Portrait of a Saxonian Prince
by LUCAS CRANACH (German School)
IT is a common belief that German painting is an inflexible language, strong
in psychology and the revelation of character, but destitute of charm and grace
fulness of form. There is some truth in the notion, as in most adages; but if
the pictures of Cranach are to be accepted as the criterion, then German paint
ing is the opposite of all that has been conventionally urged against it.
for instance, could one find a portrait of a child, which, if placed beside the
Saxonian Prince, would stand the test of point-by-point comparison? Not in
French painting where the reading of character is sacrificed to formal ele
not in Italian art which is all on the side of the high and mighty; not
in Great Britain where structure is compromised by sentiment-nowhere ex
cept in those wonderful portraits which Rubens painted of his own children.
For the little Prince, in clear-cut, straightforward drawing,
is only a step be
hind Diirer and Holbein; and in delicacy of workmanship, sympathetic under
standing of personality, and rarest of all-in the most sensitive shades of pure
charm-it makes no concessions to the child studies of any painter.
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Cranach has been a misrepresented master. His flexuous, large-brewed
nudes have been used against him by all sorts of people to whom humor in
nudity is equivalent to lewdness or the debasing of classical standards.
the man was an artist of the first rank, and the charm of his personality was
expressed in his varied art with the tenderness and affection that endeared
him to the great Emperor at the Augsburg conference, to the unbending Elec
tors, the court, and the women and children of the court.
Only less gifted than
his two great countrymen, he was eminent in all departments of painting from
religious subjects to portraits of human beings and animals. According to a
friend and admirer, his paintings of stags “were so natural that strange hounds
barked when they saw them.”
And in all his work and his fame, he remained
an honest, industrious German, incapable of the omnipotent detachment of
Holbein, and gracing all his characters with his own quiet personality.
the little Prince, portrait likeness that it undoubtedly is, has the family re
semblance-the wide brow and the small mouth and chin that he painted into
a type to express the charm of his own spirit.