Lukas Spielhausen, Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar), Oil and gold on beech

Lukas Spielhausen

Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar)
Oil and gold on beech
20 x 14 3/8 in. (50.8 x 36.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Gula V. Hirschland, 1980
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 643
The sitter, who wears the black-and-yellow striped dress of high-ranking members of the electoral court of Saxony, may be identified by the initials LS on the signet ring as Lukas Spielhausen, who was by 1531 a lawyer in the state judicial curia under Johann I, the Constant. His age of approximately thirty-nine in 1532, the date of the painting, is compatible with the sitter’s appearance. The lively pattern of colors and interplay of curves in the costume and the contrast between the man’s tightly bundled hair and his expansively projecting mustache and beard give this portrait a striking visual impact.
Born about 1493 in Leipzig, where he took a doctorate in law in 1524, Lukas Spielhausen was by 1531 Hofprokurator in the electoral residence in Torgau, that is, a lawyer in the state judicial curia under Johann the Constant, Elector of Saxony (r. 1525–32). In 1544 Spielhausen gained citizenship in Weimar, where he held several positions in the municipal administration, including that of mayor, before his death in 1558. Supporting the sitter's identity is the coat of arms of the Spielhausen family on the panel's reverse, as well as the initials "LS" on his signet ring (see Additional Images, fig. 1). The initials "DS" above the coat of arms on the reverse may refer to Lukas Spielhausen's grandson David, who died in or before 1607, as a possible owner of the painting.

Spielhausen's age of approximately thirty-nine in 1532, the date of the portrait, is compatible with the appearance of the sitter. He could have encountered Cranach, court painter to the Saxon electors, through his official duties in Torgau. It remains to be discovered whether the Wolfsangel—a house mark in the shape of a double hook with a slanted bar at the center—appearing on the signet ring, was a personal insignia of Spielhausen, one that he may have used separately from the family coat of arms. Spielhausen's only documented marriage was in 1541; this work was thus likely an isolated portrait without a female pendant.

This portrait was first published in 1916, when it appeared at auction as a work of Lucas Cranach the Elder. The attribution was later affirmed by Zimmerman (1925) and by Friedländer and Rosenberg (1932). Possibly because it remained in private ownership until 1981, the panel received relatively little attention in the Cranach literature. Stylistically, it is consistent with other Cranach portraits of the early 1530s, such as Portrait of a Man with a Beret of 1532 (formerly Alfredo Hirsch collection, Buenos Aires), Portrait of a Man with a Rosary of the same year (Kirchenkreis Alt-Hamburg), and Chancellor Gregor Brück of 1533 (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg). The underdrawing, which consists of thin, sparingly applied contour lines in the face and hands, compares well with the type found in the portrait of Brück. The x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 3) reveals an economy of means in the buildup of the paint layers, especially in the thin flesh tones. The deft and confident execution of this painting elevates it above the level of routine shop production and suggests that it is mostly the work of Cranach himself. The lively pattern of colors in the costume and the interplay of curves throughout give this portrait an especially striking visual impact.

[2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]
The panel support is made of two beech boards with the grain oriented horizontally. Dendrochronological analysis provided an earliest possible fabrication date of 1531 and confirmed that both boards came from the same tree as the board used for Cranach’s portrait of Melanchthon (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden). The panel is reinforced in the center of the verso with tow applied in a horizontal band. Adz marks are clearly visible on the verso, and there is a shallow bevel (approximately 3.8 centimeters wide) on all sides. The dimensions most closely approximate Heydenreich Format C. In a past treatment the central join was reinforced with wood blocks attached to the verso; additional blocks were attached to the top and bottom of the panel; and the whole of the reverse (including the blocks) was coated with opaque brown paint. Also present on the verso are remnants of an earlier stabilizing treatment that involved three symmetrically arranged cross-grained battens. The panel was prepared with a white ground and a priming containing lead white. The diffuse vertical banding visible in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 3) is related to the preparation layers.
In general, the portrait is in very good condition despite increased transparency in some passages due to normal aging of the paint. The sitter’s collar, rings, and gold embroidered cap display color combinations, paint buildup, and the dexterous handling characteristic of Cranach’s work. He proceeded systematically, starting with the middle tones and then applying the darks, followed by the final highlights. These passages were further embellished with mordant gilding, now in a fragmentary state. Parallel strokes of pale yellow in the collar, intended to mimic embroidery, appear to have been made using a double-pointed brush. Infrared reflectography revealed underdrawing of the facial features and hands executed in a liquid medium applied with a brush.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Signed (center left) with winged serpent and dated 1532
Spielhausen family; Georg Hirth, Munich (until 1916; his sale, Galerie Helbing, Munich, November 28ff., 1916, no. 1042); private collection (until 1924; sale, Kleykamp, The Hague, June 10, 1924, no. 7); [Julius Böhler, Munich]; [Van Dieman & Co., Berlin and New York, in 1925]; [Paul Bottenwieser, Berlin and New York, in 1925]; Dr. and Mrs. Franz H. Hirschland, Harrison, N.Y. (by 1929–his d. 1973); Mrs. Franz H. (Gula V.) Hirschland, Harrison, N.Y. (1973–d. 1980)
Berlin. Akademie der Künste. "Gemälde Alter Meister aus Berliner Besitz," July–August 1925, no. 85 (lent by Galerie van Diemen).

