Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach´s Portrait of a Young Woman. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

Helsinki’s Cranach Beauties

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepared to mount a major exhibition on Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gill Crabbe met Professor Gunnar Heydenreich, head of the Cranach Digital Archive, who was in Helsinki to make an up-to-date assessment of the museum’s two Cranach paintings

Lucas Cranach the Elder, the 16th-century artist who gained success as court painter to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was a man in the right place at the right time. Not only was the artist in the employ of a pioneer of Lutheranism when it was igniting a religious revolution that poured itself into Northern European art and culture; he was also a shrewd businessman with a well trained staff of painting assistants and other craftsmen in one of the most successful workshops of the Reformation. Cranach the entrepreneur profited hugely from a time of transition.

Cranach became court artist and moved to Wittenberg in 1505, setting up a workshop in Wittenberg castle; he then expanded his activities, moving to his own premises in the city around 1511-12. Cranach the Elder and his sons were so successful that more than 1.700 paintings from their workshop are known to be extant almost 500 years later, including altarpieces, court commissions, and private portrait commissions, as well as serial productions of popular themes. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s two particular treasures – Lucretia (1530) and Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) – were the starting point for conceiving the exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’, and as is often the case, mounting the show provided an opportunity to publish up-to-date research for the exhibition catalogue.

Research on the two Cranach paintings carried out by the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery in the 1980s and 90s was quite extensive and used groundbreaking new techniques for its time. However, in the past year, as part of its preparation for show, the conservation unit started a new research project which involved examining the paintings, taking new images (including IR and X-ray images) and making non-destructive pigment analyses. The museum was then delighted when Professor Gunnar Heydenreich – who is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and widely considered to be the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop – agreed to make a fresh assessment of the two works in its collection. While the provenance of each of the works does not stretch as far back as its origins, Portrait of a Young Woman has been in the Finnish Art Society collection since 1851 and Lucretia had been in a private collection since the 1790s before the Sinebrychoff Art Museum acquired it in 1994.

Featured image: Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach’s Portrait of a Young Woman.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

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