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The Resurrection

The Resurrection
signed with the serpent device and dated '1530' (center, on the side of the stone slab)
oil on panel
21 3/8 x 15 1/8 in. (54.2 x 38.3 cm.)
with Rudolf Weigel, Leipzig.
(Possibly) Hofrath Keil, Leipzig.
Raphael Eisenmann (c. 1821-?), Berlin, and by descent to
Margarete Eisenmann (1868-1942), Berlin, by whom sold under duress to the Reichskanzlei, Berlin, as partial payment of discriminatory taxes, after November 1938.
H. W. Lange; Sotheby's, London, 23 March 1949, lot 102 (£700 to Drown).
with Hugo Perls, New York.
with Knoedler, New York, acquired from the above, 5 May 1954 (inv. no. A5708) and jointly owned with Rudolf Heinemann, New York.
with Rudolf Heinemann, New York, acquired from the above, 28 November 1968, and from whom acquired by the present owner.

Please note that the present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner and the heir of Margarete Eisenmann. The settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.
C. Schuchardt, Lucas Cranach des Aeltern: Leben und Werke, II, Leipzig, 1851, p. 89, no. 342, where the dimensions are given as '2 Fuß hoch und 1 Fuß 6 Zoll breit.'
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach, Berlin, 1932, p. 63, no. 179b, where the dimensions are given as '0,70 x 0,55 m.'
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, Ithaca, 1978, p. 112, no. 217E, where the dimensions are given as '70 x 55 cm (27 1/2 x 21 3/4 inches).'

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Lot Essay

Executed on an intimate scale in 1530, when Lucas Cranach was well-established at the court of the Elector of Saxony in Wittenberg, this panel represents Christ’s Resurrection, the climax of the Crucifixion narrative. Cranach portrays this critical event with intense drama: beneath the stone slab on which the newly risen Christ stands in triumph, a jumble of sleeping soldiers appear as if scattered by the explosive impact of Jesus’s return to the living world. Notably, the moment of Christ’s reappearance is not specifically described in the Gospels. Instead, they only recount the events directly preceding and following it. After the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea, assisted by Nicodemus, brought Jesus’s body to his own, unused tomb, which had been carved into a rock, and sealed the entrance with a large stone slab. As relayed in the Gospel of Matthew (28:1-9), when dawn broke on Sunday morning, the third day following Jesus’s death, the Virgin and 'the other Mary' went to the tomb, 'And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.' While the guards trembled in fear, the angel directed the holy women to return to Galilee, for Christ had risen and was no longer there. Lacking a primary source to guide them, it accordingly fell to artists to develop their own imagery for the Resurrection, which began to appear in the late Middle Ages.

The closest model for Cranach’s treatment of the theme, as Dieter Koepplin has observed, was Albrecht Dürer’s celebrated woodcut from his Small Passion series of circa 1510 (fig.1; D. Koepplin, 'Das Sonnengestirn der Donaumeister: Zur Herkunft und Bedeutung eines Leitmotivs', in K. Holter and O. Wutzel, eds., Werden und Wandlung. Studien zur Kunst der Donauschule, Linz, 1967, pp. 78-114). Of particular importance for Cranach here was Dürer’s inclusion of the rising sun, whose beams radiate across the sky from upper left. Cranach borrows this pictorial device and makes it his own, with a series of horizontal strips of color progressing from yellow to deep red in a linear pattern reminiscent of those seen in woodcuts. Also likely inspired by Dürer’s print is the inclusion of the three minute figures at the end of the winding path leading from the city. These are Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome, who according to the Gospels of Mark (16:1-6) and Luke (24:1-6) went early on Sunday morning to Christ’s tomb with spices and ointments, only to find the Sepulcher empty.

Infrared reflectography does not reveal any significant changes in the composition (fig. 2). The figures of Christ and the soldiers appear to have been established with fluid lines corresponding mostly to volumes rather than contours. More precise lines were used to draw the facial features and architectural details of the cityscape.

A member of the so-called Danube School during his formative years, Cranach, along with Albrecht Altdorfer and Wolfgang Huber, developed a novel approach to landscape painting. Instead of creating purely naturalistic renditions, these artists sought to emphasize nature's mystery and inherent expressive possibilities. More than serving merely as attractive backgrounds, dense forests and craggy mountains often take center stage and heighten the narrative impact of their compositions. Here, Cranach’s reverence for the natural world is evidenced by the dense foliage that springs up behind Christ, almost doubling as a halo. Additional patches of dark green leaves cling to and sprout from the cracks of the tomb’s irregular stone wall, creating tension between civilization and nature.
Lucas Cranach and his workshop addressed the theme of the Resurrection on numerous occasions. Often, these images incorporate portraits of patrons or other narrative elements—works exclusively dedicated to the subject are rarer. In addition to Cranach’s widely-circulated Resurrection woodcut of circa 1509, the subject appears in the central panel of the Portable Altarpiece made for Landgrave Wilhelm II. of Hesse and Anna of Mecklenburg around 1509 (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel). Although the present work is slightly larger than the Kassel panel, it is certainly plausible that it too once formed the central panel of a triptych.

We are grateful to Dr. Dieter Koepplin for endorsing the attribution to Lucas Cranach I on the basis of firsthand inspection (7 July 2018).

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