Cranach’s artistic confession of faith

We had been discussing Lucas Cranach’s seal of the winged serpent, crowned with a ring, and what it might mean.  Thanks to Tom Hering for digging up this scholarly article by Wayne Martin, professor of philosophy of the University of Essex, who offers a reading of the artist’s “Eden” in the Courtald Gallery in England.  As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but  that meaning was rendered visually.  Prof. Martin points out that Cranach this time puts his signature seal not at the bottom in a corner, where it usually goes, but right on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  (You can just make it out below the snake.)  The squiggly curves of the stylized seal are echoed in the similar squiggly curves of the snake and in the curls of Eve’s hair.  Thus, the artist is identifying himself with temptation and with sin.  But those squiggles are also echoed in the vine, laden with grapes, a symbol of Christ (“I am the vine”): specifically, His sacrificial blood as given for us in Holy Communion (“This is my blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins”).  In the painting, the vine covers Adam and Eve’s nakedness, just as Christ’s blood covers the sinfulness of Lucas Cranach and all of us.

Prof. Martin doesn’t quite understand the Gospel of the evangelical Reformation.  He professes “shock” that a pious Christian would “identify himself with evil.”  Like many people he assumes that being a Christian means being good, rather than facing up to one’s true sinfulness and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.  He is also confused about different covenants and the pre-lapsarian state.  Still, even despite himself,  he discerns Cranach’s ubiquitous theme of Law and Gospel.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Stephen

    “As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but that meaning was rendered visually.”

    Art is always “charged with meaning” Dr. Veith. It is made by humans. And that meaning is rendered visually. The visual language may be one that is not immediately apparent, but this statement sounds like a tautology. Of course it is rendered visually. Maybe you mean something regarding art of that time as being iconographic and illustrative of narrative texts. It seems like a prejudice squeaking out there. Let’s just say it – Picasso’s work is boring! But as an artist who shifted perceptions, his work is meaningful.

    Anyway, look what’s for sale at Christie’s!

    http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/LotDetailsPrintable.aspx?intObjectID=4752126

  • Stephen

    “As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but that meaning was rendered visually.”

    Art is always “charged with meaning” Dr. Veith. It is made by humans. And that meaning is rendered visually. The visual language may be one that is not immediately apparent, but this statement sounds like a tautology. Of course it is rendered visually. Maybe you mean something regarding art of that time as being iconographic and illustrative of narrative texts. It seems like a prejudice squeaking out there. Let’s just say it – Picasso’s work is boring! But as an artist who shifted perceptions, his work is meaningful.

    Anyway, look what’s for sale at Christie’s!

    http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/LotDetailsPrintable.aspx?intObjectID=4752126

  • Tom Hering

    Stephen, I think it can be said that in the art of Cranach’s time, just about every element in a painting was deliberately symbolic (employing symbolic language from sources like the Bible, alchemy, Greek and Roman mythology, etc.). So I think it can also be said that in the art of Cranach’s time, the painter supplied meaning, whereas in modern art – with its love of line and form and color for their own sake – it’s often up to the viewer to supply their own meaning.

  • Tom Hering

    Stephen, I think it can be said that in the art of Cranach’s time, just about every element in a painting was deliberately symbolic (employing symbolic language from sources like the Bible, alchemy, Greek and Roman mythology, etc.). So I think it can also be said that in the art of Cranach’s time, the painter supplied meaning, whereas in modern art – with its love of line and form and color for their own sake – it’s often up to the viewer to supply their own meaning.

  • Stephen

    Tom -

    Hmmm. Maybe. I’m not denying a “break” between how art functioned then as opposed to now (unpacking that takes a library). But I’m not sure that I would define it like that.

    I get what you are saying about the art/artist “supplying” meaning. The iconography was a language people knew and shared. they didn’t need a docent at the museum or a gallery director or art critic. This is about a change in context, not whether art is meaningful or not.

    In our context, we can bring meaning to a work and say “I like it because it looks like my dog” or “this mess of layered images is how I feel about the world too” and that is that. It is highly subjective and individualistic in this sense for viewer and artist. I agree. We are “allowed” to do that now. We decode our existence that way. Art reflects that. This is really only a shift in context it seems to me, from shared (or eternal) meaning to the personal and existential.

    As for art itself, it is still not so different now as then. This kind of contextual shift itself carries and is “charged” with all kinds of cultural meaning. Artists know this. Viewers may be confused by it, but that is also a sign that meaning is available in the work that speaks to our fragmented context. It is why art is so upsetting.

    I think perhaps the academy (art is something that must be thought about a great deal) and the gallery mentality (art as commodity) are responsible for the break that we feel. Again, a shift in context. Art, however, is still doing what it has always done – reflect the times in which it is made.

  • Stephen

    Tom -

    Hmmm. Maybe. I’m not denying a “break” between how art functioned then as opposed to now (unpacking that takes a library). But I’m not sure that I would define it like that.

    I get what you are saying about the art/artist “supplying” meaning. The iconography was a language people knew and shared. they didn’t need a docent at the museum or a gallery director or art critic. This is about a change in context, not whether art is meaningful or not.

    In our context, we can bring meaning to a work and say “I like it because it looks like my dog” or “this mess of layered images is how I feel about the world too” and that is that. It is highly subjective and individualistic in this sense for viewer and artist. I agree. We are “allowed” to do that now. We decode our existence that way. Art reflects that. This is really only a shift in context it seems to me, from shared (or eternal) meaning to the personal and existential.

    As for art itself, it is still not so different now as then. This kind of contextual shift itself carries and is “charged” with all kinds of cultural meaning. Artists know this. Viewers may be confused by it, but that is also a sign that meaning is available in the work that speaks to our fragmented context. It is why art is so upsetting.

