Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553) was friends with all of the big hitters of his Renaissance Germany: painter Albrecht Dürer, reformist Martin Luther, and the various Electors and Emperors for whom he painted. Apart from being a very successful painter, he was a estimable businessman with a license to sell wine, an elected member of the Wittenberg town council (several stints), owner of a publishing press (in addition to the 400+ paintings by him, there are more than 100 separate woodcuts in the form of book illustrations and six engravings), owner of numerous properties and an apothecary. An example of his social stardom: in 1523 he hosted King Christian II of Denmark as a guest to his home.
For most of his life he was court painter to Friedrich III the Wise, Elector of Saxony (who Charles V would later accuse of treason, and who Cranach followed into exile), and in this role he had an enormous workshop (where his sons, Lucas the Younger especially, flourished). Like Rubens and painters in general, his workshop was what allowed him to be so prolific. Many of his paintings are only in part by him, and were also in tribute to his talent at hiring talent.
As was written about in the last post (the Next Louvre Icon), an exception to this is the recently discovered The Three Graces (1531) which was done by Cranach’s hand alone, according to Vincent Pomarède, chief curator of the Louvre’s Painting Department. Apparently laboratory testing showed that there were no preliminary studies underneath the painting, which is what brought the museum to this conclusion.
The work’s small size (24cm x 37cm, Oil on Wood) indicates that it was commissioned for a patron’s home. Louvre curators speculate that this allowed Cranach to make the subjects all the more provocative, with a black background that focuses the viewer’s eye on the women’s flesh. The fundraising website said the painting emitted a “disturbing eroticism.” But this eroticism was not uncommon to Cranach’s work. Take for instance, the Louvre’s own Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529). She, too, is buck naked holding the signature thin veil as clear as saran wrap.
The identity of the three nude women in The Three Graces – seen from the back, the front and in profile – is not certain. The Louvre’s fundraising website (which is one of the few sources addressing it, since the painting has been in various private collections since it was painted in 1531) wondered whether it could be an allegorical representation of Charity, Friendship and Fidelity opposed to its namesake, The Three Graces. The woman in the center has that unusual flat hat which counters the argument of it being an allegorical representation. The woman on the right clasps her raised ankle, almost looking like she’s stretching for the 100 meter dash.
Just to show you that Cranach didn’t only focus on soft porn — here’s another of the treasures from the Louvre’s collections is Portrait of Magdalena Luther, daughter of Martin Luther.
PS from the last post (where I tell you the whereabouts of this gem) – I’ve been asked about the sale of The Scream: During the Sotheby’s auction it was bought by a private collector. It took 12 minutes of the price climbing for this 1895 pastel version of it. Edvard Munch painted four Screams, three of which are in Norwegian museums. This 120 million dollar version was sold by Petter Olsen, a Norwegian shipping magnate whose grandfather was friends with Munch. A good Op Ed on the sale – making it the most expensive painting in the world at the moment – can be found in this NY Times article by Pulitzer Prize winning Art Critic Holland Cotter.