Born in the Frankish city of Kronach, Lucas Cranach was summoned to the court of the Saxon elector in Wittenberg in 1504. His date of birth is generally accepted as 1472, but little is known about his biography and work before his appointment 33 years later as court painter in Wittenberg. He is known to have lived in Vienna as early as 1498, where he was in close contact with Humanists at the university, and these connections may have led to his appointment by the elector Frederick the Wise. First mentioned in the inventory of Vienna’s Abbey of the Scots in 1800, the present Crucifixion is the first work that can be clearly attributed to the painter. It is conspicuously different from the works he was to create in Wittenberg only a short time later. Here Cranach sticks to a symmetrically arranged Crucifixion group of the traditional type but “dramatises” the scene by creating formal equality between the human figures and their vegetal surroundings. Nervous brush strokes are juxtaposed to soft outlines; detailed coloration and balanced lighting create a unified impression in the final image. In its delineation, the unusually dear depiction of the tortured body of Christ corresponds with parts of the vegetation in the background. Because of these characteristics, the present painting is regarded as a forerunner of the so-called Danube school of painting, of which Albrecht Altdorfer became the most prominent exponent. The painting probably also includes a reference to Cranach’s earlier stay in Poland: it has recently been suggested that the attire of the group at the right is that of Polish-Lithuanian horsemen. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


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