Lucas Cranach the Elder (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar)
Lucas Cranach the Elder (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar)

St. Barbara in a wooded landscape

Lucas Cranach the Elder (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar)
St. Barbara in a wooded landscape
signed with the artist's serpent device (center left, on the rocks)
oil on panel
28¾ x 22¼ in. (73 x 56.5 cm.)
with Julius Böhler, Munich, from whom purchased by Leopold Hugo Klotz in the 1920s. Stolen by Hermann Goering during the 2nd World War and restituted to Mr. and Mrs. Klotz after the war, having been discovered in a salt mine in Germany.
A.M. Frankfurter, 'Lucas Cranach's portrait of a woman represented as the Holy Magdalene', The Antiquarian, 16, 1931, p. 49.
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach, Berlin, 1932, no. 140.
D. Koepplin, Cranach's Ehebildnis des Johannes Cuspinian von 1502, Phil. Diss., Basel, 1964, pp. 80 ff.
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, Ithaca, 1978, p. 102, no. 165, illustrated.
Berlin, Deutsches Museum, Lukas Cranach der Ältere und Lukas Cranach der Jüngere, 1937, no. 52.
Frauenfeld, Kunstmuseum, Thurgau, Switzerland, 1965, pp. 2-4.
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, 1974, I, illustrated on p. 165. fig. 83, p. 184, no. 93 (with incorrect fig. no.); and II, p. 769, note 147 (catalogue by Dieter Koepplin).

Lot Essay

Lucas Cranach the Elder was born in Kronach, near Bamberg, the son of a successful artist by whom he was presumably trained. Cranach only emerges as a fully fledged artist in Vienna from 1501, when he was already in his early thirties. Such works as the portraits of Johannes Crispinian and his wife (Winterthur) display the originality and intensity of his vision, while his delicate landscape backgrounds emphasize his role in the development of the Danube School of landscape, that was to reach its highest form in the art of Albrecht Altdörfer. Cranach's figure style was to become more delicate and refined, but his early feeling for landscape never deserted him. He never tired of rendering views sometimes real, more often imaginary, with a miniaturist's eye for detail and vivid color.

In 1505, Cranach became court painter in Wittenberg to the Ernestine Elector of Saxony, in the service of whose family he remained for the rest of his life. Indeed, apart from a visit to the Netherlands in 1508, he is not known to have left the Electoral territories until he went into exile with Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous, following the latter's defeat at the battle of Mülberg in 1547. The victor, the Emperor Charles V, deprived Johann Friedrich of his electoral office from that point forward.

By the mid-1520s, to which the present picture is traditionally dated, Cranach had a good deal of experience in depicting three-quarter length religious and profane figures, chiefly female, in delicately wrought and typically Germanic wooded landscapes. Here, he depicts St. Barbara, identifiable only by the prominent Eucharistic chalice and sacramental wafer that she holds in her left hand. Her right hand is placed, unusually, on her breast in a gesture that denotes her sincerity. Although this St. Barbara has no halo, it should not be understood as a portrait of a young woman as the saint, as her features, almond shaped eyes and long, flowing blonde hair are those of a Cranach's ideal of beauty. Her rich costume and lavish jewelry indicate the saint's high birth, while her long flowing hair may refer to her virginity and to her status as a martyr Bride of Christ.

The story of St. Barbara's short life and martyrdom on December 4 are to be found in the Golden Legend. Having declared her Christian faith, Barbara escaped the wrath of her pagan father only to be betrayed and returned to him: 'the holy virgin was taken in a stone and borne into a mountain' and having been betrayed by a shepherd, her father 'which pursued after her ... took her by the hair and drew her down from the mount...' (The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints as Englished by William Caxton, 1483, 1900 ed., 6, pp. 201-2). Maybe Cranach intended one of the two horsemen in the middle distance to represent her father, Dioscurus, in pursuit of her. It was after this that her cruel torture began, ending only with her beheading at the hands of her father.

The fourth century saint was widely popular, as was her name during Cranach's lifetime: his wife was called Barbara, as well as one of his daughters and his daughter-in-law. St. Barbara was the patron saint of those in danger from fire and thunderstorms, and of artillerymen and miners; she interceded at the hour of death so that the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist were received. She was thus the protectress of the dying, hence her emblem of the wafer and the chalice. The chalice that Cranach depicts is simpler, but similar to the kind of Saxon silver gilt chalices exhibited in Kunst der Reformations-Zeit (Staatliche Museum, Berlin, 1983, nos. B.24 - B.26).

Cranach was deeply involved in the Reformation of the Church initiated by Martin Luther in Wittenburg from 1517; indeed the two were close friends. Nevertheless, this did not prevent Cranach from accepting commissions from Catholics, including Luther's enemy Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. The subject of the present work would have appealed across the religious divide, for while the Protestant Augsburg Confession of 1530 condemned the invocation of saints, it commended their commemoration and veneration. Luther inveighed against the vandalism of images of saints as practiced in Zwingli's Zürich from 1524.

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