Friday, November 23, 2007

The Stadel Museum Presents Today A Comprehensive Exhibition of Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Stadel Museum Presents Today A Comprehensive Exhibition of Lucas Cranach the Elder


Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Judgement of Paris, ca. 1512-14. Oil on beechwood, 43 x 32,2 cm. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Courtesy: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

FRANKFURT, GERMANY.- In a comprehensive exhibition which will open its doors to the public on 23 November 2007, the Städel Museum will be assembling more than a hundred masterpieces by Lucas Cranach the Elder, the great painter of the Reformation period. More popular and economically more successful than his contemporary Albrecht Dürer, it was Lucas Cranach who presumably exerted the longest-lasting influence on the world of German imagery. His early landscape depictions were trailblazing, he inspired old religious themes with completely new life, as well as inventing entirely new pictorial types for the reformed faith. His portraits of Martin Luther, Frederick the Wise, Philipp Melanchthon and others have shaped our conception of these personages to this very day. Another of his specialties were exquisitely painted erotic depictions. In them he created a timeless ideal of female beauty which was still inspiring such artists as Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti in the early twentieth century. In addition to offering a superb cross-section of Cranach’s oeuvre, the exhibition will endeavour to shed more light on the secret of his success. The lenders include numerous national and international private collections and museums, among them the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, the National Gallery, Washington, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the National Gallery, London, the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and others. Following its presentation in Frankfurt, this exhibition – a Städel Museum production – will be shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The exhibition is receiving support from the Commerzbank Foundation and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., as well as additional funding from the Fraport AG, the FAZIT Foundation and Alnatura.

In the past decades, selections have been made from the enormous fund of works executed by Cranach and his workshop for a wide range of exhibitions on various specific aspects. The show at the Städel, however, is pursuing a different goal: Taking our own superb Cranach holdings as a point of departure, we would like to draw particular attention to the hand of the master. By assembling outstanding “masterpieces” from all phases of the artist’s oeuvre – placed on loan by numerous renowned Cranach collections in many different countries – the focus will be directed once again towards authenticity with regard to the works’ production. The exhibition will thus endeavour to address a central question left unanswered by every one of the other recent presentations: What made Lucas Cranach so successful?

On the one hand, Lucas Cranach is distinguished by the high quality of his works. He was an entrancing portraitist and the author of new pictorial inventions, whether hunting scenes, genre paintings or erotica. On the other hand, however, his quality is founded in the certainty with which he set his sights on various patrons, reaching a public among the adherents to the old Catholic faith while at the same time advancing to become the chief propagandist of the Protestant doctrine. At one critical point, the workshop even seems to have owed its continued existence solely to this diversification, which, incidentally, went above and beyond the visual arts: in addition to the house and workshop, Cranach’s ‘empire’ encompassed the only apothecary in Wittenberg with a wine pub as well as – for a while – a share in a printing press. Cranach’s entrepreneurial skills thus constitute yet another aspect which make him stand out among his contemporary fellow artists.

We know quite a lot about the most prolific German painter of early modern times – but certainly not everything. It is an established fact that he came from Kronach in Franconia (and had himself named “Cranach” after his native town) and that his father was likewise a painter. But where he learned his profession, and where his travels as a journeyman took him, are as deeply shrouded in mystery as ever. In any case, shortly after 1500, at the age of thirty, he comes into view in Vienna with stunning works that combine inventiveness, painterly verve and meticulous technique in a unique manner. He was active in Humanist circles as a portraitist capable of uniting suspenseful renditions of persons with atmospherically charged landscape depictions executed in a manner that would soon be adopted by painters of the “Danube School”. Other works of his early Viennese period are likewise distinguished by a frenetic expressive will in which form and colour mutually enhance one another to brilliant effect.

This phase was followed in 1505 by a decisive career move: entry into employment at an electoral court. For in that year Luther’s regional sovereign Frederick the Wise appointed Cranach as his court painter. The latter would hold this position for the rest of his life, even under Frederick’s successors John the Steadfast and Frederick the Magnanimous. Only a small number of works have survived from the initial years of this activity, but Cranach’s painting style changes radically. His investigation of Dürer as well as Italian and Dutch influences leave their mark and reveal an artist in search of “his” style. Cranach establishes himself quickly in Wittenberg and organizes a workshop which soon leads the market for altarpieces and wall paintings in the eastern part of the imperial realm. It is the serpent signet – the shield figure of the coat of arms awarded him by the elector – which serves him as a signature and becomes his trademark. Moreover, Cranach succeeds in developing a style which lends itself to imitation by his employees with such perfection that in many cases it is impossible to distinguish between the hands that participated. Individual motifs are ‘recycled’ and recomposed in ever new variations, as seen, for example, in the many versions of the ill-matched couple, several of which will be assembled in the exhibition. Other pictorial themes are also executed repeatedly with slight deviations. The workshop’s output was enormous: Paintings on wood of the type presented by the show represent only a small fraction of the production. Cranach also supplied his employer with decorations for festivities, room furnishings, wall paintings, painted cloths and the like, most of which have been lost. Yet the conditions under which he worked were anything but favourable: A notoriously empty imperial treasury, the Reformation and witch-hunting, the Peasants’ War and iconoclasm formed the historical parameters which drove many another fellow artist of the period, for example Hans Holbein the Younger, from the land. The quality already revealed by the portraits of the early period in Vienna applies as well to Cranach’s later likenesses: In his best works, his achievements as a portrait painter are equal to those of Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein, the two most important German portraitists of the sixteenth century. At the same time, it is not so much a striving for strictly objective “photographic” rendition that distinguishes Cranach’s likenesses, as the attempt to incorporate psychological characterization into the depiction.

Cranach’s significance as the “painter of the Reformation” is uncontested – his portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora are produced serially in the artist’s workshop and used for the reformer within the framework of a veritable image campaign. In addition, Cranach makes a decisive contribution to the development of genuinely Protestant pictorial themes propagated by Luther’s doctrine and capable of surviving widespread iconoc


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home