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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Primitive People

Key facts
Full title Primitive People
Artist Lucas Cranach the Elder
Artist dates 1472 - 1553
Date made 1527-30
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 50.2 × 35.7 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924
Inventory number NG3922
Location Room 25
Collection Main Collection
Primitive People
Lucas Cranach the Elder

The subject of this painting has been much debated, but it’s generally thought to show an imagined view of a past and primitive society. Cranach made a number of similar paintings from 1527 to 1535. Since the twentieth century it has been assumed that the origin of the subject lies in a classical source.

Two pairs of men are fighting – violence which is more disturbing for its close proximity to three small children. While one woman watches the fighting with a look of shock on her face, another is staring at something over her shoulder, beyond the picture frame. A third woman seems unaware of – or unconcerned by – the chaos around her. Their primitive behaviour takes place outside the realm of civilised society, represented by the buildings in the distance.

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