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Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“An ill-matched Pair” by Lucas Cranach the Elder

"An ill-matched Pair" by Lucas Cranach the Elder

“An ill-matched Pair” by Lucas Cranach the Elder

“An ill-matched Pair” by Lucas Cranach the Elder shows an old man with a white beard wearing a rich fur-trimmed cloak, holding hands and embracing a much young lady. The caricature-like distorted face of the older man is the image lecherousness. He is embracing a noticeably young woman, and the relationship could be interpreted as a harlot and her client, but it could also be a marriage of convenience. The lack of explicit erotic undertone points to an image of a couple.

The subject of couples of different ages has a long tradition and was a favourite theme during the Lutheran Reformation. Cranach illustrated this topic in several paintings. This scene has a moralistic bent as it depicts the man lusting after a younger woman and the woman, with her very tilted eyes staring at the viewer, is indicating that she is aware of the “ill-match” and is planning to take advantage of her wealthier partner.

The theme of the ill-matched couples, which had its most significant popularity in the 1500s was a combination of a secular genre art and the religious representations of vices.  The artist, who was a good friend of Martin Luther, was also reinforcing the Lutheran assertion that “marriage is best among equals”. Cranach and his studio repeatedly took up this theme.

Many artists have depicted the theme of marriage between people of differing age. Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer, Cranach and Goya dedicated works and studies to this subject. The representation of an older man marrying a younger woman is more common, but there are depicts of the opposite, a rich older woman marrying a young man.

Trophy Wife

The modern term for this 500-year-old depiction could be “Trophy wife” which refers to a wife who is regarded as a status symbol for the husband. Today, the term is often used in a derogatory or disparaging way and is in some ways synonymous with the term gold digger. A trophy wife is young and attractive, while the husband is often older or unattractive and usually wealthy.

Referring to a spouse as a trophy wife usually reflects negatively on the character of both parties. For the husband, it has a connotation of narcissism and the need to impress others, and that the husband would not be able to attract the sexual interest of the attractive woman for any reason apart from his wealth.

Lucas Cranach the Elder

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553) was a German Renaissance painter and printmaker in woodcut and engraving. He was court painter to the Electors of Saxony and is famous for his portraits of German princes and those of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, whose cause he embraced. He was a close friend of Martin Luther, and he is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

Cranach also painted religious subjects, first in the Catholic tradition, and then later trying to find new ways of conveying Lutheran religious concerns in art. Cranach had a large workshop, and many of his works exist in different versions. His son Lucas Cranach the Younger and others continued to create versions of his works for decades after his death. He is considered the most successful German artist of his time.

Reflections

  • What title would you give this painting?
  • Is this title appropriate?
  • Has it always been thus?

An ill-matched Pair

  • Title:               An ill-matched Pair
  • Artist:              Lucas Cranach the Elder
  • Date:              1530
  • Medium:        Painting on on lime
  • Dimensions:   Height: 86.7 cm (34.1 ″); Width: 58.5 cm (23 ″)
  • Museum:        Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Lucas Cranach the Elder

Explore Germany’s Museums

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German Proverbs and Quotes

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“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home,
and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

– Martin Luther

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Photo Credit: 1)Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain]

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