Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

Art Inspiration from Lucas Cranach the Elder

This week, I gather inspiration for the next painting of a series, enabled by the grant that I got from Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the third blog post of this project, see the first one here and the second one here!

German Renaissance Portraits by Lucas Cranach

The first painting of my series (The Empire of Light) was inspired by Sandro Botticelli, Italy. Now I move further up in time and on a map and go to Germany to meet Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). Here’s a spread in my colored pencil journal inspired by Cranach’s style.

Art journal spread inspired by Lucas Cranach the Elder's art.

She is a weird-looking little woman but so are Lucas’s portraits too.

Portrait paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman (1525), Portrait of a Young Woman (probably Princess Emilia of Saxony, before 1537), Dido (1547)

Their faces are small and not so pretty at all, at least according to today’s standards. Are these two even smiling at all? Is that boredom or irony?

Portraits by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Cranach’s women seem so arrogantly materialistic that it doesn’t feel suitable for a series about spirituality at all. But because expressing light is impossible without painting the darkness, I have decided to explore spirituality’s ultimate opposites as well. Like insolence, materialism, and money.

Lucas Cranach’s Super Production

Lucas Cranach the Elder wasn’t just a painter. He was a businessman who ran a workshop and a pharmacy too. His unusually large workshop wasn’t just for fine art. Printing presses produced religious images for people who had less money.

St Mary Magdalene (a detail) by Lucas Cranach the elder.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Ecstasy of St Mary Magdalene (a detail), woodcut, 1506

Lucas Cranach surely knew how to run a business. When he needed pigments, he decided to found a pharmacy at the same go. He got friends with prestigious people like Martin Luther. I can imagine Lucas whispering to Martin at a dinner: “What kind of images does your religious movement need? I can produce thousands of them!”

Illl-Matched Lovers by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a detail.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Ill-Matched Lovers, 1530

He must have had a sense of humor too. And yet, his figures and the way he painted the clothing, are a bit stiff and clumsy.

From Cranach’s Bluntness To Sharp Pencils

When Botticelli made an elegant curve, Cranach added a straight like like saying: “That’ll do. They won’t notice it anyway.” So my Cranach imitation was built around similar angular lines and weird proportions.

Colored pencils on Archer and Olive's blank notebook.

But the more I worked with the face, the more real it felt. The woman wasn’t just an angel but had vices as well. She felt so relatable and maybe because I was glancing at my new sharpener. In the middle of the spirituality project, I had become very materialistic and spent almost 150 EUR on it.

Caran d'Ache metal pencil sharpener in action.
Caran d’Ache metal pencil sharpening machine, Calvin Klein blue.

Botticelli’s goddesses wouldn’t be even willing to touch it. But Cranach’s women would grab the handle without hindrance. They would crank fast and smile quietly, and it would all look a little immodest.

A detail in Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting Dido. Dido's face.

My workshop has produced a lot of pencil shavings lately.

Caran d'Ache metal pencil sharpener, Calvin Klein blue.

I can assure you that all my pencils are sharp!

Long Live the Spirit of Lucas Cranach!

Queen Dido’s smile in Cranach’s painting is deceiving. She had made a decision to leave the materialistic world.

A detail in Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting Dido.

Her story goes like this: Dido founded the city of Carthago after her husband died. Then her lover, a Trojan hero Aineias was taken away and in agony, she killed herself.

Black and white always go together. Dido was not just a wealthy royal, but a sensitive woman too. Maybe Lucas Cranach and Martin Luther had deep discussions over dinner. Perhaps my sharpener will live longer than I do and serve many enthusiastic colorers after me.

Colored pencil art in progress. Colored pencils and art journaling.

The most inspiring detail in Dido’s clothing is this carelessly painted ornament on the hem. It just floats there! It doesn’t follow the folds of the fabric at all. But its living line documents Cranach’s spirit.

A detail in Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting Dido. A hand-painted ornament.

No matter what the subject is, art always carries a spirit with the way we draw lines.

A detail of colored pencil art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Like Cranach, I made two layers of lines, first x-shapes, then swirls.

Colored Pencil Journal

This journal spread will be my inspiration for a new abstract oil painting.

An art journal spread made with colored pencils. Inspired by Lucas Cranach the Elder's work. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

My little journal has quite many drawings already. I browse it often and it brings me joy.

Do you also have an art journal, a visual diary, or a sketchbook that you like to browse and fill? Can you find your living line there?

Colored pencil visual diary by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

P.S. My photos of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s paintings are from an exhibition in 2019, see this blog post for more pics!

8 thoughts on “Art Inspiration from Lucas Cranach the Elder

  1. Very interesting and lovely images! I’ve taken art history courses (back in my college days) and I don’t believe we ever touched on Cranach (or it’s left my brain). The one of the ill-matched lovers was pretty funny – they obviously weren’t into each other! I always love your posts!

  2. I just love the way you discuss and combine history, your art and your feelings and approach, even touching on your new pencil sharpener. It all flows from mind to heart and left brain to right brain. Speaks to me over and over.

  3. When I followed your link to your blog post, I read “Add splashes and other unexpected elements.” This relates to what I see as a superimposed, stylised pomegranate ornamenting Dido’s portrait above. The symbolism is there, but unexpected: abundance, fertility, the rewards of love. It’s very simplistic and without integration because Dido (or the viewer?) felt the various excesses had been negated by the loss of Aeneas. How appropriately you’ve related your two posts to each other, even by translating the single line, “And so do we seek transitory and dangerous pleasures”. There’s so much to be learned from you, Päivi.

  4. I have seen his work before, but never understood its importance or the period it came from. I did a little research and found that he was an extremely influential artist and was the richest man in Saxony in the 15th-16th centuries. His subjects were associated with that of the Protestant Reformation and he was a good friend of Martin Luther whose portrait he painted more than once. But he also did commissions for Catholics as well as more secular, even mythological, works meant for a more general audience. But what are we to make of what many have described as ‘contained anger’ in his subjects as well as: hostility, disdain, sarcasm, cruelty and hardness? Was he trying to show us what was really going on beneath external appearance–the duplicity of man, his inner struggle between the two powers of the soul? I am glad to be introduced to this artist whose work puzzles as much as it entices!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Louisa! There are interesting documentaries on Lucas Cranach on Youtube, for example. I am so glad you also found the subject fascinating! Comments like this complement the posts so beautifully, and I wish everyone also reads them, not only the actual post. So, thanks again!

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