LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER (KRONACH 1472-1553 WEIMAR)
LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER (KRONACH 1472-1553 WEIMAR)
LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER (KRONACH 1472-1553 WEIMAR)
2 More
Property from the Collection of Cecil and Hilda Lewis (LOTS 6 & 14)
LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER (KRONACH 1472-1553 WEIMAR)

The Nymph of the Spring

Details
LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER (KRONACH 1472-1553 WEIMAR)
The Nymph of the Spring
signed with the artist's device of a serpent with wings folded (centre right, on the tree)
oil on panel
32 1⁄4 x 47 3⁄8 in. (82.1 x 120.5 cm.)
inscribed ‘FONTIS NYMPHA SACRI SOMNVM NE / RVMPE QVIESCO’ (upper left)
Provenance
(Possibly) Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552-1612), Prague Castle, looted by Swedish troops in 1648 and transported to Sweden and possibly in the collection of the following,
Christina, Queen of Sweden (1626-1629), Stockholm, until 1654.
Count Gustaf Adolf Sparre (1746-1794), Sahlgrenska House, Gothenburg, and moved to Kulla Gunnarstorp, near Helsingborg, probably no later than 1775, where listed in his posthumous inventory of 1794, and by inheritance to his wife,
Countess Amelie (née Ramel) Sparre (1753-1830), Skåne, Sweden, and by descent to her daughter,
Christina Sparre (d. 1811), and by inheritance to her husband,
Count Jacob Gustaf de la Gardie (1768-1842), by whom sold with the estate in circa 1840 to,
Count Carl de Geer of Leufstra (1781-1861), by whom given in 1855 upon her marriage to Axel Fredrik Wachtmeister to his granddaughter,
Elisabeth von Platen-Wachtmeister (1834-1918), Vanås, Sweden, with this painting remaining at Kulla Gunnarstorp, and by descent, until acquired by the following,
with Verner Amell Ltd, 1990, from whom acquired by the father of the present owners.
Literature
Listed in the posthumous inventory of the estate of G.A. Sparre, Ar 1794 Den 6 Oktober företogs bouppteckning öfver Farmlidne Grefve Gustaf Axelsson Sparres Efterlämnade Ägendom pa Kulla Gunnarstorp Satersgard.., preserved in Göta hovrätts archive, Jönköping, recorded at Kulla Gunnarstorp under Tableaux, '1 d:o föreställer ett sofvande oklädt fruntimber' ('represents a sleeping unclothed woman').
O. Granberg, 'Greve Gustav Sparres Kabinett', Svenska konstsamlingarnas historia: Från Gustav Vasas tid till våra dagar, III, Stockholm, 1931, p. 66, under the transcription of the 1794 Sparre inventory of Kulla Gunnarstorp as '1 d:o föreställer ett sofvande oklädt fruntimber' ('represents a sleeping unclothed woman').
I. Hasselgren, Konstsamlaren Gustaf Adolf Sparre, 1746-1794: hans studieresa, våning och konstsamling i Göteborg, PhD dissertation, University of Gothenburg, 1974, p. 124, where recorded at Kulla Gunnarstorp as 'en liggande Venus av Lucas Cranach' ('a reclining Venus by Lucas Cranach').
Cranach Digital Archive, inv. no. PRIVATE_NONE-P434 (https://lucascranach.org/PRIVATE_NONE-P434), as 'Lucas Cranach the Elder' (accessed 11 January 2022).

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Director, Head of Department

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Nymph of the grot, these sacred springs I keep,
And to the murmur of these waters sleep;
Ah, spare my slumbers, gently tread the cave
And drink in silence, or in silence lave.
Alexander Pope’s translation of Huius Nympha Loci

