The ‘Young Man and Old Woman with a Maid’ is a painting in a series of paintings with a similar theme called ‘Ill-Matched Couple’ by German painter Lucas Cranach.
This painting in the series was made by Lucas Cranach the Younger, son of Lucas Cranach the Elder who painted most of the paintings in the ‘Ill-Matched Couple’ series.
As the name suggests, this painting represents an ill-matched couple. Why are they ill-matched? That is up to the viewers to find out and think for themselves.
This self-interpretation and finding out why the couples are not fit for each other is why these paintings in the series are so popular.
We just know that the couples are not good for each other. We have to find the rest by analyzing the painting.
Composition and Structure of the Painting
‘Young Man and Old Woman with a Maid’ is painted in the German Renaissance style with a hint of realism and proper attention to lighting.
But the realism is interrupted as there is also the characteristic addition of Cranach’s style of exaggerating the facial expressions. In many of his paintings, the artist contorts the face to such a degree that the face looks unreal.
In this painting, the artist has contorted to make the old woman look like a demon, while there is softness in the faces of the young subjects; the man and the maid.
The majority of the painting is dark to keep our focus on the three people and nothing else in the painting. So what’s going on in the painting?
The Meaning of The Painting
The scene in the painting depicts the ill couple; the young man and the old woman. Right off the bat, we can see that these two should not be a couple because of the age difference.
We also see that the old woman is handing a bag to the young man, and from the looks of it, it looks like there is money in it, or even gold coins. The old woman appears to be rich as she is wearing a large gold necklace.
The maid is behind the table, serving them ale or wine to drink. While this describes the scene, there is another story that can be read from the expressions of these people.
The old woman with her contorted face and a wicked smile. She is holding the face of the man who seems to be offering her a bag of coins or she is offering him that bag.
The maid is looking at both of them with a smile as if this is not the first time it is happening. The bag of money shows whatever the couple was planning was successful.
Interpretation of the Painting
There are different ways the painting can be interpreted, none of which shows any positive or good meaning of the scene being shown here. There is something sinister going on.
But let’s take a look at what the scene could mean. Since we know that two of them are a couple and one of them is a maid and the painting is in the series ‘Ill-Matched Couple,’ we can extrapolate some meaning.
One interpretation of the painting is that the man and the old woman are a couple. But while the old woman thinks that the man loves her, he is there just to take her money.
He shows fake love to get what he wants, as shown in the painting. Actually, he is having an affair with the maid who looks at this monetary exchange with a smile on her face.
The young man and the maid are in on it together to get rich off of the old woman who just wants love. This is one, and probably the most likely, interpretation of the painting.
The other interpretation of this painting is that maybe the man deals in prostitution and the woman is some sort of head of this ring. Maybe they are pretending to be a couple to run this business.
Whatever the interpretation, we know one thing for sure is that these people are not a loving couple. There is malice and evil in the expression of the two people.
That’s the gist of the painting. That’s the meaning of the painting.