Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder (German: Lucas Cranach der Ältere German
pronunciation: [ˈluːkas ˈkʁaːnax dɛɐ̯ ˈʔɛltəʁə], c.
1472 – 16 October 1553) was a
German Renaissance painter and
printmaker in woodcut and engraving. He was court painter to the
Electors of Saxony
Electors of Saxony for most of his career, and is known for his
portraits, both of German princes and those of the leaders of the
Protestant Reformation, whose cause he embraced with enthusiasm. He
was a close friend of Martin Luther. Cranach also painted religious
subjects, first in the Catholic tradition, and later trying to find
new ways of conveying
Lutheran religious concerns in art. He continued
throughout his career to paint nude subjects drawn from mythology and
Cranach had a large workshop and many works exist in different
versions; his son Lucas Cranach the Younger, and others, continued to
create versions of his father's works for decades after his death. He
has been considered the most successful German artist of his time.
1 Early life
4 Works and art
4.1 Religious subjects
4.2 Mythological scenes
5 References and sources
6 Further reading
7 External links
Signature of Cranach the Elder from 1508 on: winged snake with ruby
ring (as on painting of 1514)
He was born at
Kronach in upper Franconia, probably in 1472. His exact
date of birth is unknown. He learned the art of drawing from his
father Hans Maler (his surname meaning "painter" and denoting his
profession, not his ancestry, after the manner of the time and
class). His mother, with surname Hübner, died in 1491. Later, the
name of his birthplace was used for his surname, another custom of the
times. How Cranach was trained is not known, but it was probably with
local south German masters, as with his contemporary Matthias
Grünewald, who worked at
Bamberg is the
capital of the diocese in which
Kronach lies). There are also
suggestions that Cranach spent some time in
Vienna around 1500.
According to Gunderam (the tutor of Cranach's children) Cranach
demonstrated his talents as a painter before the close of the 15th
century. His work then drew the attention of Duke Friedrich III,
Elector of Saxony, known as Frederick the Wise, who attached Cranach
to his court in 1504. The records of
Wittenberg confirm Gunderam's
statement to this extent that Cranach's name appears for the first
time in the public accounts on the 24 June 1504, when he drew 50
gulden for the salary of half a year, as pictor ducalis ("the duke's
painter"). Cranach was to remain in the service of the Elector and his
successors for the rest of his life, although he was able to undertake
Cranach married Barbara Brengbier, the daughter of a burgher of Gotha
and also born there; she died at
Wittenberg on 26 December 1540.
Cranach later owned a house at Gotha, but most likely he got to know
Barbara near Wittenberg, where her family also owned a house, that
later also belonged to Cranach.
Apollo and Diana.
Portrait of Martin Luther.
Hunting near Hartenfels castle (1540).
The first evidence of Cranach's skill as an artist comes in a picture
dated 1504. Early in his career he was active in several branches of
his profession: sometimes a decorative painter, more frequently
producing portraits and altarpieces, woodcuts, engravings, and
designing the coins for the electorate.
Early in the days of his official employment he startled his master's
courtiers by the realism with which he painted still life, game and
antlers on the walls of the country palaces at
Coburg and Locha; his
pictures of deer and wild boar were considered striking, and the duke
fostered his passion for this form of art by taking him out to the
hunting field, where he sketched "his grace" running the stag, or Duke
John sticking a boar.
Before 1508 he had painted several altar-pieces for the Castle Church
Wittenberg in competition with Albrecht Dürer,
Hans Burgkmair and
others; the duke and his brother John were portrayed in various
attitudes and a number of his best woodcuts and copper-plates were
In 1509 Cranach went to the Netherlands, and painted the Emperor
Maximilian and the boy who afterwards became Emperor Charles V. Until
1508 Cranach signed his works with his initials. In that year the
elector gave him the winged snake as an emblem, or Kleinod, which
superseded the initials on his pictures after that date.
Cranach was the court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg,
an area in the heart of the emerging
Protestant faith. His patrons
were powerful supporters of Martin Luther, and Cranach used his art as
a symbol of the new faith. Cranach made numerous portraits of Luther,
and provided woodcut illustrations for Luther's German translation of
the Bible. Somewhat later the duke conferred on him the monopoly of
the sale of medicines at Wittenberg, and a printer's patent with
exclusive privileges as to copyright in Bibles. Cranach's presses were
used by Martin Luther. His apothecary shop was open for centuries, and
was only lost by fire in 1871.
