Lucas Cranach the Elder - The Unequal Couple

by Frauke Maria Petry


Against a dark background, a toothless old man lasciviously puts his hand around the waist of a young woman. The old man's black, wide-brimmed hat and fur-trimmed hood testify to his wealth. The grotesque dominates through his cartoonish grimace, so that the difference between the figures is heightened. They contrast in age and beauty. While she fondles his beard, he offers her a gold chain. Therefore, the couple is usually interpreted as prostitutes and suitors. It is a moralizing symbol of love for sale. However, since the eroticism is comparatively weak, it could also mean a marriage of supply.

The unequal couple' or 'Buhlschaft' is both a secular genre picture and a depiction of vice in the Christian sense. It belongs to the so-called 'power of women'. In this epic, which has been in use since antiquity, various examples are given of men succumbing to the charms of a woman and voluntarily submitting to her.


The subject enjoyed particular popularity in the first half of the 16th century and was therefore taken up by Lucas Cranach the Elder in a total of 40 variations. The painter is considered the main representative of Reformation art and one of the most productive artists of the German Renaissance . The court artist of the Saxon Elector Frederick III in Wittenberg had to meet high qualitative and quantitative standards. He succeeded in doing so by building up an efficient workshop and using economical working techniques.


Lucas Cranach the Elder - The Unequal Couple

Oil on beech wood, 1530, 38.8 x 25.7 cm, Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf