Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the leading artists of the German Renaissance, was known not least for his nudes. The Golden Age is an outstanding example of such work, which had such a revolutionizing effect north of the Alps. The painting depicts six young, naked couples dancing, bathing, eating, and enjoying themselves in a paradisiacal garden enclosed by a wall.
The painting’s title alludes to the Greek myth of the ideal state that existed during the first Age of Man, before the advent of civilization. The notion of such a Golden Age was first transcribed by the Greek poet Hesiod (eighth century BC) in his didactic poem ”Works and Days”. Hesiod describes the Golden Age as an era when humanity lived a carefree, godlike existence, completely at peace with one another.
A garden replete with flowers, fruit trees, grapevines, and pairs of animals unfolds as a luxurious carpet in front of the viewer, while the extramural landscape is depicted in linear perspective. A rock in the upper left corner is crowned by an impressive fortress; this might be a depiction of Hartenfels Castle, which at the time was the residence of the Ernestine dynasty, one of Cranach’s patrons.
By incorporating this contemporary element, Cranach advances the idea of the Golden Age being born anew, with the Ernestines serving as the mythically sanctioned guarantors of a felicitous reign. Cranach has decorated the naked figures with necklaces of gold. The conventional imagery of the mythical Golden Age is combined with an erotic licentiousness that includes “the Garden of Delight” as an additional theme. A version of this painting can be found in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Text: Nils Ohlsen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0