Culture

Cranach: disconcertingly beautiful

This is the first exhibition in France devoted to German painter Lucas Cranach: “Cranach and his time” at the freshly renovated Musée de Luxembourg is a wonderful occasion to discover a leading artist of German Renaissance.

Probably born  in 1472 (we can’t be sure about this), Lucas Cranach the Elder was court painter to Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, and one of the major figures in the German Renaissance. He was not only a friend of Martin Luther, but he quickly became a strong supporter of the Reformation and very much involved in spreading the new doctrine. At the same time he completed numerous commissions from the Catholic Church.

Look, but never touch "Cranach and his time" helps very much to understand the artist who was active throughout the first half of the sixteenth century. The exhibition also highlights its contradictions or - let's say - its inconsistencies.

Look at all the nudes

Cranach was the first to paint nudes north of the Alps - always, of course, in a religious and moral context. But gazing at these innocent but seductive looking ladies, you can’t help but find them disconcertingly beautiful and some even extremely erotic. Was Cranach aware of this? You bet:  he often commented on his paintings with Latin inscriptions saying more or less: look, but never touch. And what about the amazing number of nudes? In half a decade of an extremely prolific career he painted  Venus 39 times, Eve 35 times, Lucretia just as often, not to mention the nymphs, Heras and Aphrodites. He was, in a way, obsessed with the female body.

Portraits of his friend Luther

But this is, of course, not all. The exhibition emphasizes the richness and originality of Cranach’s artistic career. A career punctuated by significant encounters with leading political and religious figures of the time that was shaken by the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation. Thanks to his talents as a portrait painter, we have accurate representations of the leading figures of his time. There are around 80 portraits of Martin Luther by his hand. Think about it: At this time very few people could read. Painting Luther was a much better way of spreading the protestant convictions. It was visual marketing.

The influence of Dürer and others

The exhibition, curated by German art historian Guido Messling and previously shown at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, is an absolute must. Go now! And to avoid the crowds lining up in front of the museum buy your tickets online. ”Cranach and his time” not only shows the influence of Albrecht Dürer, Italian and Flemish artists. It juxtaposes paintings of these latter with those of Cranach. And it is, first of all, a marvellous occasion to get an overview of a relatively unknown (in France at least), but fascinating painter. Since the Louvre recently bought Cranach’s “Three Graces” thanks to an online public fundraising appeal for € 1 million ($ 1.3 million), it looks a bit as if France is finally ready to discover a prostestant painter. Musée du Luxembourg Cranach et son temps - Cranach and his time From 9th of February - 23rd of Mai 2011 FINISHED 19, rue de Vaugirard 75006 Paris Tel: +33 (0)1 40 13 62 00 Open Everay day from 10 am to 8 pm Late nuight until 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays Métro:Saint Sulpice or MabillonPhotos:
Cranach: Lucretia, 1510-1513, © private collection © National Gallery of Art, Washington - Cranach: The Nymphe of the Spring & Madaboutparis