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Sensation at Windsor Castle: a Rohrich turns out to be a Lucas Cranach the Elder

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The Royal Collection was thrilled to announce that a double portrait picturing an Electress of the Holy Roman Empire and her apple-cheeked son clasping their hands together was re-attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder and took its prominent place alongside other works by Cranach and workshop in the King’s Dressing Room at Windsor Castle.
$450.3 million buzz around a newly attributed Salvator Mundi to Leonardo just overlapped a re-attribution of a Portrait of a Lady and her Son to Lucas Cranach the Elder, although there is basically nothing but money that makes the news differ.

The story of the portrait traditionally identified as Sibyl of Clevens (1515−1554) and One of Her Sons is as confusing and intricate as the Savior of the World.

Queen Victoria bought the canvas as a Cranach to make a Christmas gift to her newly married husband Price Albert in 1840. He had German roots and special interest in Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the principal artists of the German Renaissance, who had painted the Prince’s Saxon ancestors at Wittenberg.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 11 May 1854. Photo by Roger Fenton (1819−69). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
The Royal couple had no doubt that the portrait was attributed as a genuine Cranach, but in fifty years or so the Royal Collection Trust experts came up with the idea that it was not by Cranach or even by his workshop. Instead, they managed to prove that it was painted by Franz Wolfgang Rohrich (1787−1834), an amazing German restorer and a wily artist who devoted his talent to painting portraits in the manner of German masters from the time of Albrecht Dürer; he became an extremely successful Cranach forger.

Although Rohrich’s precise intentions and conditions of his sales are not known, his works are often classified as forgeries not without reason. His best known series a-la Cranach includes more than 40 copies of The Electress Sybilla of Saxony and Her Son which he successfully sold to the wealthy collectors all over Europe.
  • Franz Wolfgang Rohrich, Portrait of a lady and her son. Price Realized at Chrisie's in 2013: EUR 8,125
  • Franz Wolfgang Rohrich, Portrait of a lady and her son, Price Realized at Chrisie's in 2014: GBP 25,000
Rohrich’s Lady with her Son comes up at auction rooms from time to time. Christie’s sold one for EUR 8,125 in 2013, the other was sold for £25,000 in 2014. Another of his version at Sotheby’s fetched even larger amount of EUR 36,750 in 2010.

The record for a Cranach painting, by contrast was £9.3million, with 15 of his works selling for over £1m at auction.
It took years for the specialists to track down Rohrich’s fraudulent imitation game. Now we know that many of his pseudo-Cranachs are still in Europeans private and public collections.

However, in case of the Queen Victoria’s Christmas gift, the Royal Collection Trust experts have been fooled themselves in their ardent strives to attain truth and justice.

Their reasoning was that the composition of mother and son is marked by the intimacy invented by Rohrich, though being at odds with Cranach’s sixteenth-century style. They held that Cranach`s late paintings were decorative, flat, and stylized as the artist became a rather slick and fashionable court painter in Saxony, who owed his fame mainly to his friendship with Martin Luther. Experts claimed that his portraits at the time had already lost their poetic and intimate spirit that once characterized his early works.
Finally, this year all the I’s were dotted and all the T’s were crossed in the issue.

The Royal Collection Trust agreed to loan the portrait to the major exhibition Cranach der Alterer: Meister Marke Moderne at the Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf in spring 2017. Ahead of it, Royal Collection Trust’s curators and conservators, in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences, Cologne, thoroughly examined the work with recent technology that had not been available when the early 20th century experts made the deattribution decision.

The experts deployed infrared reflectography and X-rays to look beneath the paint surface. They revealed preliminary underdrawing typical of Cranach’s work. During the analysis of the pigments, they found one — lead-tin yellow — which was widely used in the first half of the 16th century but not during the 19th century when Rohrich was making his forgeries.

Finally, they discovered fibres on the surface of the panel which were identified as pigeon tendons by DNA analysis and which often had been used as a glue on the work to strengthen the mixture and counteract the natural warping and splitting of the wood in 16th century. Similar fibers were found on other works by Cranach.
"This was typical of Cranach," Professor Dr Gunnar Heydenreich of TH Köln, an expert on Lucas Cranach the Elder, said. "But there are no examples of it in the 19th century. This was before the invention of X-ray photography so Ruhrich would not have known so he could not have copied the process."
Portrait of a Lady and Her Son by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his workshop, in the King’s Dressing Room, Windsor Castle. Photograph: Todd-White Art Photography/Ben F/Royal Collection Trust
The Royal Collection Trust is thrilled and delighted at the re-attribution of the double portrait to Lucas Cranach the Elder and wasted no time in putting it under new authorship in its catalogue.

The curators gave the portrait a prominent position on public display from 14 November 2017 and installed it at eye-level in the King’s Dressing Room at Windsor Castle where it keeps company with twelve other paintings by Cranach and his workshop, including Apollo and Diana (ca. 1526), Lucretia (1530), and The Judgement of Paris (ca. 1530−35) that were acquired by the Prince Consort, several as gifts from Queen Victoria.
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