This stunning exhibition was the first in Britain devoted to the great German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder (c.1472-1553).
Temptation in Eden focuses on one of Cranach’s most memorable and enchanting works: the Courtauld’s Adam and Eve, painted in 1526 when the artist was at the height of his powers. This beguiling painting demonstrates Cranach’s outstanding gifts as a portrayer of landscape, animals and the female nude.
- More information about the exhibition
- The significance of Cranach's animals
- Watching Cranach at work
- Drawings from Renaissance Germany
A seductive version of Paradise
Adam and Eve brilliantly combines devotional meaning with pictorial elegance and invention. The scene is set in a forest clearing where Eve stands before the Tree of Knowledge, caught in the act of handing an apple to a bewildered Adam. Entwined in the tree’s branches above, the serpent looks on as Adam succumbs to temptation. A rich menagerie of birds and animals completes this seductive vision of Paradise. The painting is particularly admired for its treatment of the human figure and for the profusion of finely painted details, including animals and vegetation. Cranach delights in capturing details such as the roe-buck catching its reflection in the foreground pool of water.
Reuniting Cranach’s masterpieces
Adam and Eve is shown alongside a number other works which express the same themes of temptation and beauty, and were made on a domestic scale between 1526 and 1530. They include the Royal Collection’s Apollo and Diana, the National Gallery’s Cupid Complaining to Venus, and the J. Paul Getty Museum’s A Faun and his Family. The exhibition considers the possibility that these paintings were commissioned by a single patron, perhaps for the future Elector Johann Frederick, on the occasion of his marriage in 1527.
Remarkable powers of observation
A number of exquisite animal studies – drawn from both living and dead beasts – are displayed to show the complex processes which went into transforming these real animals into their idealised representation in the Courtauld’s Adam and Eve. These drawings, together with fine engravings and woodcuts, offer a unique opportunity to enjoy Cranach’s remarkable powers of observation and story-telling as well as his outstanding skills as a graphic artist.
Each of the animals portrayed in Adam and Eve bears a distinct moral meaning.
Using x-radiographs and an infra-red reflectogram, the Courtauld’s Department of Conservation and Technology has revealed some of the changes that Lucas Cranach made to Adam and Eve as he perfected it in 1526.
Cranach changed the placement of the antlers of the huge stag seated at the left foreground; initially these extended further over Adam’s body and genitals.
The sheep which grazes quietly behind Adam seems to have been modelled fully in shades of grey, despite the fact that it was always going to be partially covered by Adam’s leg in the finished painting.
The artist changed his mind about the position of Adam’s fingers as he scratches his forehead and those of Eve as she prepares to pick another apple. However, both gestures seem always to have been intended in some form.
21 June to 23 September 2007
Temptation in Eden: Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve was accompanied by two drawings by Albrecht Dürer from the Courtauld’s extensive permanent collection. It was the second in a series of displays designed to complement the programme of temporary exhibitions and increase public access to this outstanding collection.
The Emperors Charlemagne and Sigismund was produced by Dürer in preparation for two large paintings commissioned by the town of Nuremberg in 1510, when he was at the peak of his career. The works were intended for the Heiltumskammer, a room where the Imperial Insignia of the Holy Roman Empire were kept the night before an annual ceremony of display to the people.
One of the Wise Virgins is an outstanding early work by Dürer, drawn in 1493 during his travelling years or wanderjahre. It shows a figure from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins holding a burning oil lamp. The twisting arrangement of the figure and the fluidity of the penlines, capturing details such as the ringlets of hair and swirling wedding garland, indicate the young artist’s ambition, confidence and ability. The reverse shows two studies of a left leg, almost certainly Dürer’s own, and provides remarkable early evidence of his scrutiny of the human body.
The display also includes an outstanding large roundel by the Bavarian Hans Rottenhammer (c.1564-1625) who created a distinctive South German style with Italianate overtones, and a drawing by Joseph Heinz (1564-1609), who worked at the Court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Rare sheets by lesser-known artists complement the group.
The exhibition was generously supported by:
- Apax Partners
- Columbia Foundation
- The Doris Pacey Charitable Foundation
- The German Embassy London
- (H. E. the Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger)
- Mr & Mrs Hughes Lepic
- The Kilfinan Trust
- The Mallinckrodt Foundation.