    I think perhaps the academy (art is something that must be thought about a great deal) and the gallery mentality (art as commodity) are responsible for the break that we feel. Again, a shift in context. Art, however, is still doing what it has always done – reflect the times in which it is made.

  • Stephen

    Also, even being iconoclastic can be deliberate and thus meaningful. Pollock was deliberately working to smash through the formal aspects of painting, but what did he end up with? A painting. A deliberately random one perhaps, but a painting. I look at them and I still see the marks of a human. Andy Warhol wanted to strip his work of that “hand” but he still ended up with the human who sees the world through advertising that is drained of that touch. Yet, it is all deliberate, and all human, and there is intention and meaning that it carries.

  • Stephen

    Also, even being iconoclastic can be deliberate and thus meaningful. Pollock was deliberately working to smash through the formal aspects of painting, but what did he end up with? A painting. A deliberately random one perhaps, but a painting. I look at them and I still see the marks of a human. Andy Warhol wanted to strip his work of that “hand” but he still ended up with the human who sees the world through advertising that is drained of that touch. Yet, it is all deliberate, and all human, and there is intention and meaning that it carries.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    I’m liking Cranach more and more –
    BTW-while at the Sistine Chapel-learned that Michelangelo was very attuned to the Reformation and that his works demonstrated his outlook-I noticed several ‘hidden messages’ and the guide pointed out several…
    Artists are still valuable today-too bad art and music are the first to go in schools when there are budget cuts…

    as to your post below-religious persecution is everywhere here in the US and has been for a long time–
    some are finally standing up:
    http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/pro-lifers-take-on-naral-pro-death-dark.html
    C-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    I’m liking Cranach more and more –
    BTW-while at the Sistine Chapel-learned that Michelangelo was very attuned to the Reformation and that his works demonstrated his outlook-I noticed several ‘hidden messages’ and the guide pointed out several…
    Artists are still valuable today-too bad art and music are the first to go in schools when there are budget cuts…

    as to your post below-religious persecution is everywhere here in the US and has been for a long time–
    some are finally standing up:
    http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/pro-lifers-take-on-naral-pro-death-dark.html
    C-CS

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Stephen, I was anticipating the objection that “oh, those are just squiggly lines. This guy is reading too much into them.” I was also distinguishing between the art of Cranach’s day and that of today’s formalist critics, who do just reduce meaning (a term they might still use) to self-referential formal arrangements. I guess I could have said “referential meaning,” the notion that art refers to something outside itself. And of course we would argue that it does, you and me both not being formalists, but a lot of critics and artists resist that, even though their very rejection of external meaning is a statement of meaning.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Stephen, I was anticipating the objection that “oh, those are just squiggly lines. This guy is reading too much into them.” I was also distinguishing between the art of Cranach’s day and that of today’s formalist critics, who do just reduce meaning (a term they might still use) to self-referential formal arrangements. I guess I could have said “referential meaning,” the notion that art refers to something outside itself. And of course we would argue that it does, you and me both not being formalists, but a lot of critics and artists resist that, even though their very rejection of external meaning is a statement of meaning.

  • Stephen

    Dr. Veith,

    ” . . . even though their very rejection of external meaning is a statement of meaning.”

    Yes, the formalist wants to have it both ways. We do agree. A whole lot of it is either self-delusion or simply hype perhaps – all of which is a reflection of the context that is being denied. The strict formalist, to my mind, is lying in his assessment of the work. But then what was it Picasso said?

    “Art is a lie that reveals the truth.”

    Otherwise, as far as Picasso’s work goes, he puts me to sleep.

  • Stephen

    Dr. Veith,

    ” . . . even though their very rejection of external meaning is a statement of meaning.”

    Yes, the formalist wants to have it both ways. We do agree. A whole lot of it is either self-delusion or simply hype perhaps – all of which is a reflection of the context that is being denied. The strict formalist, to my mind, is lying in his assessment of the work. But then what was it Picasso said?

    “Art is a lie that reveals the truth.”

    Otherwise, as far as Picasso’s work goes, he puts me to sleep.

  • Stephen

    Almost forgot . . .

    Thanks for the new Cranach portrait on the sidebar! Nice and vivid. And I like the brown too.

    Cheers!

  • Stephen

    Almost forgot . . .

    Thanks for the new Cranach portrait on the sidebar! Nice and vivid. And I like the brown too.

    Cheers!

  • Joanne

    Painting as a craft was used to document and to teach. There was always money available for this, until photography took over th0se functions of image making. Modern art is a reaction to the photograph, trying to do with the old arts what photography still cannot do. I can think of Picasso trying to paint all views of a woman’s face on one plane. Perhaps someone has written a paper indicating that the abstraction in modern art has increased in tandem with the technical capabilities of photography. Is computer graphics and computer assisted painting, having an effect on high art painting?
    In Cranach’s studio, the painting of a portrait had to look like the sitter and had to be seen to look like the sitter to all his/her family and colleagues. Cranach documented the aging of Luther from the shaved-headed friar to the old man, in the year of his death, through many portraits. Cranach even did the death mask, didn’t he? There is a large Cranach painting of a hunting party at Hartenfels in honor of Emperor Charles V with perhaps 30 persons in it. All are court personages and would be documented right down to the buckles on their belts. If Tante Emma can’t find herself in the painting, there will be complaints. Oh, it’s art, but it better document in a very recognizable way.
    This Cranach painting of Adam and Eve teaches thus following Luther’s teaching that the didactic was the best use of art in the Church. Art should teach us something. But do we need high art, expensive art, a famous artist to do what a graphic artist could do just as well? Hum, a graphic novel could teach as well as a painting, but is it just as well. Large posters, banners could teach just as well, but really? I think it’s a matter of who the donor is. If you’re a duke, then you give high art. If you’re the ladies guild you give a banner on burlap.
    Interestingly, photography has not become a major art form used in the church. However, modern abstract art has with it’s lack of iconography and doubtful didactics. Maybe this mosaic of shards of sharp glass makes an image of a crowned Christ, and maybe it doesn’t. How do you feel about that? Teaching art but you have to work it out like a puzzle and bring more knowledge to the game.
    That sounds like Cranach’s Adam and Eve too, though, doesn’t it, but there is still the surface, simple lesson that we all learn at first sight. So, it’s ok for the art to have depth, as long as the simple lesson is taught first for all.

