Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Of the various portrayals of the Man of Sorrows painted by Lucas Cranach, our version is certainly one of the most accomplished. This Christ, presented in front...read more
Of the various portrayals of the Man of Sorrows painted by Lucas Cranach, our version is certainly one of the most accomplished. This Christ, presented in front of a parapet with a dark veil held above him by two cherubs, covering the panoramic landscape in the background, is the source of a complex iconography that was particularly fashionable during the Reformation. Admired as much by the Catholics as by the Protestants, this type of religious image became extremely popular owing to its strong neutrality which is countered by the emphasis on Christ’s humanity.
Significant of the works produced in the 16th century and timeless in terms of religious iconography, Christ as the Man of Sorrows is the symbol of the Passion. It reminds the pious how important it is to the world’s redemption. This image of the death of Christ par excellence and of his sacrifice serves as a devotional picture to the faithful, reminding them of the Way of the Cross during the Eucharist. Based on the imago pietatis in mediaeval iconography, depicting Christ between life and death, the tradition with which Cranach’s work is associated presents Christ facing us, showing his bleeding wounds to the viewer. Exceeding the simple depiction of a tortured body with countless injuries, the artist endeavours to convey all of man’s sorrows expressed in this emaciated face with its gentle gaze. It is this gaze, cast upon us, which invites the faithful to ponder on the sacrifice of the Son of God, come to save mankind. In his hands, the whip and the cane symbolise the tortures inflicted on him by Pontius Pilate, just like the imposing crown of thorns around his head. Contrary to other versions, in which the instruments of the Passion are simply evoked or laid out, these objects are perfectly integrated into the painting.
The uniqueness of our painting's background as well as the unusual position of the hands lead us to believe that the artist was inspired by an engraving by Dürer, dated 1515. Indeed, the opening towards the outside, which opens onto a panoramic landscape, is completely different from the versions prior to 1537, mentioned by Friedländer and Rosenberg, in which the body of Christ clearly stands out from the black background. However, the painter announces the theme’s evolution by introducing two chubby putti into his painting; they are holding a large dark-coloured piece of fabric which hides two-thirds of the landscape. This piece of fabric stretching behind Christ’s head is a reference to the shroud that will cover his body before his resurrection. It could also refer to the canopy that traditionally hangs over thrones symbolising royal power. The Man of Sorrows facing us is both a victim of torture and the king of heaven.
Devotional pictures, of which there are many in the works of Lucas Cranach, and among those of his son, convey the strong demand at the time for this type of image as well as the significant prosperity of the family studio. Painted in the 1530s, this Christ as the Man of Sorrows is a fine example of the master’s skill. Cranach manages to express all the dramatic tension of his subject by the extraordinary presence that exudes from the character’s gaze and the language of his hands. Combining strength and gentleness, the left hand that has been weakened by the wound is delicately placed on Jesus’ chest and heart. Wonderfully detailed, it seems to be pointing towards the face of the torture victim. His right arm hangs alongside his lean, wounded side, with his hand resting against the stone parapet, holding the whip and the cane. His complexion, the true signature of the master’s artistry, is astoundingly rendered. The wounds, saturated in crimson red, are signs of the redeemer’s human nature.
A master of the German Renaissance, Lucas Cranach the Elder transcends the image of piety to turn this painting into the portrait of a man truly suffering in body and soul. Symbols of his divine and human aspects, the putti encircle this Christ with a halo of fabric. He is undoubtedly among the most emblematic in the works of Lucas Cranach.
Kronach 1472 – Weimar 1553
Lucas Cranach was one of the pillars of artistic creation in the north-east of Germany during the first half of the 16th century. With Hans Holbein the Younger and...
Kronach 1472 – Weimar 1553
Lucas Cranach was one of the pillars of artistic creation in the north-east of Germany during the first half of the 16th century. With Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer, he is considered to be one of the main representatives of the German Renaissance.
Both a painter and engraver, and a friend of Martin Luther and numerous humanists, he successfully painted religious and mythological scenes, portraits and female nudes which he often identified with Lucretia or Venus. Until 1498, he studied with his father, Hans, who influenced the beginning of his career. He then travelled to Vienna, where it seems he settled in 1500.
The first known works of the artist date from this period; they are religious scenes whose vivid and expressive colours show proof of his creative power. In 1505, he became court painter for the Electors of Saxony. He decorated their castles, painted their portraits and those of their wives, executed altarpieces and also painted profane subjects. In 1508, Elector Frederick of Saxony granted Cranach his coat of arms with a winged serpent, which became the artist’s signature. His sons, Hans and Lucas the Younger, were among his assistants. Loyally imitating his style, they played a major role in the works produced by his studio.
Apart from a visit to the Netherlands in 1508, the master resided almost uninterruptedly in Wittenberg. As an important citizen, he sat on the town’s assembly in 1519 and acted as burgomaster in 1537 and 1540. Despite the numerous influences that marked his era, his work remained faithful to the gothic traditions.