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

Portrait of Dr. Johannes Cuspinian

c. 1502
Oil on wood, 59 x 45 cm
Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur

Johannes Spiessheimer (Cuspinian) was a scholar in the court of the Emperor Maximilian I, himself a writer, who made Vienna, through its chancellery and university, the leading humanist city in Germany. Cranach painted the double portrait of the Viennese humanist Dr. Cuspinian and his wife Anna, daughter of an official of the Emperor on the occasion of their marriage. Cranach composed these portraits as a pair. This is apparent in the continuity of the landscape behind the elegantly dressed couple. The trees at the edges of the painting, on the left and right of the figures, are placed so that their branches form an arch, imparting an air of grandeur to the sitters.

The background was evidently composed with a distinct purpose in mind: nothing here is arbitrary. The landscape is full of erudite symbolism, probably devised by Cuspinian himself. The various images disguise hieroglyphic allusions to the cabbala. However, it would be quite unsatisfactory merely to decipher the landscape background symbol by symbol without seeing its significance as a whole. Beyond a system of occult signs, the landscape allows a generous framework for the couple's understanding of themselves, providing a medium for the new cult of sensitivity and awareness of nature which some humanists were propagating in literary form through the Classical topos of the pleasance, or pleasure-park.