National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Nymph of the Spring Lucas Cranach the Elder (artist)
German, 1472 - 1553
The Nymph of the Spring, after 1537
oil on panel
overall: 48.4 x 72.8 cm (19 1/16 x 28 11/16 in.) framed: 62.9 x 87.6 cm (24 3/4 x 34 1/2 in.)
Gift of Clarence Y. Palitz
On View
From the Tour: German Painting and Sculpture in the Late 1400s and 1500s
Object 2 of 12

A pseudoclassical legend proposed that a statue of a nymph was found on the banks of the Danube River. Cranach portrayed the nymph as a seductive German woman resting on her bundled gown. Her nudity is emphasized by her jewels and filmy veils. A Latin inscription warns, "I am the nymph of the sacred spring. Do not disturb my sleep. I am resting." Coyly, however, this nymph peers through half-open eyes. Her bow and quiver of arrows are attributes of Diana, the mythological goddess of the hunt, who also symbolizes chastity. The game birds could refer to Diana or to Venus, the goddess of erotic love. Thus the subject is tantalizingly ambiguous.

For his courtly patrons, Cranach provided several versions of this provocative theme. On the rock above the spring is the artist's device, a winged serpent. In 1508 the Saxon duke ennobled Cranach, who thereafter often signed his paintings with a flying-serpent motif.

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