A masterpiece of 16th-century art – Madonna Under the Fir Tree by Lucas Cranach the Elder – will be displayed in the National Museum in Wroclaw until the end of March 2021. The painting is kept permanently in the Archdiocesan Museum of Wroclaw, and the renovation of this institution became an excellent opportunity to make it still available to visitors, although in another location. Apart from the original, we will also see a copy with a particularly interesting history.
Painting by a great master
Painted in 1510, Madonna Under the Fir Tree was shown to Wroclaw inhabitants in the National Museum three years ago during an excellent big-scale exhibition Fashion for Cranach, at which the most famous works by Lucas Cranach the Elder were gathered. Some of them were a part of Wroclaw collections. This was not a coincidence, because the painter’s granddaughter Barbara contributed her grandfather’s valuable paintings as a dowry when marrying a Wroclaw doctor.
However, Madonna Under the Fir Tree did not arrive in Barbara’s chests – it was commissioned by the dean of the Wroclaw cathedral Joachim von Lindlau and was displayed in the temple at Ostrów from the 16th century and transferred to the cathedral vault at the end of the 19th century.
Falsification by German clergymen
Visitors of the new exhibition may be puzzled with the presence of two paintings Madonna Under the Fir Tree close to each other. This measure is intentional and refers to with the infamous falsification performed by the German administration, which handed over a copy of Cranach's painting to the Polish church authorities three years after the war. It had been made jointly by clergymen Siegfried Zimmer (his task was only to conserve the painting damaged during the war) and Georg Kupke. In 1946, they swapped their painting for the German painter’s masterpiece, which Zimmer took away to West Germany and sold (in successive years, the painting was available on art and antique markets).
The original painting made by Lucas Cranach in 1510 is on the right, and its copy made in 1946 is on the left.
This falsification was noticed only in 1960, when Daniela Stankiewicz examined the painting in the conservation room of the National Museum in Wroclaw. It turned out that the work was a false copy and restoring the original would be a serious challenge. Efforts in this respect were started in the 1980s, but they ended in success only in 2012, when Madonna Under the Fir Tree returned to the Archdiocesan Museum, where it has been kept until today.