’s cycle of paintings was conserved and inventoried.
Would you like to find out more about the triangular paintings and view the other cycles of paintings?