  • Joanne

    Painting as a craft was used to document and to teach. There was always money available for this, until photography took over th0se functions of image making. Modern art is a reaction to the photograph, trying to do with the old arts what photography still cannot do. I can think of Picasso trying to paint all views of a woman’s face on one plane. Perhaps someone has written a paper indicating that the abstraction in modern art has increased in tandem with the technical capabilities of photography. Is computer graphics and computer assisted painting, having an effect on high art painting?
    In Cranach’s studio, the painting of a portrait had to look like the sitter and had to be seen to look like the sitter to all his/her family and colleagues. Cranach documented the aging of Luther from the shaved-headed friar to the old man, in the year of his death, through many portraits. Cranach even did the death mask, didn’t he? There is a large Cranach painting of a hunting party at Hartenfels in honor of Emperor Charles V with perhaps 30 persons in it. All are court personages and would be documented right down to the buckles on their belts. If Tante Emma can’t find herself in the painting, there will be complaints. Oh, it’s art, but it better document in a very recognizable way.
    This Cranach painting of Adam and Eve teaches thus following Luther’s teaching that the didactic was the best use of art in the Church. Art should teach us something. But do we need high art, expensive art, a famous artist to do what a graphic artist could do just as well? Hum, a graphic novel could teach as well as a painting, but is it just as well. Large posters, banners could teach just as well, but really? I think it’s a matter of who the donor is. If you’re a duke, then you give high art. If you’re the ladies guild you give a banner on burlap.
    Interestingly, photography has not become a major art form used in the church. However, modern abstract art has with it’s lack of iconography and doubtful didactics. Maybe this mosaic of shards of sharp glass makes an image of a crowned Christ, and maybe it doesn’t. How do you feel about that? Teaching art but you have to work it out like a puzzle and bring more knowledge to the game.
    That sounds like Cranach’s Adam and Eve too, though, doesn’t it, but there is still the surface, simple lesson that we all learn at first sight. So, it’s ok for the art to have depth, as long as the simple lesson is taught first for all.

  • Stephen

    Joanne,

    Interestingly, photography has not become a major art form used in the church. However, modern abstract art has with it’s lack of iconography and doubtful didactics. Maybe this mosaic of shards of sharp glass makes an image of a crowned Christ, and maybe it doesn’t. How do you feel about that? Teaching art but you have to work it out like a puzzle and bring more knowledge to the game.
    That sounds like Cranach’s Adam and Eve too, though, doesn’t it, but there is still the surface, simple lesson that we all learn at first sight. So, it’s ok for the art to have depth, as long as the simple lesson is taught first for all.

    Photography and video are now becoming prevalent with the advent of the screen in the sanctuary. The surface, and thus thing itself – the art object – are dismissed for yet another layer of simulacrum. For me, this is a kind of disembodied use of art, almost gnostic in sensibility. Literary and didactic purposes can be overcome.

    For me, I would rather have the encounter of materials and surfaces that are touched and crafted by human beings, and to know that they are, rather than to be so caught up in the image and its value in terms of “likeness.” I see what you mean in terms of its functionality on one level, and perhaps some viewer expectations that are culturally normed (I think). But I think glass shards in themselves, as a material, can have metaphorical qualities. I’m not sure in what sense this is more complicated to employ for teaching than a Sunday School illustration. In fact, I would argue that there is potentially a great deal more there to draw upon for teaching rather than images that are completely obvious they can be also easily dismissed.

    Maybe the simple lesson is the presence of the work itself. It kind of encourages and invites inquiry and engagement. But then if we are talking about art for the church, perhaps we are talking about doctrine. If so, is there any manifest doctrine in beauty, ugliness, chaos, asymmetry, symmetry, colors, surfaces, spacial arrangements, geometry, scale, light and dark?

    I have been thinking about Mark Rothko today after getting on to this topic. The Rothko Chapel is full of philosophical and theological themes. For me, it is an attempt to escape the body via the detached mind, to transcend, and yet, it practically screams “I am a human being in a body, and I am dying.” It is sort of annihilating and exultant at the same time. Great place for Good Friday service maybe. And he did all that without and iconography. Well, sort of. The whole thing is one big piece of iconography, one you move around in and “feel.”

    By the way, why do we always set “feelings” off to one side and want to make language or words prior? Is that a bible thing, a kind of biblicism aimed at art? The Word was in the beginning, but that is the second person of the Trinity, not words or language.

    Oh well, I’m babbling.

  • Stephen

    Joanne,

    Interestingly, photography has not become a major art form used in the church. However, modern abstract art has with it’s lack of iconography and doubtful didactics. Maybe this mosaic of shards of sharp glass makes an image of a crowned Christ, and maybe it doesn’t. How do you feel about that? Teaching art but you have to work it out like a puzzle and bring more knowledge to the game.
    That sounds like Cranach’s Adam and Eve too, though, doesn’t it, but there is still the surface, simple lesson that we all learn at first sight. So, it’s ok for the art to have depth, as long as the simple lesson is taught first for all.