From the grassy bank of her spring, Lucas Cranach the Elder’s recumbent nymph beguiled the imagination of his patrons as one of his most seductive allegories. For the first time in painting north of the Alps, an artist represented female nudes in an outdoor setting, treating The Nymph of the Spring in at least twelve known unique compositions throughout his career, including the present beautifully preserved panel. As the largest of all the versions, Cranach painted the work in his maturity, ostensibly as the grand finale to one of his most enduring pictorial legacies – a visual testament to the perennially resting nymph, who, in concert with the beholder, wakes. With newly unearthed provenance tracing it back to the eighteenth century, its rediscovery establishes it as one of only two autograph paintings on the subject to remain in private hands (the other a small panel in a vertical format of circa 1526), and one of the grandest and most important commissions of Cranach the Elder’s maturity that Dieter Koepplin believes ‘enriches [Cranach’s] oeuvre in the best and very rare way’ (private communication).
Influenced by the secular spirit of the Renaissance, Cranach’s search for opportunities to portray the nude resulted in what would become one of his most consequential pictorial inventions. Arriving in Wittenberg in 1505, where he became court painter to Frederick the Wise and the Saxon Electors who succeeded him, he began painting mythological subjects to cater to their humanistic leanings, first conceiving the seductive nymph as early as 1518 in his dated version in the Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig (fig. 1). Notwithstanding the vast tradition of reclining nudes that populated sixteenth-century mythological paintings, the artist seemingly found his inspiration both in fountain motifs derived from antique statuary and the enchanted waters that adorned the pleasure gardens of late medieval dream poetry. Among the most famous examples was the Huius Nympha Loci, a pseudo-classical Latin epigram, once believed to be ancient but now attributed to a fifteenth-century humanist, which described a nymph in a marble grotto lulled into slumber by the trickle of a stream, admonishing to silence anyone who encountered her: ‘Huius nympha loci, sacri custodia fontis / Dormio dum blandae sentio murmur aquae. / Parce meum quisquis tangis cava marmora somnum / Rumpere: Sive bibas, sive lavere taces’ (translated in the poem above by Alexander Pope, in a letter to Edward Blount, June 1725, in The Works of Alexander Pope, I, London, 1824, p. 221).
Indeed, much of the artistic activities of the early modern period appeared driven by the desire for nymphs to manifest themselves in reality. The epigram, known in humanistic circles in Germany, appeared shortly before 1500 in the writings of the imperial poet laureate Conrad Celtis, visual evidence for which is found in a drawing by his acquaintance Albrecht Dürer, who inscribed it on a fountain alongside a sleeping nymph in 1514 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; fig. 2). While proclaiming his mastery of the nude, Cranach thus imbued his nymphs with humanist symbolism, inscribing an abridgement of the poem: ‘FONTIS NYMPHA SACRI SOMNVM NE / RVMPE QVIESCO’ (‘I am the nymph of the sacred spring. Do not disturb my sleep. I am resting’).
Under the haze of a blue sky, the drowsy nymph here reclines on her courtly dress, leaving her more naked than nude, save for the vaporous cloth that envelops her. With the curves of her body mimicking the undulations of the pastoral landscape, she is a part of nature; to disturb her is tantamount to disturbing nature itself. The bow, quiver of arrows, stags and partridges call to mind another creature of the natural world, that of Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt, who, as we recall from Ovid's Metamorphoses, mortals were forbidden from seeing naked. Actaeon had the misfortune to come upon her accidently as she bathed, and for his offence, was turned into a stag and killed. As observers, our situation is not unlike his; to transition to the distant window of the landscape, we involuntarily fasten our gaze on the sprawling nymph, who, underlined by the inscription, elevates the image into a moralising allegory of carnal desire, warning those tempted to proceed at their own peril.
