This summer, for a History of Printmaking class, I wrote a paper on some prints created by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Then, last Friday I went to the MET (for the first time!) and saw some of his works. It was such an amazing experience to see the works of someone I have studied!
To begin with, Lucas Cranach was a German Renaissance painter and printmaker. A majority of his work was based on mythology, portraits, and religion (both Catholic and Lutheran).
A fun fact I recently discovered was that his name used to be Lucas Müller. He changed it to Cranach, after his hometown named Kronach.
Sometime into his thirties, he was chosen to work for Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony. Working for Frederick the Wise gave Cranach his own workshop, which is where he created most of his wonderful artworks.
One of the works I got to see in person was the Judgement of Paris.
The image on the right is the picture I took at the MET. This scene is, as the title says, meant to depict the Judgement of Paris. The story comes from Greek mythology, where Paris of Troy is about to pick the most beautiful Goddess. It’s a very popular story used by Renaissance artists, and is even used by artists up to the 1800s. This story is one of the starting points of the Trojan War, leading to the success of the Roman empire.
Eris, the goddess of conflict, wasn’t invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. She throws an apple with the words “to the fairest” written on it. Seeing this apple, Hera (Queen of Gods), Athena (Goddess of wisdom), and Aphrodite (Goddess of love) all fight saying that they are the fairest. Paris of Troy gets to pick the most beautiful lady, and he picks Aphrodite. Aphrodite promises to give him Helen of Sparta. However, Helen is the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, and when Paris takes Helen, the Trojan War begins.
Personally, I think Cranach uses very soft anatomical features, especially for the women. These soft features remind me of Raphael’s artist style. Additionally, he uses rich and realistic colors, which is another characteristic that brings out the beauty of his artwork.
Another work of art by Cranach that I got to see at the MET was Judith with the Head of Holofernes (I love this one!).
This story comes from the Biblical book of Judith, where Judith slays Holofernes. The King of Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar, sent Holofernes to the city of Bethulia to suppress the Jews and the city. Judith, a widow, heard that the people of the city were going to surrender to Holofernes and Nebuchadnezzar. She decided to take action. She tricked Holofernes into thinking she was interested in him and she entertained him with alcohol. After he fell asleep from drunkenness, she cut off his head.
Judith is a strong female figure, who represents power and determination. One of the most fascinating features of Cranach’s artwork is how petite Judith looks, yet she’s the one holding the sword and head of Holofernes that saved her city. It’s funny to see Judith being portrayed so feminine, but in reality she’s the mastermind.
Overall, Cranach the Elder is a sophisticated Renaissance artist, who’s dabbles in a variety of subjects matters and techniques to improve his artwork.