    Photography and video are now becoming prevalent with the advent of the screen in the sanctuary. The surface, and thus thing itself – the art object – are dismissed for yet another layer of simulacrum. For me, this is a kind of disembodied use of art, almost gnostic in sensibility. Literary and didactic purposes can be overcome.

    For me, I would rather have the encounter of materials and surfaces that are touched and crafted by human beings, and to know that they are, rather than to be so caught up in the image and its value in terms of “likeness.” I see what you mean in terms of its functionality on one level, and perhaps some viewer expectations that are culturally normed (I think). But I think glass shards in themselves, as a material, can have metaphorical qualities. I’m not sure in what sense this is more complicated to employ for teaching than a Sunday School illustration. In fact, I would argue that there is potentially a great deal more there to draw upon for teaching rather than images that are completely obvious they can be also easily dismissed.

    Maybe the simple lesson is the presence of the work itself. It kind of encourages and invites inquiry and engagement. But then if we are talking about art for the church, perhaps we are talking about doctrine. If so, is there any manifest doctrine in beauty, ugliness, chaos, asymmetry, symmetry, colors, surfaces, spacial arrangements, geometry, scale, light and dark?

    I have been thinking about Mark Rothko today after getting on to this topic. The Rothko Chapel is full of philosophical and theological themes. For me, it is an attempt to escape the body via the detached mind, to transcend, and yet, it practically screams “I am a human being in a body, and I am dying.” It is sort of annihilating and exultant at the same time. Great place for Good Friday service maybe. And he did all that without and iconography. Well, sort of. The whole thing is one big piece of iconography, one you move around in and “feel.”

    By the way, why do we always set “feelings” off to one side and want to make language or words prior? Is that a bible thing, a kind of biblicism aimed at art? The Word was in the beginning, but that is the second person of the Trinity, not words or language.

    Oh well, I’m babbling.

  • Joanne

    Stephen,
    I’ve only ever thought of the electronic screens in churches as communication devices, but you have pushed me to think. There is much use of landscape photography in ephemera such as church bulletins. But, a for instance, imagine the Cranach painting as a photograph of real people and animals; then imagine it placed high up in an assemblage forming a tall altar piece composed entirely of photographs of similar bible story photographs. That’s what I’d mean by the use of photography as art in the church.

  • Joanne

    Stephen,
    I’ve only ever thought of the electronic screens in churches as communication devices, but you have pushed me to think. There is much use of landscape photography in ephemera such as church bulletins. But, a for instance, imagine the Cranach painting as a photograph of real people and animals; then imagine it placed high up in an assemblage forming a tall altar piece composed entirely of photographs of similar bible story photographs. That’s what I’d mean by the use of photography as art in the church.

  • Robert Hagedorn

    Adam and Eve? Do a search: First Scandal.

  • Robert Hagedorn

    Adam and Eve? Do a search: First Scandal.

  • Stephen

    Joanne -

    We may have blown right by that kind of thing with these screens popping up in every sanctuary. I see what you mean though. Anything is possible. It requires a pastor who is capable with art to shepherd that vocation. I haven’t seen that a lot, certainly not in the way the new screens are being used.

    I have always dreamed of a Lutheran graduate school of visual art that was part of a seminary or near one, similar to the music programs that are offered.

    Hint: Don’t do a search

  • Stephen

    Joanne -

    We may have blown right by that kind of thing with these screens popping up in every sanctuary. I see what you mean though. Anything is possible. It requires a pastor who is capable with art to shepherd that vocation. I haven’t seen that a lot, certainly not in the way the new screens are being used.

    I have always dreamed of a Lutheran graduate school of visual art that was part of a seminary or near one, similar to the music programs that are offered.

    Hint: Don’t do a search

  • helen

    Stephen @10
    I have been thinking about Mark Rothko today after getting on to this topic

    I never visited Rothco Chapel but on one occasion I went with a group to see a large room full of his very large canvases. They all were done in horizontal bands, the earliest ones in several colors. As he progressed from one to the next, the colors grew fewer and darker and the very dark band at the top of the first painting descended over each one until the last I remember was almost completely dark with a band of dark red like old blood at the bottom.
    Rothco had died by then and I wondered how his friends could be so immersed in his ‘genius” not to see it coming! [It was suicide, wasn't it?] Sadness permeated that room full of paintings.

  • helen

    Stephen @10
    I have been thinking about Mark Rothko today after getting on to this topic

    I never visited Rothco Chapel but on one occasion I went with a group to see a large room full of his very large canvases. They all were done in horizontal bands, the earliest ones in several colors. As he progressed from one to the next, the colors grew fewer and darker and the very dark band at the top of the first painting descended over each one until the last I remember was almost completely dark with a band of dark red like old blood at the bottom.
    Rothco had died by then and I wondered how his friends could be so immersed in his ‘genius” not to see it coming! [It was suicide, wasn't it?] Sadness permeated that room full of paintings.

  • Stephen

    Helen,

    Yes, Rothko killed himself. He never saw his chapel completed either. It is a brutal, blunt and beautiful piece. I’m sure it is bewildering and perhaps even appalling to some. Some might be confused or disturbed and not be able to say why. Others might simply “not get it” and think no more about it. It has the feel of cemetery somewhat, but even those can be peaceful and quite beautiful. We certainly bring things to art and come away with other things. Rothko was Jewish, and yet there is for me a distinct “cruciformity” to that work, all be it one that does not know how to speak of a real, incarnate hope.