Cranach’s Nymph of the Spring in fact no longer sleeps but is roused at the advance of the beholder, lying in a pose of naked allurement without a trace of self-consciousness. Her overt seduction, in direct contrast to her innocence, is much more befitting of Venus, the goddess of love and desire, with whom the customarily Dianian attributes of partridges were also associated, alluding to lust and sexual excess. Through such ambivalent layers of allusion, Cranach invested Classical themes with Christian virtue, comparable to the moralising elements of his paintings of Venus with Cupid as the Honey Thief (such as the example in London, The National Gallery of circa 1526), which connected the courtly ideal of a control of emotions with the Christian concern for a restraint of carnal desire, reminding the viewer of the transitory nature of pleasure, which can come with both sadness and pain.
Suggestion has been made that Cranach the Elder knew of an actual sculpted fountain nymph on the banks of the river Danube (see D. Koepplin, Lucas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, exhibition catalogue, I, Basel, p. 428), yet it is clear that the inspiration for the pose of his nymphs was derived from a woodcut published in an antiquarian romance that the artist knew well: the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, 1499), a masterpiece of early printing, attributed to Francesco Colonna and produced at the Venetian press of Aldus Manutius. Telling the story of Poliphilo, whose quest in a dream for his missing Polia conjured up visions of antiquity, it illustrated a sleeping fountain nymph in much the same pose as the present, lying by a tree with a satyr longing to wake her (fig. 3). The engraving is said to have been the prototype for Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (circa 1507; fig. 4; Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), in turn an oft-cited source of inspiration for Cranach’s nymphs, unhesitatingly designated as ‘Giorgionesque’, and known to him possibly through a copy that had travelled to Wittenberg. Yet the smooth sinuousness of Cranach’s nymph, neither classical nor truly romantic, but so innocently soft and fanciful, suspends the laws of nature into an artistic idiom of his own invention, which Friedländer surmised will have ‘amused and entertained his patrons in rather the same way as the eighteenth century was amused by china dolls’ (M. J. Friedla¨nder and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, New York, 1978, p.23).
While the nymph here is more than a protectress of the spring, in his earliest conceptions, Cranach included only the nymph alongside a fountain before a distant landscape. It is only after his drawing of circa 1525 (formerly in the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden) that secondary attributes of the bow, quiver of arrows, partridges and stags were first introduced. The artist set the motifs in paint at around the same time in his Nymph of the Spring of circa 1526-30 (Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza), and it is in this composition that the present work finds its roots; indeed, with the Madrid picture’s only slightly smaller dimensions, the two comprise the only known large autograph versions by Cranach the Elder in existence.
As was customary in Cranach’s process, no two treatments of the subject were the same, all showing variations in pose, detail and setting. Here, his free expression of the underdrawn landscape, visible through infrared reflectography (available upon request), and the ornamentation of the nymph’s whorls of hair unite two extremes of Cranach’s draughtsmanship – uninhibited sketchiness with mimetic precision. Many of the characteristics associated with his late style had in fact already begun to formulate before his early paintings had time to dry. Like his early work, the present picture burns with colour, with a harmony of blood reds and verdant greens against the soft hues of the blue water and sky. In both paint and underdrawing, the artist exhibits an emotional spontaneity, the form and feeling of which is so beyond duplication that it could not be absorbed by any other artist. It is for this reason that Dieter Koepplin, to whom we are grateful, confidently considers this an excellent work by Lucas Cranach the Elder of circa 1540-45, signed with his device of a serpent with folded wings, which he used from 1537 onwards, coinciding with the premature death of his son Hans.

