The Need for a New Name

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John, ca. 1512
Oil on Wood, 76 × 59 cm
Estimated price: 350,000–700,000 €

Once upon a time, Vienna gave cause for a name-change that was decisive indeed: it was here that, shortly before 1502, a young and talented painter decided to change his all-too-probable-sounding name Lucas Maler (with Maler meaning “Painter” in German) so as to stand out not just thanks to his artistic talent in the imperial capital, which was overrun with artists. He therefore chose a reference to his place of birth, henceforth calling himself Lucas aus Kronach (“…from Kronach”, in central Bavaria), commonly rendered as Lucas Cranach.

Under this new name, he soon became one of the most sought-after artists of his day—an artist whose services the Elector of Saxony Friedrich the Wise moved quickly to secure as early as 1505. There followed numerous commissions, and just five years later, Lucas Cranach moved out of the Elector’s Wittenberg palace to settle in the town itself, taking his growing workshop along with him.


A Wooden Panel’s Secret Code

This move is quite significant in connection with the enchanting painting of the Madonna and Child with the Infant St John. For at the palace workshop, the painter had one carpenter to produce wooden panels—every board of which was finely glued parallel to a portrait-format painting’s shorter side. Following his move into town, however, Cranach soon began using a different carpenter, and this one glued the boards vertically—a dating-relevant clue that, even today, is too obvious to overlook. Our painting now consists of wooden boards that were horizontally connected, for which reason a date of around 1512 can’t be far from the mark.

This date is a good point of reference in an exciting research project of a painting that spent many decades at its owner’s home and was therefore unknown. Detailed stylistic analysis as well as elaborate technical examinations of the painting surface by well-regarded experts ultimately confirmed the hopeful suspicion that this painting would, in fact, turn out to be a newfound work by this important German master of the Renaissance!

Bella Italia

But the work itself isn’t all that “German”, for Lucas Cranach was always open to new influences—particularly from Italy, the land where beauty was perfected. In terms of Italian art, he seemed to be familiar above all with the oeuvre of Pietro Perugino, the Umbrian master and later mentor of Raphael. At least the new nimbus variant with a dotted oval ring instead of an aureola is reminiscent of the style of the Italian painter, by whose sequences of cryptic symbols (echoed here on the robe’s edge) Cranach was likewise fascinated.

But no influence, wherever its source, could significantly alter the typical Cranach style: incomparable in the face’s soft and sensitive modelling with those typical, slightly almond-shaped eyes as well as the intriguing mixture of loving intimacy and enraptured sublimity.


This painting will go up for bidding in the auction “Old Master Paintings” on 24 April 2018 at Auktionshaus im Kinsky.

Text: Marianne Hussl-Hörmann, Auktionshaus im Kinsky