Cranach, his Sons, and their Workshop: the Endless Problem of Hands

Activity: Talk or presentationLecture and oral contribution


Seen in the light of technical analysis of relevant Cranach paintings at SMK the multifaceted evidence of their material compositions from support via preparation, underdrawing (or lack of one), undermodeling and built-up of the paint layers will be presented. The main focus will be on two portraits of “the old” Martin Luther, one in the SMK collection the other in the parish church of St. Nicolai in Vejle (Denmark), where also a companion piece portraying “the old” Philip Melanchthon will be included in the study. None of the three portraits have been published nor been compared to other versions of the portrayed. In the paper we aim at pointing to and, on a limited scale of course, demonstrating the difficulty to attribute a painting produced down the line within the Cranach workshop to a specific or identifiable hand.

Since the beginning of Cranach research in the 19th century it has been a dominant desire to be able to distinguish between the hands of the elder Cranach, his two sons, and the Cranach workshop – as regards both paintings and drawings. Much time has been devoted to this issue in an ongoing discussion, which still takes place. Recently (in 2010) a voluminous work on the Cranach drawings was published (by Michael Hofbauer) – an imposing book that on the other hand was severely criticised (by Guido Messling in Master Drawings LI, 2, 2013 ) precisely because of incorrect attributions. But is it at all possible to map the hands in the Cranach oeuvre? If it is, in which way and to what extent could it be done in order to achieve a meaningful discussion? With a starting point in the concrete portraits presented we will discuss these questions as well as pointing to new perspectives. For why is it so important for us to be able to make exact distinctions between the various hands? What is it in art history that makes art historians as well as conservators keep asking these same questions, which for the Cranach-factory obviously were not essential.

(med Hanne Kolind Poulsen)
Period21 Mar 2014
Event titleCranach der Jüngere : und die Reformation der Bilder
Event typeConference
LocationLutherstadt Wittenberg, GermanyShow on map