Gerhard Ermischer and Andreas Tacke (eds.), Cranach im Exil. Aschaffenburg um 1540. Zuflucht – Schatzkammer – Residenz. [Cat. exh. Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg, February 24 – June 3, 2007.] Regensburg: Schnell + Steiner, 2007. 400 pp, 230 illus., mostly colored. ISBN 978-3-795419-48-6.
Caroline Campbell (ed.), Temptation in Eden: Lucas Cranach’s ‘Adam and Eve’. [Cat. exh. Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London, June 21– September 23, 2007.] London: Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2007. 128 pp, 80 color illus. ISBN 978-1-9034-7056-5.
Bodo Brinkmann (ed.), Cranach der Ältere. [Cat. exh. Städel Museum, Frankfurt, November 23, 2007 – February 17, 2008; Royal Academy of Arts, London, March 8 – June 8, 2008.] Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2007. 400 pp, 325 illus., 299 in color. ISBN 978-3-775720-07-6.
Gunnar Heydenreich, Lucas Cranach the Elder. Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007. 576 pp, 170 color and 110 b&w illus. ISBN 978-90-5356-745-6.
This review looks at three recent exhibition catalogues dealing with the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder and at a monograph dedicated to the scientific analysis of Cranach’s complex and versatile oeuvre of paintings.
The three catalogues from Aschaffenburg, London and Frankfurt could not be more different in focus and character; one can even go so far as saying that they represent three different approaches or methodologies to the shaping of exhibitions and exhibition catalogues.
The exhibition entitled “Cranach in Exile. Aschaffenburg around 1540” takes as its starting point the political and religious circumstances that forced Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg to leave his favorite city of Halle in order to seek refuge in the city of Aschaffenburg, a stronghold of the Catholic Church. Far removed from the centers of Protestant upheaval, Albrecht moved into his stately castle overlooking the river Main and took advantage of the city’s rich infrastructure. The exhibition and the extensive catalogue-handbook bear the stamp of Andreas Tacke, who has continuously published on Cranach and his workshop over the last fifteen years. As both a historian and an art historian, Tacke aims at conveying to scholars and the general public alike that cultural history must bear equally on both disciplines. Art objects are understood as historic testimonies, which can reflect contemporary debates and discourses as well as written sources, albeit with different means of expression.
The exhibition in London with its appealing title Temptation in Edencenters upon the Adam and Evepainting (1526) in the Courtauld collections. This explains the thematic character of the exhibition with a strong emphasis on iconography. Both the number of objects – 25 in all – and the limited number of essays made this by far the smallest of all three exhibitions discussed in this review. But as we know, size is not all that matters! Caroline Campbell, the curator in charge, claims that this was the first monographic exhibition on Lucas Cranach in Great Britain ever. While this may be true, the Courtauld’s medallion exhibition would soon be followed by a much larger show on Cranach, taken over by the Royal Academy after its first venue, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.
This last exhibition, simply called Cranach the Elder, was curated by Bodo Brinkmann, then assistant keeper at the Städel Museum and in charge of the German paintings at this prestigious collection. Hans Hollein, the director of the Städel, explains in his foreword that the main intention of the exhibition was to show Lucas Cranach the Elder at his best (“100 top quality works of art”), in order to prove that he was as good a painter as Albrecht Dürer. With an unprecedented promotional campaign by German standards, the buzzword “Lucas Cranach as entrepreneur” appeared everywhere (see for instance the article by Benedict Fehr in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29.12.2007, p. 13). Being a shrewd and productive businessman should no longer be held against the artist from Wittenberg, whose large oeuvre of paintings was as influential in sixteenth-century Germany as the famous prints of his main competitor, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremberg. While Cranach’s role as manager of a very large workshop has been discussed at some length in other contexts, the slogan worked well for the financial center of Frankfurt; with more than 200,000 visitors the exhibition became a true blockbuster.
