Cranach. Nature and the Sacred
17 grudnia 2021 – 27 lutego 2022
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) was one of the foremost German Renaissance artists. This talented painter and draughtsman, skilled designer, and publisher of woodcut illustrations developed his career as a court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg. He was also the leading artist of the Reformation. It was his workshop that provided the new confession with fundamentally important works, both owing to their iconography and persuasive power.
The exhibition presents Virgin and Child under the Fir Trees from the Archdiocese Museum in Wrocław and Adam and Eve from the National Museum in Warsaw – the two most important paintings by Cranach kept in Polish collections. Both were created at the same time, around 1510, when the artist worked at the Wittenberg castle, mostly on commission from the court of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony.
The meeting of these two Cranach paintings is an opportunity to showcase the changing artistic iconography of the turn of the 16th century. At the time, depictions of the most important religious subjects as well as nature both underwent significant transformations. Artists had to combine nature and the sacred in a way that conveyed traditional symbolism on the one hand, and reflected the new humanist trends on the other. In this context, the two Cranach paintings may be interpreted as not just recounting the key events in the history of salvation – from the original sin of the first parents to redemption brought through Mary, the new Eve – but also as a reflection on the very nature of creation.
Printmaking played an enormous part in propagating these new artistic and iconographic concepts. The exhibition will present prints by leading German artists of the time: Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Altdorfer, Augustin Hirschvogel, as well as drawings from the Danube school. These will serve to demonstrate the formats of depiction employed at the time, which often explored the boundaries between the sacred and the profane, as well as issues related to workshop practice or the expectations of commissioners, who often hailed from the court elites.
Virgin and Child under the Fir Trees may also serve as an impulse to discuss art collecting at the outset of the 16th century. The painting was brought to Wrocław from Wittenberg in the breakthrough year of 1517, which marked the beginning of the turbulent Reformation period. Its new owner, bishop Johann V Thurzo (1464–66 – 1520), donated it to the Wrocław cathedral, where it adorned the chapel of Saint John the Evangelist until 1947. Stolen right after World War II, it was recovered in 2012 and has been kept in the Wrocław Archdiocese Museum ever since.
Curators: Piotr Borusowski, Aleksandra Janiszewska-Cardone, Joanna Sikorska
Il.: Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), Virgin and Child under the Fir Trees, c. 1510, Wrocław Archdiocese Museum
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