    Go see it! And by the way, I think we are now attending your church. Maybe we should meet some time.

  • Stephen

    Helen,

    Yes, Rothko killed himself. He never saw his chapel completed either. It is a brutal, blunt and beautiful piece. I’m sure it is bewildering and perhaps even appalling to some. Some might be confused or disturbed and not be able to say why. Others might simply “not get it” and think no more about it. It has the feel of cemetery somewhat, but even those can be peaceful and quite beautiful. We certainly bring things to art and come away with other things. Rothko was Jewish, and yet there is for me a distinct “cruciformity” to that work, all be it one that does not know how to speak of a real, incarnate hope.

    Go see it! And by the way, I think we are now attending your church. Maybe we should meet some time.

  • Stephen

    Some things I spot in Cranach’s picture:

    The picture plane is cut in two by the tree. This device is used in several ways I think to lay out some themes.

    The lion and the lamb are “divided” presaging Revelations when they will lie down together again. The lion stares right at the viewer. Perhaps this is an indication of wrath or fear, of the violence and torment unleashed by sin. The lamb, of course, is passive, pure and innocent. Notice its posture reflected in the fawn to the right bottom.

    The family is represented by the deer with parents and offspring also divided. This could say a number of things – the human family is not doomed and will continue, and yet there will be divisions. One head up and the other down on the fawns may be an indication of something like the strife between brothers Cain and Abel, but it may also go deeper. One eats and is unaware (like the lamb) and the other is alert – one keeps watch while the other is oblivious? Maybe this is the simul justus et peccator. I think so, and the lamb to the left reflects the oblivious “sinner” which it will one day redeem/replace – new creation/old Adam.

    The stage’s horn frames the Adam’s genitals. This may be indicating the coming of the Messiah, the new Adam. Notice that the leaves covering the genitals are grape leaves – redemption covering shame, another allusion to Christ. The vine itself springs from the root of the tree – out of sin and death God brings new life.

    The stork that Eve’s toe is pointing to is a symbol for Christ as well. They were believed to pierce their own flesh and feed their young on their blood. This is a fairly common symbol from the middle ages.

    The hog, I think, is some kind of indication of ritual uncleanliness. It also points to the Jew and the purity codes and outward keeping of the law which will be done away with in Christ.

    The white horse in the background is, I think, a symbol for the Virgin Mary. Eve’s hair points to her, and the fact that she is far in the distance seems to indicate time. Erwin Panofsky, perhaps the greatest iconologist and my favorite art historian next to Leo Steinberg, has a book on the symbolism of perspective. I’ve not read it yet, but I’m guessing he would agree. The horse is also “within” the garden that is now behind Adam and Eve. That’s what I see.

    The opposite hands on the Adam and Eve are saying a lot I think. Adam scratches his head. He is accessing his reason. Notice also that the fruit is pushed into his side of the plane, as if to say the sin is on him. His reason fails him.

    Eve grasps the tree. At the end of the branch are three pieces of fruit – the Trinity and hence, the tree becomes the cross. I get the feeling that Cranach is saying something about the good creation being “preserved” in the feminine. The “fruit” borne on the tree will be the same fruit that is born in the womb – thus the white horse completing a little self-referential circle. Her gesture indicates faith/gospel, while Adam’s indicates reason/law.

    There is a bird at the bottom center that may be some kind of Holy Spirit symbol, but it is hard to make out. That is the easy interpretation, but with any of this, there are layers of meaning.

    There is another water bird of some sort at the bottom right under the fawns. I’m thinking Baptism. The beak points at the oblivious fawn, the “peccator” in the representation.

    That’s it.

  • Stephen

    Some things I spot in Cranach’s picture:

    The picture plane is cut in two by the tree. This device is used in several ways I think to lay out some themes.

    The lion and the lamb are “divided” presaging Revelations when they will lie down together again. The lion stares right at the viewer. Perhaps this is an indication of wrath or fear, of the violence and torment unleashed by sin. The lamb, of course, is passive, pure and innocent. Notice its posture reflected in the fawn to the right bottom.

    The family is represented by the deer with parents and offspring also divided. This could say a number of things – the human family is not doomed and will continue, and yet there will be divisions. One head up and the other down on the fawns may be an indication of something like the strife between brothers Cain and Abel, but it may also go deeper. One eats and is unaware (like the lamb) and the other is alert – one keeps watch while the other is oblivious? Maybe this is the simul justus et peccator. I think so, and the lamb to the left reflects the oblivious “sinner” which it will one day redeem/replace – new creation/old Adam.

    The stage’s horn frames the Adam’s genitals. This may be indicating the coming of the Messiah, the new Adam. Notice that the leaves covering the genitals are grape leaves – redemption covering shame, another allusion to Christ. The vine itself springs from the root of the tree – out of sin and death God brings new life.

    The stork that Eve’s toe is pointing to is a symbol for Christ as well. They were believed to pierce their own flesh and feed their young on their blood. This is a fairly common symbol from the middle ages.

    The hog, I think, is some kind of indication of ritual uncleanliness. It also points to the Jew and the purity codes and outward keeping of the law which will be done away with in Christ.

    The white horse in the background is, I think, a symbol for the Virgin Mary. Eve’s hair points to her, and the fact that she is far in the distance seems to indicate time. Erwin Panofsky, perhaps the greatest iconologist and my favorite art historian next to Leo Steinberg, has a book on the symbolism of perspective. I’ve not read it yet, but I’m guessing he would agree. The horse is also “within” the garden that is now behind Adam and Eve. That’s what I see.

