The Golden Age, Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Golden Age, Lucas Cranach the Elder
The Golden Age, Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Golden Age is an oil on canvas painting by the Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder around 1530. The artist has depicted on this occasion a well-known mythological theme based on the tales of Hesiod.

Actually, there is not much information we have about the painter but it seems that he was born around 1472 in the French city of Cranach and his first steps in artistic training were in the workshop of the family of him. At the end of the century the artist would travel to Vienna where he followed his training with the painter Matthias Grünewald and made his first work. Over time, Cranach would become one of the most important figures of the Renaissance in Northern and Central Europe.


The Golden Age is a representation of the evolution of humanity; the decay of humanity undertaken in five different stages ranging from the prosperous Golden Age to the Iron Age through the Silver Age, the Age of Metals and the Age of Heroes. It is an excerpt from Canto III of the Works and the days that Hesiod first wrote and that Ovid would later recount in the Metamorphoses.

In the center of the composition a wheel of men and women dance happily with a leafy tree as the epicenter of the entire composition. Scattered around the splendid garden we find different groups that lie down on the grass, play with the water…Animals and men coexist peacefully while nature provides them with everything they need to live without any effort. This was the first Age of the history of humanity, where work or effort became unnecessary for survival and where men lived together with the gods without major concerns.

However, beyond the garden, Cranach foreshadows what awaits humanity: far from this oasis, on a rocky and steep terrain appears a fortification symbolizing the Iron Age. The inhabitants of this world do not even imagine the happiness that is hidden behind the garden walls and remain absorbed in their problems, jobs, wars… in short, in surviving.

Special mention deserves the incorporation of the nude which until the Renaissance had been relegated; At this time it is common to find a deep anatomical study of the nude and for this the artists used the mythological theme over and over again. The figures are small and in their anatomical treatment the tradition of Northern Europe is observed, more linked to Gothic forms than to the innovations developed in Italy. The forms are unrealistic and although the artist has taken care of the proportion in some aspects, the perspective is not very successful.

Currently there are two versions of the Golden Age and it seems that both were made by Lucas Cranach himself, one of them is in the National Gallery in Oslo and the other in the Alte Pinakothek inMunich.

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