© Mikha Wajnrych
© Mikha Wajnrych
Cie Mossoux-Bonté

When life emerges from the canvas • interview with Jean-Marie Wynants

In 1990, the Mossoux-Bonté company created a production inspired by a still little-known painter: The Last Hallucinations of Lucas Cranach the Elder. The company is returning to the subject today as part of the magnificent exhibition that closes on the 23rd January [2011] at the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Patrick Bonté recalls the adventure.


Jean-Marie Wynants - Where did the idea for a show about Cranach come from?

Patrick Bonté - It's a bit of a coincidence. In 1988, while on tour in London, Nicole and I were both stopped in our tracks by a small portrait of a princess painted by Cranach. She looked as much a saint as a murderer. There was an incredible ambiguity in her pose, in the way she looks at us, in the way she is both present and completely absent...

It’s quite a theatrical, strange space. So there was plenty to explore. From there came the desire to imagine the life of the character before she was fixed on the canvas. And her fate afterwards. Above all, we wanted to avoid a reconstitution or re-creation of the image but rather to see what action, what figure we could create that would give rise to an image of today but inspired by Cranach.


JMW - What themes inspired you?

PB - We worked on everything to do with portraits. How do you bring these characters to life through their gaze, their pose? And of course the Eves and nudes. In a way, he invented eroticism with these transparent veils that say: you can't see what I'm hiding, but because it's transparent, that's where you have to look. Then there are all the images of violence, murders, executions and suicides. The blades are often drawn... And let’s not forget the scenes that focus on intimate disturbances...


JMW - The show was built with very few objects...

PB - Yes, and all of them are symbolic. An apple for Adam and Eve. The fish symbolises Christianity. And the sword stands for violence.


JMW - The references to Cranach also appear in the details...

PB - Yes, and this wall pierced with windows became essential as a means of focusing and separating the images. We also worked on the notion of trompe-l'œil, because Cranach never ceases to instil confusion. And then there's chiaroscuro, the hidden, the part of the body that is shown. But that's not the most important thing. These characters need to have a life of their own. They are people frozen in time for five centuries who suddenly have their lives restored to them. They wake up with a confused memory of their past experience. They try to remember what they might have been. We've built them an interior life that's complex enough to ensure that, even in immobility, it's inhabited. Otherwise it would just be a pointless reproduction of images.


JMW - We get the impression that Cranach himself fantasised about the lives of his characters...

PB - I think he had quite clear obsessions. He has a woman's face type that keeps coming back, especially a gaze and a head pose that can only be found in his work. Was he aware of his strangeness in relation to others ? I don't know about that. But he was aware of the way in which he set the scene for his characters through their gaze. Lucretia, for example. In the exhibition, his painting is compared with that of an Italian painter. In the latter, she is practically swooning in her action. In Cranach, the gaze changes everything. She has her dagger on her stomach and at the same time she is looking at us. To question us, to seek a relationship with the viewer. Here we find the whole contemporary question of the relationship between subject and spectator.


JMW - How do you feel about this return to the canvases that inspired you?

PB - It's something we've been dreaming about for years. I saw the exhibition again three weeks ago. It's very strange. It's like entering the house of someone you've lived with for 20 years.


Jean-Marie Wynants, Le Soir / January 2011