Count Grigory Stroganoff (1829-1910), Rome, Paris and St. Petersburg;
Bought by the grandfather of the present owners in the early 20th Century.
D. Koepplin, and T. Falk, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Lukas Cranach. Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, Basel, Kunstmuseum, 15 June to 8 September 1974, Basel and Stuttgart 1974, vol. I, p. 277, reproduced fig. 147, vol. II, p. 775, note 78.
Cranach’s depictions of the female nude, with their sophisticated sensuality and smooth sinuous contours, have always been among the most coveted of his creations. The exceptional state of preservation of this panel, with all the delicate glazes for the flesh tones and the smallest details of the design preserved, allow us to admire Cranach's highly refined technique. Lucretia’s long braided hair falls across her chest, while she holds a transparent gauze-like veil, which only seems to accentuate her nakedness. Although they might at first seem to conflict with the erudite taste of the court of his patrons the Dukes of Saxony at Wittemberg, Cranach’s nudes frequently contain an implied moral undertone. The story of the suicide of the Roman matron Lucretia, following her rape at the hands of Sextus, the son of the tyrant Tarquin, would, for example, have been quite familiar to the contemporary viewer, and such a figure would have been perceived as a Tugenwächterin or guardian of female honour and virtue. Indeed the subject of Lucretia was a favourite of Cranach's, and over thirty versions by him or his workshop are recorded. In each case Cranach eschews the story of the rape itself; instead Lucretia is depicted alone at the moment of her death, often clothed and sometimes, as here, naked. The earliest of these representations are those of 1509-1510, in the Kisters Collection in Kreuzlingen and that sold New York, Sotheby's, 26 January 2012, lot 34, while the latest signed work is that of 1538, today in the National Museum in Warsaw5. This would seem to be the only circular depiction of the subject, and must surely be the smallest.
The original sources and intended function of this and the other roundels in this group are not known for certain, but it is highly probable that they were originally intended for display in a personal cabinet or Kunstkammer. All of them may have been painted in response to a single commission, but unfortunately too little is known of the early history of these paintings to allow us to know for certain whether the latter is true; only the Virgin and Child, recorded in the possession of the Von Stein family as early as 1549, has any early provenance4. It is also possible, of course, that Cranach may have intended them for individual or collective sale, or was simply experimenting with a new format. Certainly works such as this, most notably the portraits, seem to have been among the earliest German paintings to adapt the format of Renaissance medals or plaquettes.
NOTE ON PROVENANCE
This panel also has the distinction of having belonged to one of the foremost Russian collectors of the late 19th century, Count Grigory Stroganoff (1829-1910). The scion of an enormously important family of Saint Petersburg patrons and collectors, ennobled in the 18th century, Grigory was the son of Count Sergey Stroganoff (1794-1882)6. He and his brother Count Pavel (1823-1911) were both major collectors of Western Art. A wealthy expatriate, Stroganoff spent much of his life in Paris and especially Rome, where he amassed a magnificent collection in his palazzo on the Via Sistina. The collection was notable above all for its early Italian paintings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, most notably perhaps Duccio’s Madonna and Child today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The collection also included Simone Martin's Annunciation, now divided between the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and the National Gallery in Washington7, Quentin Massys' Portrait of Erasmus in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome8 and a notable group of Egyptian antiquities. According to his close friend Antonio Muñoz, the Cranach was acquired from the Ducal collections in Parma, in all probability that of Duke Roberto I (1848-1907) the last Duke of Parma, deposed under Italian reunification. At Stroganoff’s death in 1910, his collection was inherited by his grandchildren, Prince Vladimir and Princess Aleksandra, the children of his daughter Princess Maria Gregorievna Scerbatoff. Several paintings, including the Annunciation by Simone Martini and a tabernacle by Fra Angelico were bequeathed by them to The Hermitage in 1911. The Scerbatoff family moved back to Russia in 1912 but were trapped by the Revolution. Vladimir’s widow, Olga, and two of her daughters, fled to Rome in 1920, where they sold many pieces from the art collection in the Via Sistina.
1. These include likenesses of his patrons the Electors Frederick the Wise and Johann the Steadfast of Saxony, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, and two more general female types, perhaps suggestive of ideals of feminine beauty or even courtesans. In these instances, it seems highly likely that Cranach was looking back to the examples of Durer and Holbein, and more specifically to Renaissance portrait medallions. The portrait group is discussed at length by Koepplin and Falk (op. cit., 1974, pp. 274-280, cat. nos. 182-185, reproduced figs. 139-141 and 149-50).
2. Reproduced in M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The paintings of Lucas Cranach, London 1978, p. 101, no. 158, reproduced plate 158.
3. Friedländer and Rosenberg, op. cit., 1978, no. 191; exhibited Hamburg, Bucerius Kunst Forums, Lucas Cranach. Glaube, Mythologie und Moderne, 2003, no. 69.
4. Friedländer and Rosenberg, op. cit., 1978, p. 101 record the survival on the verso of the coat of arms of the Von Stein family, with a mitre and the date 1549.
5. Ibid, pp. 78, 80, 149, nos. 42, 55, and 397, all reproduced.
6. See M. Kurshunova, 'The Stroganoff Collectors', in Stroganoff. The Palace and collections of a Russian Noble Family, ed. P. Hunter-Stiebel, St. Petersburg 2000, p.. 77-88.
7. For which see, for example, A. Martindale, Simone Martini, Oxford 1988, pp. 214-5, cat. no. 42, plates 126-7.
8. L. Silver, The paintings of Quentin Massys, Oxford 1984, p. 235, cat. no. 58, reproduced plate 99.
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