CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)
Apollo and Dianac. 1526
Oil and tempera on beechwood, 85 x 57 cm
Royal Collection, London
Cranach, like his contemporary Albrecht Dürer, was a dominant figure in German Renaissance painting. The influence of both artists was pervasive, although Cranach had the advantage of outliving Dürer by as much as thirty years. At the start of his career he was active in Munich and Vienna, but in 1505 he became court painter to Duke Friedrich the Wise of Saxony. Cranach held this position under two successive Electors until 1547, and again from 1550 until his death. The court was based at Wittemberg until the Elector Johann Friedrich went into exile in Augsburg (1547-52). After his return the Elector preferred to live in Weimar. Cranach carried out a wide range of duties as court artist including the decoration of the palace, but he was granted a coat-of-arms in 1508 and became wealthy, holding public office several times. The mark or signature of a flying snake that occurs on this panel and many others was derived from his coat-of-arms. Cranach was also a prolific engraver and book illustrator with an interest in publishing, particularly in Reformation literature. He was a close friend of Martin Luther and his family, whose portraits he painted frequently, although, like many other artists in Germany during these years, he retained Catholic patrons such as Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Elector of Mainz.
The subject of Apollo and Diana was treated on two other occasions by Cranach (Brussels, Musée des Beaux-Arts and Berlin, Gemäldegalerie). There are considerable differences between the three compositions, although in each case Apollo stands and Diana is seated on a stag. The painting in Brussels and the present work show Apollo about to shoot an arrow, whereas in the painting in Berlin (1530) he is without a quiver and merely holds three arrows in the same hand as the bow. The composition with Apollo aiming is comparable with the engraving by Dürer of about 1505, or with the print by Jacopo de' Barbari. The figure of Diana holding her right foot with one leg crossed over the other is reminiscent (although reversed) of the famous antique bronze known as the Spinario.
The painting in the Royal Collection reveals all the main characteristics of Cranach's art. The tautness of the style, the fluency of the drawing of the nude, the love of greens and blues offsetting the lighter flesh tones, the detailed rendering of foliage and the carefully observed landscape replete with a perilously balanced castle on a distant crag and peaceful reflections in calm waters, these are the hallmarks of his finest works, and, it has to be admitted, also of his studio. The intensity of the style is matched by the studied care of the composition and by the clarity of the image.
The painting is signed with the image of a winged serpent.