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Ferrebeekeeper has frequently addressed the remarkable gothic paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder (a description of his allegorical painting of Melancholia can be found here; an essay about his gentler animal paintings is here; and a write-up about his signature winged snake is here).  This week, as we salute Artemis (aka Diana) the goddess of the hunt, it is appropriate to again feature a painting by Cranach– since he got his big break through hunting paintings.  His artwork first came to the attention of Germany’s most prominent nobles when they were struck by the realism with which he painted game and trophy antlers on the wall.  Below is Cranach’s remarkable hunting landscape titled The Stag Hunt of Elector Frederick the Wise which he completed in 1529 to celebrate an outing by his foremost patron.

The Stag Hunt of the Elector Frederick the Wise (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529)

Cranach eschews a strong central image in this artwork, so the eyes are free to wander through the landscape where magnificent stags try desperately to flee the hounds and crowbow wielding nobles which hem them in on all sides.  Through this mechanism, the viewer literally shares the hunt with the nobles in the painting who are also desperately glancing around the forest for a good shot. Although there is festive atmosphere to the painting–which after all shows the political masters of northern Europe enjoying a day of leisure—there is an underlying pathos and brutality to the work as well.   Cranach fully understood and admired the discipline of Artemis (in fact he painted a robust, not-safe-for-work nude painting of her with her brother Apollo), however he did not shy away the bloody carnage of the hunt and one can’t help but think that even this painting of a successful day in the woods reveals something of the uncertainty and desperation of his times.

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