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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Madonna and Child.

The austere and the sensual

Oh, to be in Rome or Paris this season, where one could attend blockbuster showings of the art of Lucas Cranach. Jackie Wallschlager says the painter "is becoming the Old Master for the early 21st century." The exhibits display what one critic has called "Lutheran austerity": Luthers, epic crucifixions and the like.

Simultaneously, the events include paintings by the same artist of what Wallschlager calls "slinking nudes," often Venuses (once banned on posters in London's underground) and Three Graces "seen from the front, back, and in profile." "Wily, worldly, witty" Cranach favored "small, high breasts, nipped waists, rounded stomachs, and elongated [erotic] forms" that were sometimes sarcastically provoking. This "chief artist of the Reformation knew how to deliver a frisson of sensual delight wrapped in a parable," as with a woman painted as "an emblem of lasciviousness."

The Reformers knew what was going on. Cranach stood up for Luther and wife at their betrothal; he was godfather to a Luther child and vice versa. Ex-nun and wife-to-be Katharina was a maid at Cranach's home when Luther came calling for a bride. Cranach painted the Luthers' parents and children.

How did Luther justify his support of this supplier of virtual centerfold images for Wittenberg? If anyone can find a signal that Luther was disturbed or put off by the interplay of images from the brush of one man, they will do better than I.

Some explain all this by showing that Cranach was patriarchal and parabolic in his treatment of women figures, but still, he must have gotten pleasure out of his attention to the detail of these very slightly limbed women. Lutherans like the Latin word simul, speaking of how the human is simul justified and a sinner. Maybe Cranach, in a similarly simul spirit, was juxtaposing and correlating "austere Lutheranism" with sensual and sexy portrayals of women.

We can't settle that here. For now, it is amusing to ponder this strange simul representation and then hail Cranach, who knew a thing or two about dimensions of life that the austere and the sensualists often suggest cannot appear in the same artist, subject or Reformation.

Those who want a visual hint of what I am talking about might pursue this link.

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Hello Dr. Marty

I do not know if you remember my father, Jean Paul Audet. Dad died in 1986 and even now, that is hard to believe. My mother, Rosemarie, has a terminal diagnosis, Alzheimer's and is in Northern Virginia. Dad always held you in the highest esteem and now that Mom is nearing her time, I wonder if you would include her in your prayers and thoughts. It would mean a lot. I am at Ithaca College and wish your family a joyous holiday season.
Best regards,
Barbara Audet


My personal e-mail is memarty [at] aol.com

Why not write me a bit more, and I'll answer.

Jean-Paul Audet is indeed a name from my past, unless I've slipped a mental cog: among other things, he built the pipe organ at the little church where I was pastor, in Elk Grove Village; let's see, that would have been in 1958 or 1959--unbelievable that that is fifty-one years ago!


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