New York. Van Dieman Galleries. "Exhibition of Paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)," November 18–December 5, 1929, no. 20 (lent by Dr. Franz Hirschland).

Cambridge, Mass. Germanic Museum. "German Paintings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries," June 5–September 30, 1936, no. 10 (lent by Dr. F. H. Hirschland, New York City).

New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 57 (lent by Dr. F. H. Hirschland, Harrison, New York).

New York. Van Diemen-Lilienfeld Galleries. "Masterpieces of Five Centuries," January 20–February 3, 1951, no. 3 (lent by Dr. F. H. Hirschland).

New York. Duveen. "Cranach Loan Exhibition," May 1–31, 1960, no. 5 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. F. H. Hirschland).

Heinrich Zimmermann. "Zu Cranachs Bildern." Zeitwende 1 (January–June 1925), p. 111, ill. between pp. VI and 1.

Julian Garner. "Portrait of a Man by Lucas Cranach." International Studio 84 (May 1926), pp. 54–55, ill. (color), suggests that the sitter is Elector John Frederick I of Saxony, or at least a member of the same family; notes that the picture "was shown in New York during the past season".

Ed[uard]. Heyck. Lukas Cranach. 2nd, rev. ed. Bielefeld, 1927, p. 96, colorpl. 62, as in the Galerie van Diemen, Berlin.

Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg. Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach. Berlin, 1932, p. 79, no. 273, ill.

Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 43, no. 132.

Heinrich Lilienfein. Lukas Cranach und seine Zeit. Bielefeld, 1942, p. 70, colorpl. 13, erroneously calls it undated.

Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 396, no. 1054, ill.

Heinrich Zimmermann. "Über einige Bildniszeichnungen Lucas Cranachs d.J." Pantheon 20 (January–February 1962), p. 10.

Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg. The Paintings of Lucas Cranach. rev. ed. Ithaca, N.Y., 1978, p. 136, no. 339, ill.

[Mary Sprinson] in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1980–1981. New York, 1981, p. 43, ill., states that the sitter's black-and-yellow striped costume may identify him as a member of the household of one of the electors of Saxony [this information apparently provided by Helmut Nickel, former curator of Arms and Armor, MMA; see Ref. 2006].

Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. May 2, 2006, writes that dendrochronological analysis reveals that the earliest felling date for the tree from which this panel is made is 1530, adding that a minimum of one year for seasoning means that the earliest possible execution date for the painting is 1531.

Helmut Nickel. E-mail to Mary Sprinson de Jesús. September 19, 2006, considers himself the likely source for information in Ref. Sprinson 1981 regarding the dress of high-ranking members of the court of the electors of Saxony; notes that "black and yellow were the main colors in the Saxon coat of arms . . .The uniform of the palace guard at Dresden was black doublets, slashed with yellow, yellow puffed pants and stockings, black beret with a yellow ostrich plume. Although the yellow stripes in the portrait are rather orangy in color, they are meant to be yellow [poetically "gold" used to be referred to as "das rote Gold" even Chaucher speaks of "gold so red"]".

Joshua Waterman in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 66–69, 288, no. 14, ill. (color), fig. 57 (x-radiograph), fig. 58 (color detail), fig. 59 (reverse, color detail).