At a loose end in 2007 in the vicinity of The Strand in London, I chanced upon this exhibition at the Courtauld Institute. This is the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, the first to be held devoted to Lucas Cranach the Elder in England. His work intrigues, but so does his biography, a fact immediately conveyed to this reader by the chronology that appears towards the beginning of this book.
Cranach lived and worked in interesting times, and this intrigue is confirmed in the first of the four essays included in the catalogue, where Caroline Campbell of the Courtauld Institute confirms that the first thirty years of the artist's life are a blank. Her short essay provides a superficial overview of his history, moving in circles that involved to a greater or lesser degree such other luminaries as Durer and Titian, Luther and Melanchthon, the Kings of Saxony and the Holy Roman Emperors. She tells us about Cranach's logo, the large number of versions of his paintings, and the speed at which he worked, noting that "Cranach's signature or mark must not be interpreted as a symbol of artistic expression but as the `gold standard' guarantee of the reliable products of a productive workshop."
The difficulties of personal attribution as opposed to that of Cranach's studio also arises in the second essay, ``Adam and Eve' in the Making' by Gunnar Heydenreich of the Art Restoration Centre in Dusseldorf. Here he looks at Cranach's many depictions of Adam and Eve and also contrasts the artist with Durer, postulating where their lives and artistic styles cross.
The essay `Framing the Image' by Stephanie Buck of the Courtauld, focuses on how Cranach used the traditions of framing seen in illuminated manuscripts; whilst the book's final essay, `Before the Fall' by Susan Foister of the National Gallery, explores the possible sources for many of the classically-inspired works as well as those still-mysterious paintings depicting previous epochs of mankind.
The catalogue features twenty-five items. The first - the Courtauld's own `Adam and Eve' - receives most attention, as this was the painting around which the rest of the exhibition revolved. The book includes wonderful double-page reproductions of details from this painting. Another feature of the exhibition and the catalogue is the opportunity to consider whether certain paintings might have been pendants. As well as oils, there are some watercolours, pen and ink drawings, woodcuts, and a couple of book frontispieces. The catalogue argues that some of the attributions are not particularly strong. It ends with engravings by Durer, Barbari, and Grien.Read more ›