Lucas Cranach, the Elder (Musée Luxembourg)

Adam and Eve, 1510

For my birthday, I treated myself to a museum marathon. There are so many expositions in this town (I know most of the permanent collections by heart so I concentrate on expos) and with kids and a job in the ‘burbs, there is so little time. So, after dropping my son and daughter off at school and day care respectively I was off to see Cranach (subject of this post), Rembrandt Faces of Christ (which I’ll also refer to here), Claude Lorrain (these last two at the Louvre), and lastly Hugo Pratt at the Pinacotèque of Paris that I’ll talk about tomorrow.

Luxembourg Museum

Now one word about the museum. The Luxembourg collection is a building next to the French Senate that is rather small. They did a good job of twisting the path around inside to maximize wall-space and so forth but it remains relatively small for major exhibits such as this one. I learned, much to my disappointment, that this particular Cranach exhibit came from Brussels where it was twice as big – having been limited by space here at the Lux – even after the 3-year renovations.

Self-Portrait, 1531

The expo about Cranach is the first expo since the museum has reopened. It covers the career of the German painter but more by theme than chronologically. It starts with this wonderful self-portrait painted when the artist was in his late 50’s. I liked the way the face just comes right out and looks straight at us. This same face appears in several other etchings in the same room as he often his himself in crowd scenes.

The Martyrdom of St Catherine, about 1508/9

The next painting that struck me was the Martyrdom of St Catherine where he demonstrates both the destruction of St Catherine’s wheel as well as her beheading which copies Dürer’s version of this same episode. OK so the religious stuff aside, isn’t the rocket/explosion effect on the right fabulous? Like something straight out of science fiction. Also, I love how the bad guy looks really, really mean. Apparently the vertical stripes signaled him as a psycho to the contemporaries when they saw this painting.

Hercules and Anteus, somewhere between 1520 and 1530

The next one that peeked my interest was Hercules and Anteus. This small painting was so bizarre but so interesting. The Hercules cycle tells the story of one of Hercule’s labors in fighting the son of Gaia (earth) who was a powerful giant. However, when Hercules was able to lift him up and thus “unplug” him from his energy source (earth once again), the giant turned into SillyPutty as we see here. I love Hercule’s expression like if someone snapped the photo just as he was going to do something embarrassing or something…

Adam and Eve, 1510

I’ll spare you the Madonna’s and Lucretia’s because, well, its getting late and all and skip to another favorite of the exhibit, the Adam and Eve diptych from 1510. I love the do’s on both A&E and especially the lusty look on Adam’s face. I guess the folks weren’t really all that well endowed given the micro-lead protecting Adam’s pecker. And it seems brazilian shaves were all the rage back then for the ladies. Apparently, this particular theme was a cash cow as there are dozens of paintings in this theme from Cranach and his sons after him. The broad brushstrokes of the tree trunk were really pretty and I like these nudes against the black background. I love this one because it is one of the first where he seems still to be experimenting before finding the final commercially-viable version that comes in the late 1520’s.

Melancholia, Albrecht Dürer, 1514

I am a big Dürer fan and was so happy that his graving was set next to Cranach’s painted version. I prefer AD’s original so I am showing it here. I have always reveled in the surreal aspect of this print and the angry eyes of this strange quite masculine angel (although it is a lady angel!) The Cranach version (go ahead and Google it up, it’ll do you good 🙂 is insightful and seems to say “idle hands do the devil’s tools” or something and yet hints at the choice between good and evil here – just as the Law and Grace shown in the same room. I admit though that the Dürer version still grabs me more.

Hercules at Omphale's House, 1537

And finally, this hilarious picture of Hercules being humiliated by these lovely ladies. The expression on the poor guys face is preciou. He looks so stone in love (yes I was thinking of Journey, sorry!) and the ladies so scheming and slutty. The guy just looks so squashed and pussy-whipped you can’t help but feel sorry for him. I thought that the lady staring at us from the right was simply gorgeous – a renaissance femme fatale.

So there you go. An extraordinary exposition if you are here to see it before May 23.

The Rembrandt exhibit at the Louvre is rather small and yet a bit complimentary because both Rembrandt and Cranach were bowled over by Dürer and so D is well-represented over at that expo as well. Rembrandt was the generation of northern painters after Cranach and you can see the full realization of some of Cranach’s lighting in the pictures particularly at the very end of the expo in the rotunda.


About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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One Response to Lucas Cranach, the Elder (Musée Luxembourg)

  1. Erik Spierenburg says:

    Happy birthday, Cranach is totally new to me, thx!

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