    The opposite hands on the Adam and Eve are saying a lot I think. Adam scratches his head. He is accessing his reason. Notice also that the fruit is pushed into his side of the plane, as if to say the sin is on him. His reason fails him.

    Eve grasps the tree. At the end of the branch are three pieces of fruit – the Trinity and hence, the tree becomes the cross. I get the feeling that Cranach is saying something about the good creation being “preserved” in the feminine. The “fruit” borne on the tree will be the same fruit that is born in the womb – thus the white horse completing a little self-referential circle. Her gesture indicates faith/gospel, while Adam’s indicates reason/law.

    There is a bird at the bottom center that may be some kind of Holy Spirit symbol, but it is hard to make out. That is the easy interpretation, but with any of this, there are layers of meaning.

    There is another water bird of some sort at the bottom right under the fawns. I’m thinking Baptism. The beak points at the oblivious fawn, the “peccator” in the representation.

    That’s it.

  • helen

    http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2007/cranach/meaning.shtml

    This is a page about the animals and their meaning (according to someone who writes for the gallery?) which has close up’s of a few I hadn’t seen clearly, e.g., the heron at lower right and a pair of [quail]?
    The enlargements of facets of the painting stop just short of the signature. :(
    The head down fawn is drinking from the pool in the foreground (which I did not recognize in the picture above).

    I had taken the boar for a young hippo, but I am outvoted. ;)

    It’s the pelican which is depicted as feeding her young from her breast…
    possibly because she does feed them from her bill sac on her breast?

  • helen

    http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2007/cranach/meaning.shtml

    This is a page about the animals and their meaning (according to someone who writes for the gallery?) which has close up’s of a few I hadn’t seen clearly, e.g., the heron at lower right and a pair of [quail]?
    The enlargements of facets of the painting stop just short of the signature. :(
    The head down fawn is drinking from the pool in the foreground (which I did not recognize in the picture above).

    I had taken the boar for a young hippo, but I am outvoted. ;)

    It’s the pelican which is depicted as feeding her young from her breast…
    possibly because she does feed them from her bill sac on her breast?

  • Lou

    Perhaps, I’m a legalist or a fundy whacko, but this portrait reveals too much for my eyes. Sorry. (Ducking).

  • Lou

    Perhaps, I’m a legalist or a fundy whacko, but this portrait reveals too much for my eyes. Sorry. (Ducking).

  • helen

    Welcome, Stephen,
    I’m at early service, most Sundays.
    Try Adult Bible class if you go late.
    It’s usually worth it (whether or not you find me.) :)

  • helen

    Welcome, Stephen,
    I’m at early service, most Sundays.
    Try Adult Bible class if you go late.
    It’s usually worth it (whether or not you find me.) :)

  • Stephen

    Oh well, I guess I’m all wet on my interpretations perhaps. I was off on the animals, but in my defense (now that I may have completely discredited myself) I think I got the hand gestures somewhat correct. And I still think there is something to be made of the grape leaves, the way the genitals are framed, and the way the picture plane is divided to create dichotomies and indicate relationships. A lot there.

    Here’s an article by art historian Andrew Graham Dixon, another Brit, who seems to have studied there at the Courtland Institute of Art. He seems to indicate this picture is less than purely religious but a bit of soft-porn even for wealthy patrons who still want to feel okay about it. Lou @18 may have a point. So it goes with art historians and interpretation. They tend to be malleable. And the art itself lends itself to layers of meaning.

    http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/511

    Helen – we go to the early worship too. We’re often late.

  • Stephen

    Oh well, I guess I’m all wet on my interpretations perhaps. I was off on the animals, but in my defense (now that I may have completely discredited myself) I think I got the hand gestures somewhat correct. And I still think there is something to be made of the grape leaves, the way the genitals are framed, and the way the picture plane is divided to create dichotomies and indicate relationships. A lot there.

    Here’s an article by art historian Andrew Graham Dixon, another Brit, who seems to have studied there at the Courtland Institute of Art. He seems to indicate this picture is less than purely religious but a bit of soft-porn even for wealthy patrons who still want to feel okay about it. Lou @18 may have a point. So it goes with art historians and interpretation. They tend to be malleable. And the art itself lends itself to layers of meaning.

    http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/511

    Helen – we go to the early worship too. We’re often late.

  • Tom Hering

    Soft porn? That says too much. I think the narrower understanding of “marital aid” is probably closer to the truth (whether a Cranach painting’s subject matter was Christian or pagan). It was one of the aims of the Reformation to sanctify marriage, and the sex drive within marriage. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Cranach’s paintings not only provide stimulation for a husband (pretty women) but also for a wife (handsome men). And that in the Adam and Eve and Cupid and Venus paintings (though not the Apollo and Diana paintings) the woman is the dominant figure.

  • Tom Hering

    Soft porn? That says too much. I think the narrower understanding of “marital aid” is probably closer to the truth (whether a Cranach painting’s subject matter was Christian or pagan). It was one of the aims of the Reformation to sanctify marriage, and the sex drive within marriage. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Cranach’s paintings not only provide stimulation for a husband (pretty women) but also for a wife (handsome men). And that in the Adam and Eve and Cupid and Venus paintings (though not the Apollo and Diana paintings) the woman is the dominant figure.

  • Tom Hering

    The stag’s horn perfectly frames Adam’s genitals, and mimics what can’t be seen. No accident there, and the symbolism is obvious. Be fruitful and multiply in marriage. Like the animals all around the couple.

  • Tom Hering

    The stag’s horn perfectly frames Adam’s genitals, and mimics what can’t be seen. No accident there, and the symbolism is obvious. Be fruitful and multiply in marriage. Like the animals all around the couple.