When taking a closer look at the Frankfurt catalogue, it becomes obvious that the exhibition and the promotional campaign promised both entertainment and education to the visitor. The lavishly illustrated catalogue consists predominantly of catalogue entries, accompanied by seven essays written by some of the leading Cranach scholars in the field. Following in the vein of Frank Kammel’s style, Brinkmann’s own article, “The smile of the Madonna,” starts on a lighter note. He proclaims the modernity of Cranach, an artist who was well adjusted to his environment and whose success hinged upon his ability to meet the expectations of his diverse clientele. Brinkmann stresses the fact that his exhibition will concentrate neither on matters of religious debate nor on the specific mechanisms operating within the large Cranach workshop. He proposes instead to take a different approach, concentrating on the artistic solutions or “intentions and possibilities” offered by Cranach. The scope of the scholarly articles is, however, much broader and more traditional, which works to its advantage.
Andreas Tacke discusses the devotional Marian image in Innsbruck and expands on his favorite topic, the significance of Cranach as creator of images that reflect important religious positions by the Catholic faction. Dieter Koepplin argues in his article that the numerous and diverse images of Charity offer a unique contribution to Northern art by the Cranach team. In his view, these images express an explicitly Protestant concept, an idea which may have been suggested to Cranach by the reformer Philipp Melanchthon.
Elke Werner investigates metaphorical meanings of the transparent veil in Cranach’s erotic paintings and links the ambiguity of these modern images with Renaissance concepts of visual perception and with humanist ideas, such as the paragone between poetry and painting. Mark Evans studies Cranach’s mythological paintings in conjunction with the ongoing intellectual and artistic exchange between Italy and the North. He links images of Venus and her consorts with the aristocratic court milieu, a comment which corresponds closely to Werner’s supposition that Cranach’s licentous paintings were created for the art and curiosity cabinets of the high nobility. References are made to collections and theoretical texts from the second half of the sixteenth century. Her point could gain strength from taking into account recent research on earlier collection cabinets in the Burgundian Netherlands for which Cranach’s contemporaries – Jacopo da Barbari, Jan Gossaert and Conrad Meit – produced similar images. It is even likely that Cranach met some of his colleagues in 1508.
This last aspect touches upon Cranach’s trip to the Netherlands, an important and formative event in the German artist’s life, which is discussed in some detail in Werner Schade’s contribution. While it is commendable that Schade dissociates the Berlin drawing of a young woman in Netherlandish dress (Margaret of Austria?) from the Brussels painter Bernard van Orley, the discussion of the complementary Cranach painting and the official portrait of the regent of the Netherlands ignores recent findings on Margaret of Austria (e.g., Women of Distinction, Mechelen, 2005, reviewed in this journal November 2006 ). More rigorous editing would have picked up the fact that Schade’s attribution of the drawing is reversed again in the unsigned catalogue entry on the Dessau portrait panel (cat. no.74). In his article on “virtuosity and efficiency in the artistic practice of Cranach the Elder”, Gunnar Heydenreich summarizes the results of his important monograph for a wider audience (see below).
While the Frankfurt exhibition presented its highlights in the neutral rooms of a modern art museum, the Aschaffenburg exhibition took advantage of some of the historic locations in which Albrecht of Brandenburg lived and operated after he left the city of Halle. In some ways the cardinal was the true protagonist of this exhibition, and the exhibition must be understood as part II of a bigger project, as it perfectly complemented the exhibition which was presented a year before in the historic location of Halle (Thomas Schauerte und Andreas Tacke, eds., Albrecht von Brandenburg, Sammler und Mäzen, Halle 2006). The venues chosen in Aschaffenburg were the archbishop’s former residence castle Johannisburg, now Schlossmuseum, the former collegiate church, now the Stiftmuseum, and the former Jesuit church close by, now Kunsthalle Jesuitenkirche.
In contrast to the Frankfurt catalogue, the catalogue edited by Gerhard Ermischer and Andreas Tacke puts its main emphasis on fifteen scholarly essays, written by eleven different authors. Only one quarter of the volume is reserved for the descriptions of the actual objects in the exhibition. These entries are short, but nevertheless informative and always authored. The catalogue is rich in information and will serve future generations as a scholarly handbook on the art patronage in the city of Aschaffenburg under the reign of the late cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg.