A note on the provenance
Hidden from public view for centuries and unknown to scholars until circa 1990, this painting’s history remained a mystery. Newly discovered provenance places Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Nymph of the Spring in one of the greatest Swedish art collections of the eighteenth century, that of Count Gustaf Adolf Sparre (1746—1794), said to have been so exceptional that it came second only to that of the King of Sweden. A resident of Gothenburg and heir to one of Sweden’s wealthiest merchant families, Sparre amassed his works through travels across Europe, visiting France, Germany, the Netherlands and England between 1768 and 1771. He returned to Sweden in 1772 following the death of his grandmother, from whom he inherited Gothenburg Palace jointly with his cousin. It was here that he initially housed the majority of his collection, some fifty-eight paintings – by Rubens, van Dyck, Jan Breughel the Elder, David Teniers the Younger, Rembrandt, Gerard ter Borch and others – which he publicly exhibited while continuing its expansion.
Following his marriage to Amelie Ramel in 1777, Sparre moved with his collection to his country estate, Kulla Gunnarstorp, which he had purchased in 1775. The couple’s only surviving child, Christina, married Jacob Gustaf de la Gardie, who inherited the house and collection in 1833 before selling Kulla Gunnarstorp in 1837 to Count Carl de Geer, with the Sparre collection following in circa 1840. The majority of the collection was given by de Geer to his granddaughter, Elisabeth von Platen-Wachtmeister in 1855, in whose family it remained until the late-twentieth century, and who, in the mid-nineteenth century, transferred the majority of it to their castle of Vanås in southern Sweden, with some works remaining at Kulla Gunnarstorp.
In the nineteenth century, the Wachtmeister collection at Vanås was well documented, yet with no sign of Cranach’s Nymph. While Sparre’s posthumous inventory of 1794 also gave the precise descriptions and locations of each of the fifty-eight paintings kept in Gothenburg, many of which can be located today, the paintings at Kulla Gunnarstorp were historically overlooked, in no small part due to the vagueness of their descriptions. Yet at Kulla Gunnarstorp, a single painting described as '1 d:o föreställer ett sofvande oklädt fruntimber' ('represents a sleeping unclothed woman') was listed, the ambiguity of which would have been lost to us forever were it not for Ingmar Hasselgren’s 1974 dissertation on Sparre’s art collection (op. cit.), in which he made a brief mention of the works at Kulla Gunnarstorp, noting that while it housed the majority of Sparre’s large paintings, they were difficult to access due to the remoteness of the location. In passing, he observed the presence of 'en liggande Venus av Lucas Cranach' ('a reclining Venus by Lucas Cranach'), confirming it as the picture in Sparre’s 1794 inventory, where it remained, finally explaining its absence from public view for so many centuries.
While it is largely unknown where Gustaf Adolf Sparre acquired most of the works in his collection, a painting of this calibre could have very well found its way to Sweden through the collection of its Queen Christina (1626—1629), whose many art treasures came from the famous Kunstkammer of Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), which had been stolen on her orders in 1648 by Swedish soldiers in Prague at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. In an inventory of Christina’s possessions in Stockholm of 1652, cursorily recorded and not including artist’s names, a painting described as ‘Dito [un tableau], ou est peint une femme nue environnée d'un drap rouge, sur bois’ was listed among the German and Dutch paintings brought to her from Prague, just after a large hunting scene later identified as by Lucas Cranach (now in Nationalmuseum Stockholm, inv. no. 257; see O. Granberg, La Galerie de tableaux de la Reine Christine de Suéde, Appendix II, Stockholm, 1897, pp. XXXII and XXXVI, nos. 136 and 221). Indeed, the explicitly erotic mood of the The Nymph of the Spring fully conformed to Rudolf II’s personal predilections. Due to incompletely preserved archival material, it is impossible to reconstruct everything that once filled Rudolf II’s gallery, art chamber and palace at Prague Castle, yet according to his inventory of 1648, which equally omitted artist’s names, in the same corridor of his galleries there hung a comparable ‘Ein Nakendt Weib Ligendt’ (‘A naked reclining woman’) and ‘Ein Ligende Venuss’ (‘A reclining Venus’; see ibid., Appendix I, p. VI, nos. 116 and 142). While it must be left to conjecture as to whether either could be one and the same as the painting described in Christina’s possession, the representations nevertheless hold a unique place in their inventories.
With Christina’s unconditional admiration for masters of the high Italian Renaissance, and disdain for transalpine painters, German ones in particular, it is no surprise that after her abdication in 1654, she took with her to Italy a collection of almost entirely Italian paintings, leaving all others from Rudolf II's collection in Sweden, either given to her successor, as gifts to her faithful adherents, or sold to finance her journey to Rome. From this point of geographic and social proximity, it is thus not implausible that Cranach’s Nymph of the Spring eventually made its way into Sparre’s prized collection.

Legacy
With The Nymph of the Spring, Cranach cemented his position within the European tradition of painting of the reclining female nude, with his influence reverberating through the ages, from the nineteenth century to Expressionism and beyond. As the natural ancestor to Edouard Manet's Olympia (1863; Paris, Musée d'Orsay; fig. 5) and an inspiration to Paul Gauguin’s Te Arii Vahine (1896; Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; fig. 6), Cranach’s nymph played the muse to late Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, whose Reclining Nude of circa 1919 (New York, Museum of Modern Art; fig. 7) echoed the simplistic grace of Cranach’s elongated figures. ‘They are, indeed, most artful productions’, wrote Kenneth Clark, lauding Cranach’s achievement of ‘a version of the Northern nude so personal and so perennially seductive…[as] one of those rare artists who have added to our imaginative repertoire of physical beauty’ (The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, Princeton, New Jersey, 1956, pp. 332 and 334).
;

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All