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

Adam and Eve

Woodcut, 387 x 232 mm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Lucas Cranach, who was to become court painter to the Elector of Saxony, performed other tasks for a livelihood before this honour was bestowed upon him. He was for a time a pharmacist, a burgomaster of Wittenberg, and the director of a factory for the production of pictures. He may have turned to designing woodcuts for the monetary rewards involved, for they were much in demand in Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Even the greatest painters of the period contributed to the illustration of books, and made single-sheet prints and series of pictures of a religious character - often with imperial sponsorship. Dürer, Holbein, and Lucas van Leyden were among the more famous painters who engaged in the production of prints.

Cranach was more competent as a painter than as a printmaker. Apparently he did not find the medium a congenial one; perhaps he used it to satisfy financial needs, or because it was considered a worthy and lucrative profession by the best artists of his country.

This scene of Adam and Eve in the Garden is typical of his style - of its virtues and defects. He had a tendency to overcrowd his compositions, to overstress secondary details, and to fail to concentrate on the main theme. The central figures stand before a huge tree (Cranach did not omit the arms of the Elector of Saxony, hanging on one of the limbs). Adam, a somewhat emaciated type, is seated next to a standing Eve, similar in proportion and sexuality to Venus and other comely goddesses who often appear in Cranach's paintings.

Cranach gave equal attention to the various animals surrounding the figures. They are drawn with incredible dexterity based on a sound knowledge of their respective anatomies. Though hardly equal to Dürer's accomplishment in the art of the woodcut, this print by Cranach has an intriguing quality of its own.