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

Portrait of Anna Cuspinian (detail)

c. 1502
Oil on wood
Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur

The picture shows a detail of the left side of the painting.

The nine women washing, bathing an carrying water in the middle distance between Cuspinian and his wife, appear to be the nine Muses. Their element is water, and a balance is evidently intended here to the fire behind Anna Cuspinian. Perhaps this polarity symbolises the distinction between the genders: according to Plutarch, fire was male and water female. This theme seems appropriate enough for a wedding painting. It is possible, however, that the fire alludes to the burning bush (Exodus 3, 2), which was used as a symbol for the Immaculate Conception during the late Middle Ages because it "burned with fire" but "was not consumed", just as Mary had remained a virgin during motherhood. The chastity of the Virgin remained an ethical precept for married women for many centuries.