Cranach the Elder, Lucas

(1472-1553)
   One of the leading painters of the Danube School, Lucas Cranach the Elder was born in Kronach, Germany, and trained by his father Hans, who was also an artist. He is known to have been in Vienna in c. 1502 when he painted the portrait Johannes Cuspinian, a professor at the local university, and his wife, Anna, both now in the Oskar Reinhart Collection in Winterhur, Delaware. These portraits place the figures in front of atmospheric landscapes with contrasts of fully foliated and barren trees that recall the landscape forms of Albrecht Dürer. Cranach's Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1504; Berlin, Staatliche Museen) also places great emphasis on the landscape details. Soon after completing the work, Cranach moved to Wittenberg where he became court painter to Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony. Cranach spent the rest of his life working for the electorate not only in his capacity as painter but also as diplomat. In 1509, he traveled to the Netherlands where he is known to have painted a portrait of the young Emperor Charles V, now lost. There he was exposed to the Netherlandish and Italianate styles.
   Cranach's mature works show a tendency toward a decorative manner, as seen in his portrait Henry the Pious (1514; Dresden, Staatliches Kunstsammlungen) and Judith with the Head of Holofernes (c. 1530; New York, Metropolitan Museum). In both, the figures are compressed into a dark setting and the emphasis is on patterning and sharp contrasts of vivid color. His Judgment of Paris (1530; Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle) presents the goddesses Venus, Minerva, and Juno posing in the nude, their sinuous forms silhouetted against his usual landscape type. For Cranach, proportions were not an issue; instead, his emphasis was on aesthetically pleasing forms.
   Among Cranach's mature religious pictures is the Allegory of Redemption (1553-1555; Weimar, Stadtkirche), painted after he moved to Augsburg in 1550. The work, completed by his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger, includes Martin Luther standing at the foot of the Crucifixion next to Cranach himself and St. John the Baptist. Luther points to the biblical passage that speaks of the blood of Christ as redeeming agent. From Christ's side wound ensues his blood and falls on Cranach, an indication that clerical intercession is not imperative to the attainment of salvation and that the blood of Christ is sufficient to effect redemption—one of the declarations made by Luther who repudiated the authority of priests and the pope. Cranach died in Augsburg, after a long and highly successful career.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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