  • Stephen

    Tom

    Not saying I agree, but to point out that art historical assessments can be all over the map. Even the pros see what they want to see and leave out other things. Art history seems like an argument for the meaning of the past, and nothing is set in stone. It’s all interpretations, some are more informed, but they are all informed and biased by whatever the source materials are at hand.

    I think there is more going on with Adam’s genitals framed by the stag horn. I think there is an indication of the Incarnation here – that from Adam’s loins will come the promised redemption that will do what the grape leaves are doing. The fact that they are grape leaves as well seems quite significant – Christ int he sacrament forgiving sin, “covering” shame, etc. Notice also that the vine itself points to something similar on Eve’s body.

    If you haven’t read it, you’ve got to read Leo Steinberg’s book “The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion.” He had some stunning insights. He passed away recently. Here’s a great piece by him. check out what he says about DaVinci’s Last Supper. As a Jew, he had some amazing theological understanding of the sacrament.

    http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/06/art/leo

  • Stephen

    Tom

    Not saying I agree, but to point out that art historical assessments can be all over the map. Even the pros see what they want to see and leave out other things. Art history seems like an argument for the meaning of the past, and nothing is set in stone. It’s all interpretations, some are more informed, but they are all informed and biased by whatever the source materials are at hand.

    I think there is more going on with Adam’s genitals framed by the stag horn. I think there is an indication of the Incarnation here – that from Adam’s loins will come the promised redemption that will do what the grape leaves are doing. The fact that they are grape leaves as well seems quite significant – Christ int he sacrament forgiving sin, “covering” shame, etc. Notice also that the vine itself points to something similar on Eve’s body.

    If you haven’t read it, you’ve got to read Leo Steinberg’s book “The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion.” He had some stunning insights. He passed away recently. Here’s a great piece by him. check out what he says about DaVinci’s Last Supper. As a Jew, he had some amazing theological understanding of the sacrament.

    http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/06/art/leo

  • Stephen

    That is, I’m not saying I agree with the “soft porn” thesis. I don’t know much about this historian’s street cred. It sounds like he is a bit of a British celebrity/art personality. Whether half of what he says is authoritative is anyone’s guess I suppose. It is true, however, that he studied at Courtland, so it seems his views might bear some weight and are worth considering.

  • Stephen

    That is, I’m not saying I agree with the “soft porn” thesis. I don’t know much about this historian’s street cred. It sounds like he is a bit of a British celebrity/art personality. Whether half of what he says is authoritative is anyone’s guess I suppose. It is true, however, that he studied at Courtland, so it seems his views might bear some weight and are worth considering.

  • Tom Hering

    Stephen, I think Cranach himself worked on more than one level when it came to meaning. (Don’t you and I as artists?) And that the meanings he put into his paintings weren’t always clear, even to him, until after the fact. (Doesn’t it often work that way for you and me?) So the stag’s antler can symbolize both “the promise of Christ in Adam’s loins” and the command to “be fruitful and multiply” and maybe something else too.

  • Tom Hering

    Stephen, I think Cranach himself worked on more than one level when it came to meaning. (Don’t you and I as artists?) And that the meanings he put into his paintings weren’t always clear, even to him, until after the fact. (Doesn’t it often work that way for you and me?) So the stag’s antler can symbolize both “the promise of Christ in Adam’s loins” and the command to “be fruitful and multiply” and maybe something else too.

  • Tom Hering

    Stephen, I think of the difference between art and design. When I do a design project, I’m quite conscious of and deliberate about meaning. I often want meaning to be singular and unmistakable, because that best serves the client’s need in most cases. But when I do art, I’m in play mode. Even conscious, deliberate attempts at meaning can produce a finished work with wholly different, unintended meanings. With Cranach, whose process involved both the creation of art and commercial product for clients, discerning intention becomes difficult. I think there’s always both play and deliberateness going on, and the critic gets into trouble when he looks for THE overall meaning of a Cranach painting, or THE meaning of an element.

  • Tom Hering

    Stephen, I think of the difference between art and design. When I do a design project, I’m quite conscious of and deliberate about meaning. I often want meaning to be singular and unmistakable, because that best serves the client’s need in most cases. But when I do art, I’m in play mode. Even conscious, deliberate attempts at meaning can produce a finished work with wholly different, unintended meanings. With Cranach, whose process involved both the creation of art and commercial product for clients, discerning intention becomes difficult. I think there’s always both play and deliberateness going on, and the critic gets into trouble when he looks for THE overall meaning of a Cranach painting, or THE meaning of an element.

  • Tom Hering

    In other words, one should be as flexible in one’s understanding of Cranach as Sarah Palin is in her understanding of Paul Revere. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    In other words, one should be as flexible in one’s understanding of Cranach as Sarah Palin is in her understanding of Paul Revere. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Another way to look at it. Language communicates one’s culture through metaphors, painting is a visual language, Cranach’s paintings communicate the changing culture of his time, therefore his visual metaphors are fluid in nature. He wasn’t, in his own time, the official artist of an old establishment, using a set of long-established metaphors. Or at least, he didn’t use them in exactly the same ways they’d always been used. He freshened and expanded them. The Reformation was in process.

  • Tom Hering

    Another way to look at it. Language communicates one’s culture through metaphors, painting is a visual language, Cranach’s paintings communicate the changing culture of his time, therefore his visual metaphors are fluid in nature. He wasn’t, in his own time, the official artist of an old establishment, using a set of long-established metaphors. Or at least, he didn’t use them in exactly the same ways they’d always been used. He freshened and expanded them. The Reformation was in process.

