Last month, the Friedenstein Foundation proclaimed its desire to reunite two estranged halves of a 16th-century painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, the German newspaper Monopol reported. The announcement came ahead of Picture and Message, Cranach at the Service of the Court, and the Reformation, opening March 28 at the Herzoglichen Museum in Gotha. The exhibition coincides with the 500th birthday of Cranach’s son, Lucas Cranach the Younger.
In 1936, an art dealer inexplicably sawed off the upper half of Cranach’s “Bowl With the Head of John the Baptist.” The lower half, showing the prophet’s severed head, found its way into the museum at Castle Friedenstein in Germany, where it was recently restored and authenticated. The upper half, depicting Salome, hasn’t been seen since it surfaced briefly on the market in the 1970s.
It’s not quite clear why the art dealer mutilated the painting to begin with. Some say he believed the bloody head might put off prospective buyers, though much more gruesome art has been bought and sold — even displayed in churches — without ruffling too many feathers.
Where money’s involved, anything’s possible. Paolo Veronese’s “The Wedding Feast at Cana” was cut in half so that it would travel better after being plundered by Napoleon; it was eventually sewn back together. And in the late 1920s, an avaricious Parisian dealer named Hodebert divided up two large paintings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and tried to sell each fragment off as individual paintings. They were later reunited and now hang in the Musée d’Orsay.
But other dissected paintings have not been so lucky. After Eugène Delacroix’s death, a dealer cut up his painting of Frédéric Chopin and George Sand, thinking he could make more by separating the lovers. Chopin’s portrait now hangs in the Louvre, while Sand’s is in the Ordrupgaard Collection — seemingly divorced for eternity.