Strength, perseverance, righteousness, valour, wisdom, faith, love, hope: these are just some of the virtues to which ordinary citizens at the time of the Reformation were expected to aspire in their everyday lives. In the 16th century, north of the Alps, a new conception was born of what it means to be a human being. It was forged by humanists such as Erasmus of Rotterdam and Johannes Reuchlin, and by the religious reformers, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and others, who placed at the heart of their thinking - as the embodiment of their ideal - virtuous men and women, who were called by God’s grace to live good lives expressed in good deeds.
The works of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) and his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586; born 500 years ago next year) were created during this time of social and political ferment. Father and son were both closely acquainted with humanist thought, and later with the ideas of the Reformation. The whole Cranach workshop in Wittenberg became a centre for the creation and dissemination of images intended to express and interpret the Early Modern image of humankind. In these pictures we find strongly delineated characters, men and women ready to fight for what they believe, their thoughts and deeds speaking clearly from the scenarios in which they are depicted; these are, in fact, heroes. Each character is an exemplum virtutis, an exemplification of virtue in action, offered to the contemporary beholder as a role-model to be followed.
In 23 works from the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings), the exhibition presents antique, biblical and contemporary heroes, portrayed in woodcuts, etchings and drawings. Martin Luther, a friend of Cranach the Elder, appears in no fewer than four of them.
The exhibition has been staged in collaboration with ALICE - Museum für Kinder (the ALICE Museum for Children) and the "Pop-up Cranach” project, which can be seen at the Gemäldegalerie in the Kulturforum from 26 September 2014.
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