philosophically resonant and lots of fun


Is it just me, or have the Old Masters got younger lately? If so, it may be because present anxieties about the state and the fate of Western civilization echo past ones, when artists were energized around big issues, such as clashes of modernizing and medievalist mind-sets, which may never have been completely settled. Consider a rousing retrospective of the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), which has opened at the Städel Museum, in Frankfurt, and will travel in the spring to the Royal Academy, in London. There are contemporary tangs to this most bewildering paragon of a cohort which included the Leonardoesque Albrecht Dürer and the dazzling Hans Holbein the Younger. Cranach was a sometime religious revolutionary and a full-time entrepreneur. In his work, early strains of late-Gothic blood and guts give way first to courtly high styles, then to pictorial propagandizing for the new theology of his friend Martin Luther—even as, strangely, Cranach continued to oblige Roman Catholic clients. (Those were intricate times.) He rivalled Dürer and Holbein in portraiture, and he developed product lines of delirious erotica and hilarious genre scenes. Buyers seemingly couldn’t get enough of his “ill-matched couples”: fatuous geezers or crones acuddle with gold-digging babes or young bucks. With a prolific workshop, so well coached that its authorship can be hard to distinguish from his own, and with businesses in real estate, publishing, and a liquor-licensed pharmacy, Cranach became one of the richest men in the Lutheran stronghold of Saxony. He was three times the mayor of Wittenberg. As an artist, he siphoned his era’s chaotic energies into wonderments of style. His re-visionings of humanity are philosophically resonant and lots of fun.

more from The New Yorker here.