In 2015 the birthday of Lucas Cranach the Younger will mark its 500th anniversary. The picture series “Cranach Contemporary” analyzes the importance of the Cranach workshop for contemporary painting.
Lucas Cranach the Younger was born on 4 October 1515 in Wittenberg as youngest son of Lucas Cranach the Edler. Together with his elder brother Hans he learned the craft of painting in his father’s workshop. After the early death of his brother Lucas Cranach took over the workshop from his father and continued the family business. Lucas Cranach the Elder used to sign his pictures with the coat of arms he was awarded by the Elector in 1508. The coat of arms depicts a winged snake, which bears a red crown on the head and holds a ring studded with a ruby in its mouth. The snake of Lucas Cranach the Edler had bat wings, whereas his son replaced them by bird wings. In 1544 Lucas Cranach took over the parents’ house in Wittenberg from his father as well. In addition to the successful management of the workshop he also made his carrier as local politician and held several offices from councillor to mayor.
Lucas Cranach the Younger, Agnes von Hayn, 1543, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Lucas Cranach the Younger, Joachim von Anhalt epitaph, St. Johannis church in Dessau, 1565
The Cranach workshop as social medium of the Reformation.
The picture program of the Cranach workshop reflects the religious and social upheaval. Initially pictures were commissioned by sovereigns and the Catholic church mainly, who were replaced by protestant clients after the Reformation. The business sense of Lucas Cranach the Elder didn’t prevent him from working for both religious denominations at the same time. The early pictures rooted in Catholic faith depict Christ as Man of Sorrows elaborating the usual picture tradition of Christ’s suffering to the most minute detail. After the Reformation Lucas Cranach underwent a change of themes as well as of their realization. All Catholic pomp gives way to a reformatory down-to-earth approach, portraits like the portrayals of Martin Luther fill the book of commissions of the family business.
Lucas Cranach the Younger in his father’s shadow.
The paintings by the Cranach workshop represented a strongly established brand of the northern Renaissance, which was continued by Lucas Cranach the Younger in the manner of his father. In doing so he never got the chance to step out of the shadow of the founder of the workshop, and to develop a signature of his own with a particular iconographic program. Lucas Cranach the Younger, however, reduced the range of themes, the workshop used to stand for and put emphasis on Protestant themes, as shown on the epitaph painting “Dessau Last Supper” for Georg III. The latter one had introduced the Reformation in Anhalt pretty late, but all the more radical. On the painting Lucas Cranach the Younger places Georg III between Luther and Christ to emphasize his importance for the Reformation. The cupbearer at the lower right edge of the picture is considered to be the only known self-portrait of Lucas Cranach the Younger.
Cranach Contemporary – time of radical change.
The down-to-earth motifs in the pictures of Lucas Cranach the Younger reach beyond the Renaissance into the present, the series “Cranach Contemporary” is based on the same aesthetic simplicity that was common in the period of the Reformation. The works of “Cranach Contemporary” are painted in inverted colors, thus turning into negatives that defy the common perception of the viewer. This way he is forced to question the apparent colors of the motifs and reinterprete them by taking a closer look. The reversal of visible and invisible causes a shift of meaning, which invites the viewer to restore the context of the picture motif. The works explore the human individual in the tension-filled areas between human crisis, religious fundamentalism and global media perception.
From a photohistorical point of view the visualization of the picture by digitally inverting colors and contrasts replaces the analogue reprographic technique to produce photographic prints with photographic negatives. In the period of analogue pictures the negative was an expression of authenticity and credibility, in the digital era, however, the truth is being abused for political purposes, propaganda, and advertising messages by manipulating the picture. The disintegration of certainties is one of the fundamental experiences of existence in modern society.
In the world of the 21st century completely regulated by rationality even the most distant corners of micro- and macrocosm are made visible and explicable, with the profanation and marketisation of the world suffocating any space for spiritual and metaphysical aspects. The function of art, however, is to conceal the obvious and to visualize the invisible. The loud and garish colors of medial sensory overload, and the fast rhythm of alternating trends stifle contemplation, as well as the expression of simplicity and authenticity. The concept of inverted pictures picks up on the down-to-earth and simple iconography of Lucas Cranach the Younger, representing the same attitude of anti-consumerism that characterized the period of the Reformation at the same time.
Thomas Michel, Writing Girl in Purple, oil on canvas, 2014
With reference to the calvinist iconography by Vermeer, the viewer becomes a voyeuristic intruder into the intimacy of protected privacy. At the same time the act of communication represents an emancipatory message of the Western community of values, accompanied by the right to education and participation in social life.
Thomas Michel, Gethsemane, oil on canvas, 2014
Picking up on the biblical motif of the Mount of Olives group, the picture represents human failure in dignity. In a trance-like state of mind the look scrutinizes the subconscious, that oscillates in the conflicting field between mental imprisonment and social shutout.
Thomas Michel, Epiphanias, oil on canvas, 2014
The water of life is a symbol that stands for human solidarity and supporting the weakest of society, through the recent political incidents in the Middle East it has got an unprecedented relevance and explosiveness.