What more appropriate to the Beauty & Bestiary theme (or the Ladies au Louvre theme) than to linger on Three Graces (of which the Louvre has many – from Lucas Cranach’s to the Borghese 3 Graces) Bestiaries are fantastical animals, such as griffins, centaurs, unicorns, even gargoyles. They appear in all sorts of fun places, such as scrutinising Paris a-top the belfry of Notre Dame (Gargoyles), or overlooking Darius’s Palace at Susa (Griffins), as written about in the Benetton of Near Eastern Art.
So until I’ve reached a decision for the next THATLou, I’m going to linger on these two subjects, the Beauty and the Beast, and if you have a say on which subject would make the best THATLou theme, please feel free to either vote on the THATMuse facebook page or leave a comment here.
What personifies beauty or ladies in the arts for me are The Three Graces. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1974 edition) defines The Three Graces:
Greek = Charities, Latin = Gratiae. In Green religion = Goddess of Fertility. The name refers to the pleasing or charming appearance of a fertile field or garden. Their number varied in different legends, but usually there were three: Aglaia (Brightness also Elegance), Euphrosyne (Joyfulness also Mirth, Good Cheer) and Thalia (Bloom also, Youth and Beauty, Festivities).
Depending on the legend, they’re said to be the daughters of Zeus and Hera (or Eurynome is the daughter of Oceanus sometimes) or Helios and Aegle (a daughter of Zeus). Frequently the Graces were taken as goddesses of ‘charm’ or ‘beauty’ and hence were associated with Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love), Peitho (her attendant) and/or Hermes, a fertility and messenger god.
In early times they were often represented with drapery, but by the time the Romans got to them they were usually full-fledged flashing us: Unembarrassed of their beautiful form, and usually draped around one another opposed to in drapes. More to come on them this week.
An example of Bestiary, to wait their turn and be covered after lingering on some beauty with various Three Graces…
* The first image of the Three Graces is a sculpture by Antonio Canova (1814-1817), which is currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, who launched a public campaign to purchase it, much the way the Louvre bought Lucas Cranach’s Three Graces with another museum grassroots campaign.
In November 2010 the Louvre was made aware of a Lucas Cranach’s The Three Graces, which had been in private collections since it was painted in 1531. There’s another lesser Three Graces by Cranach at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas (seen below), but this 1531 Three Graces was not only unknown to the general public it was in pristine condition. Henri Loyrette, Director of the Louvre said “the work’s astonishing perfection, its extreme rarity, and its remarkable state of preservation allow it to be called a ‘national treasure’”. That’s a big endorsement, by a very big fish. Internationally speaking, that is.
The Louvre scrambled to raise the enormously small amount of 4 million euros, but their acquisition department could only raise 3 million (does make you wonder), so they made an unprecedented on-line appeal to individual donors for the rest. Within a month they raised the 1 million euros from an estimated 7000 donors (initially the papers said it was 5000 donors, but the Louvre later corrected the figure).
What I don’t understand is why, when the National Gallery of Scotland raised 50 million pounds (in 2008 for Titian’s 1559 Diana and Acteon from Lord Sutherland) or the Tate raised 5.7 million pounds (for a Rubens drawing, The Apotheosis of James I (1628) — when Viscont Hampden threatened to sell it abroad, god forbid) was it such a big deal for the Louvre to appeal to the public for a measly one million euros? Why are we talking such small potatoes? Le Monde said that the average donation was 150 Euros, and that a quarter of the donations hovered around 50 Euros. That’s great. Grassroots is important, but the figure does pale in comparison. Another quandary – how could it have been on sale for so little when Henri Loyrette – the man himself — director of the Louvre!, said that it was a candidate to become the Louvre’s “Next Icon”? I can’t underline, bold, italicize, emphasize this point enough. Let us not forget that Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for 106 million dollars at Christie’s in NY in May 2011, that Munch’s The Scream sold for 120 million dollars at Sotheby’s, again in NY, in May 2012. They’re fine paintings, sure, but to my single-minded eye the talent that Lucas Cranach has over Munch and Picasso trumps them. Moreover, doesn’t age count for anything these days? Guess not.
This treasure is currently (as of Feb 2017) not on view because the Louvre has closed half of the top floor of Richelieu (yes! HALF!) for many months. Usually it’s on the 2nd floor Richelieu, Room 8; This is in a side room in the 16th Century German section.
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.