Cranach’s Portrait of Anna Putsch (1502-3)

Many art historians have noted that in the background of this 1502 portrait by Lucas Cranach there is a face formed from smoke. Its features in profile are delineated by the leaves and branches of a tree. While it is clearly not meant to be seen immediately, it is still fairly obvious. Take a look.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Portrait of Anna Putsch (1502-3) Panel. Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur, Switzerland

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Many viewers must have seen this "face" in the past and the artist must have hoped that they would. Over the next year, though, we will be showing hidden faces on this site which are far more difficult to perceive and which only artists and the odd independent-minded art lover would ever have seen.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Anna Putsch

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It is important to recognize, though, that artists do not hide faces for fun. They have a serious meaning. Indeed their discovery will almost always "change" the meaning of the composition. Whether the face here is that of Cranach himself or not we do not know but it does not seem to resemble him. Nevertheless, it still must be linked in some way to the metamorphic, smoke-filled imagination of the artist. Christopher Wood has noted that numerous other details included in the landscape behind Anna Putsch have alchemical and astrological meaning; the veiled face probably has too.1

Notes:

1. Christopher S. Wood, Albrecht Altdorfer and the Origins of Landscape (London: Reaktion Books) 1993, p.73

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 07 Aug 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.