22 September 2020 – 31 March 2021
A painting from the collection of the Archdiocese Museum in Wrocław
One of the most valuable paintings in Polish collections of art is temporarily on show in the National Museum in Wrocław. “Madonna under the Fir Tree” remains one of the most beautiful Madonnas ever painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
The picture of Madonna and the Child was commissioned for the cathedral in Wrocław in the 16th century. The painting, completed in 1510, is considered to be one of Cranach’s best works. It was on display on the Tumski Island, one of the oldest parts of Wrocław, for over 400 years as the pride and glory of the cathedral which is located there. At the end of the 19th century the picture, as the most valuable work of art in Silesia, was stored in the cathedral treasure vault.
Towards the end of the Second World War, the truly criminal part of its history commenced when Pastor Siegfried Zimmer, who intended to take the painting to Germany, arranged to make its copy. He then presented the newly-executed work as the real masterpiece to the Polish administrators of the cathedral and left for Germany with the original canvas.
Fot. A. Podstawka
Later on in Wrocław, in the 1960s, the copy (at that time still treated as the original by Cranach) was to undergo conservation in the workshop of Daniela Stankiewicz in the National Museum in Wrocław where a sensational discovery was made. The restorer, on seeing the picture, immediately and without any doubt declared it to be a copy and not a very good one at that. This was a vital moment in the history of Cranach’s Madonna because owing to the expert opinion of Stankiewicz published in the specialist journals, the whole art world found out about the forgery.
There were attempts to sell the original in Germany, however due to its revealed dubious provenience no buyer was found. Finally, on the death of its last owner, the picture was gifted to the Swiss Church.
In 2012 “Madonna under the Fir Tree” returned to Wrocław, to be exact to the Archdiocese Museum. During the current renovation work of the building, the masterpiece can be now admired in the National Museum in Wrocław.