  • Joanne

    Today I have found the ugliest Lutheran church ever built. I will be flying to Hamburg later this week to present the award and make a long speech. The interior and exterior compete for most souless aspect of this Weimar Republic era building. Millions and milliions have been spent to restore this truely historical ugly building before its closing as a church in 2004. It would be a kindness if the city vatern were to disassociate the good name of Bugenhagen from this pile of socialist-realist religious architechtural ar…, ar……, craft.
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugenhagenkirche_(Hamburg-Barmbek)
    (Now tell me this doesn’t look like a factory on the outside and a union meeting hall on the inside with a big statue of Marx waving at us.)
    Yes Stephen, I’m all for a Lutheran Art Institute and a Lutheran Music Conservatory connected to our Seminaries for cross pollinations. We could have art historians that understand the Lutheran reformation and we could have tunas that taste good, er I mean we could have pastors and church workers with good taste.

  • Joanne

    Today I have found the ugliest Lutheran church ever built. I will be flying to Hamburg later this week to present the award and make a long speech. The interior and exterior compete for most souless aspect of this Weimar Republic era building. Millions and milliions have been spent to restore this truely historical ugly building before its closing as a church in 2004. It would be a kindness if the city vatern were to disassociate the good name of Bugenhagen from this pile of socialist-realist religious architechtural ar…, ar……, craft.
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugenhagenkirche_(Hamburg-Barmbek)
    (Now tell me this doesn’t look like a factory on the outside and a union meeting hall on the inside with a big statue of Marx waving at us.)
    Yes Stephen, I’m all for a Lutheran Art Institute and a Lutheran Music Conservatory connected to our Seminaries for cross pollinations. We could have art historians that understand the Lutheran reformation and we could have tunas that taste good, er I mean we could have pastors and church workers with good taste.

  • Stephen

    Joanne,

    That’s a frightening building. I think I would be afraid I would never come out if were to go in there. :)

  • Stephen

    Joanne,

    That’s a frightening building. I think I would be afraid I would never come out if were to go in there. :)

  • Stephen

    Tom -

    I would like to know more about the tastes of the patronage at the time. If you read the article I linked, he says Cranach was cranking this stuff out with assistants, his style being formalized so it could be copied, and that this particular theme was something he repeated for many patrons.

    I think we assume that we understand a lot about what these artist’s intentions were. It does seem, however, that many things were deliberate and formalized. Even if an artist were experimenting and throwing in tacit references that only a few would understand, the main thing was to please patrons.

    We seem to have come full circle in some ways with artists like Jeff Koons who run a shop where he simply has his ideas made for him. He gets faulted for that, or we think it is odd, but it really hearkens back to an earlier time when this was much more common. The idea of the artists as the individual producer is a much newer idea but the one we romanticize, even some of us artists (like me!).

  • Stephen

    Tom -

    I would like to know more about the tastes of the patronage at the time. If you read the article I linked, he says Cranach was cranking this stuff out with assistants, his style being formalized so it could be copied, and that this particular theme was something he repeated for many patrons.

    I think we assume that we understand a lot about what these artist’s intentions were. It does seem, however, that many things were deliberate and formalized. Even if an artist were experimenting and throwing in tacit references that only a few would understand, the main thing was to please patrons.

    We seem to have come full circle in some ways with artists like Jeff Koons who run a shop where he simply has his ideas made for him. He gets faulted for that, or we think it is odd, but it really hearkens back to an earlier time when this was much more common. The idea of the artists as the individual producer is a much newer idea but the one we romanticize, even some of us artists (like me!).

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Cranach’s major patron was Frederick the Wise of Saxony, for whom he was the court painter, a post I believe he held also under succeeding Electors. He and his workshop made paintings for other people too, as well as for churches. This one is thought to have been made for Frederick’s successor, John Frederick the Magnanimous, a militant Lutheran, “the champion of the Reformation.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Cranach’s major patron was Frederick the Wise of Saxony, for whom he was the court painter, a post I believe he held also under succeeding Electors. He and his workshop made paintings for other people too, as well as for churches. This one is thought to have been made for Frederick’s successor, John Frederick the Magnanimous, a militant Lutheran, “the champion of the Reformation.”

  • Tom Hering

    So, we reduce Cranach to a man who used a stock set of Christian and pagan symbols in paintings mass-produced to suit the mildly kinky tastes of rich and powerful clients, both Catholic and Lutheran. Which may well be the truth. But it’s not much fun to talk about.

  • Tom Hering

    So, we reduce Cranach to a man who used a stock set of Christian and pagan symbols in paintings mass-produced to suit the mildly kinky tastes of rich and powerful clients, both Catholic and Lutheran. Which may well be the truth. But it’s not much fun to talk about.

  • Joanne

    It’s great fun to talk about if an Adam und Eva that went to Emperor Charles the V and was mostly by the hand of Cranach sold for $15 million at Sotheby but a workshop copy that was found in a Strassbourg collection recently sold for $660,000. But of course, the copy isn’t exactly like the Emperor’s, is it? And, some experts in the Netherlands say that Cranach fil’s hand can be detected on the faces of Adam and Eve, the serpent, and on the lion, hum. Feels like fun and could mean money.

  • Joanne

    It’s great fun to talk about if an Adam und Eva that went to Emperor Charles the V and was mostly by the hand of Cranach sold for $15 million at Sotheby but a workshop copy that was found in a Strassbourg collection recently sold for $660,000. But of course, the copy isn’t exactly like the Emperor’s, is it? And, some experts in the Netherlands say that Cranach fil’s hand can be detected on the faces of Adam and Eve, the serpent, and on the lion, hum. Feels like fun and could mean money.

  • Aaron Walton

    i so wanna rip out that grape vine from eve and suck her pussy dry.


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