Reviewed February 2018
Philip Dombowsky, Archivist
National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives
The Cranach Digital Archives (CDA), launched as a pilot project in October 2009, is a comprehensive resource providing digital access to art historical, technical, and conservation information on paintings associated with the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), his sons, and their workshop. The ambitious project is a joint initiative of the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, and the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences/Cologne University of Applied Sciences, in collaboration with nine founding partner institutions, eighteen associate partners, and numerous project contributors. A list of the various partners and contributors can be viewed in the section “Our Partners,” which is accessible from the CDA homepage.
Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Cranach Digital Archives was made available as a free online resource in January 2012, and since that time has emerged as the most authoritative resource for the exchange and communication of research on Cranach, surpassing in this respect the catalogue raisonné by Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg (Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach), first published in 1932, and translated and revised in 1978. The CDA, presented in both German and in English, currently includes detailed information on more than 1,700 paintings. It also contains more than 15,000 images and 900 digitized and transcribed archival documents. New information is added to the site as it becomes available.
No special software is required to access content provided on the CDA and the site functions seamlessly on multiple platforms. The site is exemplary in terms of design, with an interface that is uncluttered, intuitive, and easy to navigate. The home page provides access to the site’s three main sections: the database of paintings; archival documents; and publications. There are also links to pages that provide biographical information on Lucas Cranach the Elder and his sons, Hans Cranach and Lucas Cranach the Younger; a description of the purpose and development of the project (under the heading “Interdisciplinary and interinstitutional”); summaries of recent developments with respect to Cranach scholarship and events; and updates regarding additions to the CDA site.
Within the database section, accessed from the “Explore the Paintings” tab on the home page, users can opt to scroll through the entire set of paintings contained in the CDA or utilize keyword or advanced search options. The advanced option permits searches by title; Friedländer, Rosenberg (1978) number; location; and CDA ID/inventory number; and filtering by attribution; dating; collection/repository; examination/analysis; or one of four classifications: component parts; form; function; or subject. Search results are displayed as thumbnail images; basic information about a work is shown when cursoring over a particular thumbnail. Selecting an image opens a page that provides information about the painting, including title, owner, dimensions, support, and signature, along with details regarding provenance, exhibition history, and literature sources. Most of the pages for individual paintings additionally include one or more images. These can include recto and verso views of the paintings, detail images, infrared reflectograms, x-radiographs, UV images, and photomicrographs. The images are of high quality and a zoom option is available. Also available for many of the paintings is related textual material, including archival documents and technical reports.
The pages dedicated to individual works are designed in a manner that makes the information and photographs easy to view, and the writing style is scholarly throughout. The only design omission on the pages dedicated to individual paintings is the absence of a menu that provides access to other sections on the site. To access the archival documents section from a page in the database, for example, users are required to return to the database entry page and from there to the home page.
The section devoted to archival documents includes original material pertaining to Cranach’s career. Documents can be filtered by decade or by the three contributing institutions: the Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, the Stadtarchiv Kronach / Franken, and the Städtische Sammlungen Wittenberg, Ratsrarchiv. Results are presented as a table with thumbnail image, date, and brief summary, and arranged chronologically. Selecting a thumbnail opens a page showing the original document and a transcription. As with the photographic images contained in the CDA, a zoom option is available for the archival documents. The CDA’s commitment to archival material is relatively rare in online catalogues raisonnés and will hopefully be used as template for similar projects in the future.
Also of significant value is the publications section, which lists 3,450 bibliographical references relating to Cranach. When cursoring over any of the listed sources, which includes numerous auction catalogues, detailed information about the source is presented in a pop-up window, along with thumbnail images of Cranach paintings that were reproduced in the source. Clicking on the thumbnail image opens the dedicated page for the painting contained in the database.
While the CDA is aimed primarily at Cranach scholars, including art historians, conservators and curators, the ease of navigation and clear presentation also makes the site accessible to researchers with a general interest in Cranach. Overall, the wealth of information presented on the Cranach Digital Archives and the ease of accessing that content establishes the site as the definite resource on Lucas Cranach and his workshop, including on issues of attribution and workshop organization, and is indispensable for any researcher seeking information on the most significant artist of the German Renaissance.