CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)

Venus Standing in a Landscape

Oil on wood, 38 x 25 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The provenance of this picture is unknown. It is one of a series of paintings in various sizes, representing Venus or a female nude, turned out in quantities by Cranach and his studio; these were popular among the clientele of humanists for whom he worked. However, this conception of Venus belongs to a German tradition which derives its inspiration from Gothic art. The juvenile air, the slender forms, the tiny breasts an narrow hips, the rounded forehead, all go to make up the physical characteristics of the women (including the Virgins) represented in German art since the fourteenth century. This is quite unlike the conception of Dürer's Eve (1504), which was based on an objective and scientific study of the proportions of the human body. The strange pirouetting movements of the legs, crossed over one another, occurs frequently in the engravings of Master E.S. As indicated in the romances and the books of sermons, a swaying walk was one of the ways of expressing worldly elegance for women of this Gothic world from the fourteenth century; but here this Gothic mannerism meets and contributes to another kind - the 'Mannerism' of art history. Mannerist painters and sculptors, whether Italian, German, or French, all admired what Italian aestheticians called 'la linea serpentina', which seemed to them the most beautiful of all forms.

The Venus is clad only in a provocatively transparent veil; in some paintings this is a subsequent addition, but here it is original. The better to set off the ivory whiteness of her body, Cranach has shown it silhouetted against a sombre background of foliage. The landscape conveys in a few strokes an intense impression of the Germanic conception of nature.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 4 minutes):
Francesco Gasparini: The Meddlesome Cupid, aria