The look of Lucas Cranach the Elder

By now, you must know my weakness for Cranach’s paintings, for his depictions of the seductiveness of the female body, his wonderful view on Eve. I am lucky. London’s Royal Academy of Arts is hosting a major exhibition of his work, which includes a fair amount of Venuses. Five centuries later, Cranach continues to shock and contradict, as the poster for the exhibition was almost pulled out from advertising spots on the London underground. Is it really that outrageous? what is it about the image that is uncomfortable to show? The nudity or the look? I wonder…

These images have influenced so many others… The first I can think of is Tizian’s Venus of Urbino, almost its contemporary, although less defiant. Then there’s Manet’s Olympia, of course. I recently attended ArtSheffield 08. Like when in Venice, I enjoyed the social aspect more than the art. There was one piece, however, at the interesting Millennium Galleries display, that broke the indistinguishable continuum I felt reigned over the other spaces. A look was at its centre, although this time, the figure was a man, fully clothed.

This image of Morrissey by Wolfgang Tillmans showed me, tracing it back to Cranach, that the challenge resides in the look, much more than in the pose, in the nudity, in the political stance of the images. The look, the gaze… Always them, at the centre of works of art…