There is no room to discuss all fifteen essays published in this catalogue in detail. It seems important, however, to mention that some of the individual contributions focus explicitly on key pieces in the exhibition. These essays complement or even replace the relevant catalogue entries by presenting recent technical findings and new art historical interpretations in separate, in-depth studies. The objects under consideration are: (1) the reconstructed Saint Mary Magdalene Altarpiece by Cranach and his workshop (Tacke, Münch, Staudacher & Büchel); (2) Albrecht’s large bronze baldachin with two bronze epitaph reliefs manufactured by the Vischer workshop from Nuremberg (Hauschke, Merkel); (3) a life-sized reliquary shrine with the wooden skeleton, into which the actual skull and bones of Saint Margaret were embedded (Merkel, Denecke); and (4) the entombment panel by Matthias Grünewald (Hubach).
Kerstin Merkel, a specialist on the important collections of relics and their veneration in Wittenberg and Halle, provides stimulating insights into Albrecht’s personal attitude towards the Catholic cult of the saints. Sven Hausche, who completed a PhD thesis on the Vischer workshop, reconstructs the ways in which Albrecht conceived and decorated his burial sites, first in the collegiate church of Halle and later in the collegiate church of Aschaffenburg. Merkel contributes another essay on the cult of the Sacred Heart, which held particular significance for the patron and was incised into the ciel of the baldachin.
In his essay on the newly restored Mary Madgalene Altarpiece, which was initially commissioned for the collegiate church of Halle, Tacke makes a tentative identification of Saint John Chrysostomos with Heinrich von Akko. More importantly, he points to the pitfalls of nineteenth- and twentieth-century studies on Cranach, which stereotype him as the mouthpiece of Luther and the Protestant reform movement without paying sufficient tribute to the fact that Cranach worked in both religious camps. As Tacke has demonstrated in several of his earlier publications, Cranach and his collaborators worked repeatedly for Catholic patrons, and these commissions were not only to be found in Halle, but equally in Torgau and Berlin. Birgit Münch’s essay investigates the iconography of the middle panel of the Saint Mary Magdalene Altarpiece. According to Münch, the unusual combination of the Resurrection with Christ in Limbo is catering to those who believed in the traditional teachings of the Church.
Tacke’s search for specifically Catholic images also sheds new light on paintings such as the anonymous Mass of Saint Gregory. Another aspect which is given considerable space is Albrecht’s relationship to his two concubines, Agnes Pless and Lys Schütz. It is argued that Albrecht of Brandenburg developed his own system of justification, in which paintings such as Saint Ursula Holding an Arrow or Christ and the Adultressare employed as visual arguments for his controversial position on carnal love (Kerstin Merkel).
The first three essays provide the historical framework necessary for understanding the contemporary relevance of such intricate art historical interpretations. On about one hundred pages Gerhard Ermischer, Rolf Decot, and Mathilde Grünewald describe the political, religious, and dynastic developments that bring about Albrecht’s final move to Aschaffenburg up to his death and burial.
The last three essays investigate the afterlife of many of the treasures that were once brought to the city of Aschaffenburg (Gernot Frankhäuser, Martin Schawe) and provide comments on the role of underdrawings in the work of Cranach. With the title of “Hidden Masterpieces,” Martin Schawe, curator of early German and Netherlandish painting at the Alte Pinakothek, points to the significance of the creative process which can now be gauged from new technical investigations. This method, which was first developed by Dutch and Belgian scholars for the investigation of early Netherlandish works of art, is now applied more systematically to German paintings on wooden supports.
The London exhibition showed a succinct group of five paintings plus twenty works of art on paper which corresponded on several levels to the centerpiece, Cranach’s Adam and Eve panel in the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, dating from 1526. Themes such as Cupid and Venus, Apollo and Diana, the Faun’s Family, the Golden Age of Mandemonstrate the artist’s preoccupation with Renaissance ideas of beauty and nudity and are loosely linked to the idea of the state of man before the Fall. A small group of animal studies and representations of the hunt correspond to the prominence of animals – especially of deer – in the London picture. The exhibition benefited from a small but important selection of engravings and woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien (Hercules at the Crossroads, Apollo and Diana, Adam and Eve), which elucidated the contemporary milieu in which Cranach’s inventions were produced.
