Lucas Cranach the Elder

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Lucas Cranach the Elder
The seductive nudes of Cranach

Venus Standing in a Landscape

Oil on wood, 380 x 255 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), born one year after Durer, is as self-determined as Durer but without his spiritual concentration. From an early stage in his career, Cranach was able to obtain copies of Duurer's woodcut prints, and his familiarity with these was to have lasting influence on his painting, with its sharp definition and brilliant color.
Cranach was almost two painters in one - artistically schizophrenic, as it were. His most popular works are the decidedly seductive nudes with which he delighted his aristocratic patrons. These coy creatures have the rare distinction of fitting in with modern tastes, being slender, free-spirited, and even kinky. They have a sort of refined sexuality, but it is also cold and teasing: we are tempted to think that Cranach did not really care for women and may even have feared them. His Nymph of the Spring has hung up her hunting arrows, but the presence of a pair of partridges (birds of Venus) suggests that it is the human heart that she hunts. A distinctly diaphanous wisp of silk draws attention to her loins by "covering" them, she wears her jewelry provocatively, and she is clearly only pretending to be asleep, propped up on the thick, sensual velvet of her dress. She sprawls before us, part of the landscape and in a sense its essence. A Latin inscription on the upper left reminds us that this is a nymph of a sacred fountain. She is not a secular image, despite her alluring nakedness. We are warned not to break, not to shatter her holy slumbers. Love, Cranach is telling us, is something we have to approach with delicate reverence. A meaningful landscape surrounds her. Close by is the mysterious, symbolic cave in the rock - again, an image of sacred sexual symbolism, the female hollow. Beyond that there is the world of commerce and battle, church and family, in which the sacred realities of sex are played out in actual life.

Sister Wendy

Venus wears only an elaborately jewelled hairnet and necklaces. She is coyly holding a diaphanous veil and looks out seductively at the viewer. Her body is idealized, perhaps because artists at this time rarely used live female models. Nude women were not often shown unless they appeared in a narrative scene or as mythical goddesses. Cranach seems to have ignored the Classical spirit of the dav, and for this reason his nudes sometimes seem almost primitive. The choice of a mythological rather than a religious subject for this picture may have been because the patron was Protestant. We know little about Cranach other than that his influence in Protestant Germany was widespread. He seemed to appear suddenly, and produced his best work early in his long career, thereafter leading the easy life of a Court painter. He is called Lucas the Elder because he was the first in a dvnastv of artists who carried on his traditions and style.



Nymph of the Spring


Nymph of the Spring


The Nymph of the Fountain
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool


Reclining River Nymph at the Fountain
Oil on wood, 59 x 92 cm
Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig



Venus and Cupid
Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 213 x 102 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

The Judgment of Paris
Limewood, 43 x 32,2 cm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne


c. 1524
Lime panel
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Adam and Eve
Wood, 47 x 35 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Adam and Eve
c. 1538
National Gallery, Prague

Adam and Eve

The Three Graces
Oil on wood, 50,5 x 35,7 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Cupid Complaining to Venus
Oil on wood, 81,3 x 54,6 cm
National Gallery, London


Oil on panel, 50 x 34 cm
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

Venus and Cupid
Oil on canvas, 176 x 80 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Venus and Cupid with a Honeycomb
c. 1531
Oil on canvas
Galleria Borghese, Rome




The Fountain of Youth
Lime panel, 122,5 x 186,5 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


The Golden Age
Wood, 73 x 105 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich