07 décembre 2017

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Landscape with fortified buildings on a rocky bluff, a tree in the left foreground and a distant view..

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Lot 34. Lucas Cranach the Elder (Kronach 1472 - 1553 Weimar), Landscape with fortified buildings on a rocky bluff, a tree in the left foreground and a distant view of a town beyond; oil and tempera on panel, a fragment, 43.3 x 27.5 cm.; 17 x 10 7/8  in. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 GBP. Lot Sold 441,000 GBP (591,161 USD). Photo: Sotheby's.

Provenance: Jenny Klever, Leverkusen;

Anonymous sale, Cologne, Lempertz, 10 December 1990, lot 22, where acquired by the present owner. 

Exhibited: B. Brinkmann, in Cranach, exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, and Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007–2008, p. 112, no. 1.

Note: This remarkable little panel is eloquent testament to a much overlooked facet of Lucas Cranach’s art. From his very earliest works onwards, landscape was an essential component of Cranach’s artistic vocabulary, and formed an integral part of his approach to his work. Cranach’s interest in, and use of, landscape grew from his formative years in Vienna and its surrounding regions around 1500, when he began to assign it a vital new role by emphasising its dramatic and expressive possibilities. This pioneering approach would pave the way for artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer, Jorg Breu and Wolf Huber, the so-called Danube school of painters, who came to dominate painting in Bavaria and Upper Austria in the first decades of the sixteenth century. Although Cranach’s own style did not sustain the mannerist heights sought by these contemporaries, landscape remained a key element of his work throughout his life.

This particular fragment probably originally served as part of the background to one of Cranach’s many depictions of figures such as the Virgin and Child or Saint Jerome within landscape settings. The foreground is dominated by a tall deciduous tree, behind which stands a fortified castle atop a rocky bluff, looking out over a town in a river valley. This combination of elements recurs in the backgrounds of many of Cranach’s paintings, and the hilltop Schloss with its precarious necessarium was no doubt based upon contemporary structures such as the Wartburg in Thuringia, where his friend the reformer Martin Luther went into hiding after the Diet of Worms in 1521. Good examples of similar landscapes include the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist of about 1515 in the Archiepiscopal Palace at Kroměřiz or the Virgin and Child in a landscape of 1518, formerly in the Cathedral at Glogow in Poland.1 Alternatively, this panel might originally have formed the view from an open window used often by Cranach to enliven interior scenes. A similar prospect, for example,  may be seen in a panel of Lucretia of 1518 in the Veste Coburg Fürstenbau.2 Brinckmann and Dette assign a slightly later dating to the present panel to the years 1525–30, when Cranach was well established in Wittenberg as court painter to the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony. Despite its fragmentary nature, this panel remains remarkably well preserved, and together with its small scale, this permits a closer appreciation of this important aspect of Cranach's art.

1. M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London 1978, pp. 84, 87, nos 73 and 88, reproduced.

2. Friedländer and Rosenberg 1978, p. 94,  no. 121.

Sotheby's. Old Masters Evening Sale, London, 06 dec. 2017

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