Lucas Cranach the Elder was born Lucas Sünder in Kronach, Franconia in 1472 but later changed his surname in honour of his German birthplace. Moved to Vienna in 1501 where he stayed for three years during which time he painted some of his finest and most original works. Several of his religious works of that period show a remarkable feeling for the beauty of landscape characteristics of the Donnauschule (Danube School), which was a group of German and Austrian artists of the early sixteenth century, who were among the pioneers in depicting landscape, in particular those of the forests and hills of the Danube, for its own sake, in drawings and prints as well as paintings.
Today’s painting in My Daily Art Display is Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve painted in 1526 and is one of 50 depictions Cranach did of this subject and this depiction is inarguably the most beautiful. In this earlier depiction, the tree of knowledge stands in the centre of the painting between them and they are surrounded by painted wildlife and green pastures. Eve raises the fruit to give to a confused Adam. The painting shows the skill Cranach had in painting wildlife and game and his continued attention to detail, for example, the reflection of the Deer in the pond and the Unicorn in the background. The portrayal of Eve shows his growing attention to portraying the female form, which becomes more evident in paintings such as The Venus (1532). Throughout his career Cranach used his artistic talents to further the Lutheran cause. In depictions such as Adam and Eve, Cranach was able to develop his talent in detailed studies of wildlife, nudes and landscapes with no objection from Luther, who saw Cranach’s depictions as furthering the biblical message.
Hans Memling was born circa 1433 in Seligenstadt, a small town close to Frankfurt. Although German by birth, after serving his apprenticeship in the Cologne/Mainz area he moved to the Netherlands where he is believed to have been worked under the tutelage of Rogier van der Weyden. He later moved to Bruges and was admitted to the Painters’ Guild of Bruges in 1466. He soon became the most popular Netherlandish painter of his day. His popularity as a painter earned him many commissions especially from the rich Florentine merchants of the city, such as Tommaso Portinari, whose portrait he painted. He soon became one of the wealthiest citizens of Bruges. He painted many portraits and religious paintings and his works can be seen in all the major galleries of the world as well as a museum in Bruges which is devoted to him. Memling died in Bruges in 1494.
My Daily Art Display Today is Hans Memling’s Scenes from TheSeven Joys of the Virgin, painted in 1480 and now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. The painting was commissioned by the tanner and merchant Pieter Bultnyc and his wife Katharina van Riebeke for the chapel of the Tanner’s Guild in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. The painting incorporates the figures of Bultynyc and his son kneeling at the lower left, outside the stable where Christ is born. Katharina van Riebeke is also in the painting, at the lower right, in front of the scene of the Pentecost.
This is a picture with an astonishing combination of scenes illustrating parts of the New Testament. The landscape is very much manipulated, segmented into neat vignettes. It is sumptuous, showing all the various possible geographies of earth: land, mountains, sea. There are towns and castles, meadows and winding roads. There are no fewer than twenty five scenes beginning with the Annunciation of Christ’s birth to the Virgin Mary in the upper left part of the painting through to her death and assumption in the upper right segment of the work. The ‘Nativity’ is the central scene. Other smaller scenes are the ‘Resurrection’, the ‘Visitation’, and the ‘Entry of Christ into Jerusalem’.
Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1510 to decorate with frescos the walls of his private apartment, now known as the Stanze di Raffaello in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. For Raphael, this must have been a daunting task as he had never worked on a project of such magnitude and he had little experiencein fresco.
The second of his frescos entitled The School of Athens was on the wall of a room, known as the Stanza della Senatura and is one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist. This room was intended by the Pope to be filled with portraits of great intellectuals of the ancient world. The fresco is a who’s who of the famous thinkers of the past and there have been many arguments when it comes to identifying the characters of the fresco.
According to Michael Lahanas in his book The School of Athens, “Who is Who?” Puzzle they are usually identified as follows:
I have a large framed print of this painting on my dining room wall and it is often the subject of many conversations of the diners sat around the table. I saw the original painting when I visited the Staatliche Museen in Berlin many years ago and was fascinated by the amount of activity going on within the painting. Along with the print of the painting which I bought there was a small black and white copy of the picture on which the various parts of the scene were numbered so that one could look along the corresponding number on a list of proverbs the painting was depicting. This has been a God-send when viewers of my print have tried to work out the possible meanings of the various scenes.
The painting depicts a land populated with literal renditions of Flemish proverbs some of which are not in use any more or have somewhat lost their meaning when translated into English. More than a hundred proverbs and idiomatic expressions have been identified describing “topsy-turvy” ways of behaviour. This explains the other name occasionally given the painting, that of The Topsy-Turvy World.