The catalogue provides a small but choice collection of essays, which introduce major aspects of the artist’s life and work to an audience that may not have had much exposure to the art of the German Renaissance. Caroline Campbell, curator of paintings at the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, informs the reader about the biography of the artist and his development as a leading artist of the German Renaissance. The exhibition in Somerset House, however, was not aiming exclusively at the general public, but was also conceived with their own students of art history in mind. This may explain why the essay by Gunnar Heydenreich was given center stage. By now undoubtedly the expert on all technical aspects of Lucas Cranach’s oeuvre, Heydenreich combines his insights into the material aspects of these paintings with a thorough study of the artistic environment in which Cranach produced these numerous variations on the popular theme. In his tentative genealogy of the surviving Adam and Evepaintings, he also takes into account Cranach’s contacts with Albrecht Dürer. Susan Foister looks at the development of mythological and secular paintings around 1526, which presented Cranach with similar artistic tasks and allowed him to reuse images of naked figures in different contexts. In a close analysis of the Latin texts on some of these paintings, Foister presents the interesting hypothesis that some of Cranach’s religious and the mythological images may once have formed a suite of images designated for the young Elector Johann Frederick the Magnanimous and his wife Sibylla of Cleve. The context of their marriage (1527) and the association of these paintings with the contemporary discourse on love in its various forms open up new ways of looking at Cranach’s cabinet-style paintings. Stephanie Buck, curator of drawings at the Courtauld, establishes a connection between the London Adam and Eve panel and Cranach’s work as illustrator of manuscripts, such as the Prayerbook of Emperor Maximilian. Recent research on Netherlandish art (e.g., Illuminating the Renaissance, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003, reviewed in this journal December 2003) has shown how important it is to understand how artists deal with their specific medium.
In subtle and most persuasive ways, the London exhibition showed that Cranach the Elder is as interesting an artist as Albrecht Dürer. No doubt, he was a lot more than a shrewd entrepreneur with nothing but sales figures in his mind. By responding quickly to the inventions of his contemporaries and by working closely with humanists such as Georg Sabinus and theologians such as Luther and Melanchthon, Cranach made a major contribution to the art and culture of his time.
While Gunnar Heydenreich’s technical study, entitled Lucas Cranach the Elder. Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice, was only published in 2007, the results of his research have already found their way into several exhibition catalogues. In a field riddled with questions of dating and attribution, sound information on material aspects of the paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his workshop have brought some relief to specialists in the field. The questions raised and the information provided in this book (and the above-mentioned articles) have considerably advanced our understanding of how Cranach and his workshop functioned. This monograph painstakingly investigates each component of a panel painting and thus provides an array of new insights into the working practice of the artist and his workshop. Paintings on parchment, paper, metal, and even wall painting are equally part of the investigation, which highlights the versatility of the artist and his penchant for experimentation. Among the many questions addressed in this study are: the usage of standardized formats for paintings; the physical separation of the panel from its wooden frame; the wide variety of techniques in applying paint; the possibilities in executing a painting, ranging from one to several paint layers; the spontaneous approach to composing and rearranging the design for a painting; and the reuse of design in various images. All of these results help us to come to terms with the striking inconsistencies in the work of Cranach and his workshop.
Gunnar Heydenreich concludes that his analysis does not offer the key in the quest for finding the true Lucas Cranach. A clear dividing line between works done by the master himself and works done by his collaborators or apprentices cannot be drawn. He argues that it was the intention of the head of the workshop to create a uniform Cranach style (brand?), which would have been impeded by the recognition of individual hands. Cranach’s fame as one of the fastest and most prolific painters of his age is thus well founded and can be explained by the way he organized his workshop. Like Rubens a century later, he was a master at multitasking and developed parallel processes of production, which lead to the serial production of popular inventions.
University of Heidelberg
For an English translation (the first) of early Cranach biographies, see under HNA Review of Books, New Titles, Lives of Cranach.