December 10, 2007

Schjeldahl on Lucas Cranach the Elder

"Lucas Cranach the Elder," Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany. Through Feb. 17. Slide show.

As an antidote to all the reports on contemporary art and the art market in Miami, check out Peter Schjeldahl's essay in The New Yorker on the Cranach retrospective in Frankfurt. Cranach's work, which was painted back in the 1500s during tough times of the religious Reformation, speaks to contemporary audiences. "There are contemporary tangs to this most bewildering paragon of a cohort which included the Leonardoesque Albrecht Dürer and the dazzling Hans Holbein the Younger. Cranach was a sometime religious revolutionary and a full-time entrepreneur. In his work, early strains of late-Gothic blood and guts give way first to courtly high styles, then to pictorial propagandizing for the new theology of his friend Martin Luther—even as, strangely, Cranach continued to oblige Roman Catholic clients. (Those were intricate times.) He rivalled Dürer and Holbein in portraiture, and he developed product lines of delirious erotica and hilarious genre scenes. Buyers seemingly couldn’t get enough of his 'ill-matched couples;' fatuous geezers or crones acuddle with gold-digging babes or young bucks. With a prolific workshop, so well coached that its authorship can be hard to distinguish from his own, and with businesses in real estate, publishing, and a liquor-licensed pharmacy, Cranach became one of the richest men in the Lutheran stronghold of Saxony. He was three times the mayor of Wittenberg. As an artist, he siphoned his era’s chaotic energies into wonderments of style. His re-visionings of humanity are philosophically resonant and lots of fun." Read more.

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