Three Graces of Cranach - A composition.
Musical geometry

Study of François Murez - www.francois-murez.com

Lucas Cranach is influenced by Dürer. Before looking at his Three Graces, let us linger a little over Dürer.

    ... Staying in Venice for one year and dreaming on the way back, Dürer writes in 1506 to his friend Pirkheimer that he is going to make at first the journey of Bologna, << to know the art of the secret perspective, that somebody wants to teach me >>
...
     It is very interesting to compare boards drawn before and after this journey. Almost all the scenes drawn before 1506 are established on the golden section. On the contrary, two boards which date 1510 are chanted by the musical report 4/6/9... The peace of their big plans reminds us the Alberti's florentine laws of the space and the slowness, so opposite in the Gothic accumulation.
Charles Bouleau - La géométrie secrète des peintres

That to remove from the teaching of Alberti?


Of the architecture
(Leon Battista Alberti - translated by Jan Martin, 1553)

(Source Gallica)


Book IX - The sixth chapter - Extracts


(Source Gallica)

    ...Now, it is necessary to us to speak about these things in the detail but above all about surfaces where lengthes and widths join together two-two.
Of these surfaces, the some are short, the other long and the other averages: however the shortest is the square, that is sides of which are also long the one as the other one, and answer in right angles.
The one who follows, is the fifth and also, the fifth can count in the short.


The fifth is in the report 2/3 or 6/9. Here, on this example, this short area in the report 6/9 is vertical.
Alberti attempts to look to these areas, which will become pictures, harmonious proportions which agree to the musical reports and either to the golden section.

Let us see its application in the picture of Cranach.


Lucas Cranach - The Three Graces - 1531


Let us apply the division in 6 vertical parts. Each of the Graces occupies a third of the picture, that is 2 vertical parts.



But let us not forget all the same the golden section... Placed in vertical and in horizontal blue lines, it bounds us a hand of the left nude, places the other hand and the buttocks in height. For the nude of the middle, the leg is now placed and the feathers of the hat positioned. For the last one, the hand and the foot in the same way.
So, Cranach uses both principles of proportions : musical and "divine".



Let us divide now the height into 9 equal parts. Everything so takes place: the hat, the mouth, the eyes, the bosoms, the necklace, the hands, the foot and the ground...
We see it well, the picture uses the report 6/9, but Cranach uses it only to structure its work, he does not use the harmonies 4/6/9 or 3/6/9. The picture is not in musical movement.



From these divisions, it is possible to draw some diagonals which will give the slope of the hat, the neck, the leg and the movement of hands. These diagonals are going to liven up the picture.



Another point is interesting to note: the height of the lady in the hat.

Its height is of 7 times the basic interval. That of the left is a little bigger, that of the right, a little smaller.
It is a succession of integers. One for the hat, three for the ladies, five for necklaces, hands, tense legs, seven for the size of the lady.
But also, the left lady has her two very visible legs and a single necklace, two others have only a very visible leg (in vertical) and two necklaces... That of the left has the veil for "dress", that of the middle the hat, that of the right the loose hair... That of the left and that of the middle are united by the veil, that of the right and that of the center united by the embrace...

Moreover, to look at it well, the central lady has a height of eight heads, usual proportion in the time.

Alberti - De la Sculpture

(Source Gallica)


Let us see if this choice of composition meets in works on the same theme and of the same time.


Lucas Cranach - Vénus - 1532


Let us apply the division in 6 vertical parts. Hands, veil on both sides of Venus, the balance of the body are positioned.



But let us not forget all the same the golden section... Placed in blue vertical lines, it bounds us a hand and the veil, the face and the foot.
So, Cranach uses also both principles of proportions : musical and "divine".



Let us divide now the height into 9 equal parts. It is not also clear as just. These divisions do not look much, perhaps eyes and in contrast ground.
Division 6/9 does not serve any more as much as for Three Graces.



From these divisions, it is still possible to draw some diagonals which will give the slope of arms.



On the other hand, if we make slide the divisions by 9 downward and if we position them on the top part of the face, the division in 8 of the body appears completely. The face: 1/8, bosoms 2/8, the navel 3/8, etc....

So, in this picture, the Alberti's geometry appears only as a means to determine proportions but its musical sense does not exist any more.



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