The ultimate makeover

Lucas Cranach the Elder: 'The Fountain of Youth', 1546, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The carts roll up on the left with the old ladies in. Their passengers disembark and disrobe. They are helped to descend into the square pool of rather grayish fluid, in which they splash and tumble and frolic. And out they come the other side, all young again. They go into a tent to be dressed in new clothes. And then they are off, to dine and dance and disappear off behind bushes with some nice new husbands. It all really couldn't be clearer.

Sometimes we take the old masters as models of sanity, when it comes to imperfect bodies and the ageing process. Rubens embraces the fuller figure. Rembrandt loves a heavy, stretched, experienced skin. Ah, how unlike the grim, size zero, flesh-denying madness of our own fashion world. But if you're ever tempted to think that way, remember your Cranach.

You won't find a skinnier or more artificial body-type on any modern catwalk than in his nudes. And you won't a more explicit allegory of the ideals promoted by our diet, fitness and cosmetics industries than in his picture of The Fountain of Youth. It's a worldly parody of the Resurrection. Ladies! Take a total body drench! Dip into the swimming pool, fed by the magic fountain, and let the years fall off you. What every woman wants! The only difference is, it's meant to be sort of funny.

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