Cranach, like his patron, was friendly with the
at a very early stage; yet it is difficult to fix the time of his
first meeting with Martin Luther. The oldest reference to Cranach in
Luther's correspondence dates from 1520. In a letter written from
Worms in 1521, Luther calls him his "gossip", warmly alluding to his
"Gevatterin", the artist's wife. Cranach first made an engraving of
Luther in 1520, when Luther was an Augustinian friar; five years
later, Luther renounced his religious vows, and Cranach was present as
a witness at the betrothal festival of Luther and Katharina von
Bora. He was also godfather to their first child, Johannes "Hans"
Luther, born 1526. In 1530 Luther lived at the citadel of Veste Coburg
under the protection of the Duke of Saxe-
Coburg and his room is
preserved there along with a painting of him. The Dukes became noted
collectors of Cranach's work, some of which remains in the family
collection at Callenberg Castle.
The death in 1525 of the Elector Frederick the Wise and Elector John's
in 1532 brought no change in Cranach's position; he remained a
favourite with John Frederick I, under whom he twice (1531 and 1540)
filled the office of burgomaster of Wittenberg.
In 1547, John Frederick was taken prisoner at the Battle of Mühlberg,
Wittenberg was besieged. As Cranach wrote from his house to the
Albert, Duke of Prussia
Albert, Duke of Prussia at
Königsberg to tell him of
John Frederick's capture, he showed his attachment by saying,
I cannot conceal from your Grace that we have been robbed of our dear
prince, who from his youth upwards has been a true prince to us, but
God will help him out of prison, for the
Kaiser is bold enough to
revive the Papacy, which God will certainly not allow.
During the siege Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, remembered Cranach
from his childhood and summoned him to his camp at Pistritz. Cranach
came, and begged on his knees for kind treatment for Elector John
Three years afterward, when all the dignitaries of the Empire met at
Augsburg to receive commands from the emperor, and
Titian came at
Charles's bidding to paint King Philip II of Spain, John Frederick
asked Cranach to visit the city; and here for a few months he stayed
in the household of the captive elector, whom he afterward accompanied
home in 1552.
He died at age 81 on October 16, 1553, at Weimar, where the house in
which he lived still stands in the marketplace. He was buried in
Jacobsfriedhof in Weimar.
Cranach had two sons, both artists: Hans Cranach, whose life is
obscure and who died at
Bologna in 1537; and Lucas Cranach the
Younger, born in 1515, who died in 1586. He also had three
daughters. One of them was Barbara Cranach, who died in 1569, married
Christian Brück (Pontanus), and was an ancestor of Johann Wolfgang
His granddaughter married Polykarp Leyser the Elder, thus making him
an ancestor of the Polykarp Leyser family of theologians.
Lutheran Church remembers Cranach as a great Christian on April 6
along with Dürer, and possibly
Matthias Grünewald or
Burgkmair. The liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA)
honors Cranach, Dürer and Grünewald on August 5.
Works and art
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve woodcut.
Study for portrait of Margaret of Pomerania (1518-1569), ca. 1545, a
drawing with all details of the sitter's costume meticulously
described, was intended for the future reference and to facilitate the
work on large number of commissions in the artist's atelier.
The oldest extant picture by Cranach is the Rest of the Virgin during
the Flight into Egypt, of 1504. The painting already shows remarkable
skill and grace, and the pine forest in the background shows a painter
familiar with the mountain scenery of Thuringia. There is more forest
gloom in landscapes of a later time.
Following the huge international success of Dürer's prints, other
German artists, much more than Italian ones, devoted their talents to
woodcuts and engravings. This accounts for the comparative
unproductiveness as painters of
Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the
Younger, and also may explain why Cranach was not especially skilled
at handling colour, light, and shade. Constant attention to contour
and to black and white, as an engraver, seems to have affected his
sight; and he often outlined shapes in black rather than employing
modelling and chiaroscuro.
The largest proportion of Cranach's output is of portraits, and it is
chiefly thanks to him that we know what the German Reformers and their
princely adherents looked like. He painted not only Martin Luther
himself but also Luther's wife, mother and father. He also depicted
leading Catholics like Albert of Brandenburg, archbishop elector of
Anthony Granvelle and the Duke of Alva.
Crucifixion of Christ, 1503.
A dozen likenesses of Frederick III and his brother John are dated
1532. It is characteristic of Cranach's prolific output, and a proof
that he used a large workshop, that he received payment at Wittenberg
in 1533 for "sixty pairs of portraits of the elector and his brother"
on one day. Inevitably the quality of such works is variable.
The Birth of John the Baptist, 1518.
Cranach's religious subjects reflect the development of the Protestant
Reformation, and its attitudes to religious images. In his early
career, he painted several Madonnas; his first woodcut (1505)
represents the Virgin and three saints in prayer before a crucifix.
Later on he painted the marriage of St. Catherine, a series of
martyrdoms, and scenes from the Passion.
After 1517 he occasionally illustrated the old subjects, but he also
gave expression to some of the thoughts of the Reformers, although his
portraits of reformers were more common than paintings of religious
scenes. In a picture of 1518, where a dying man offers "his soul to
God, his body to earth, and his worldly goods to his relations", the
soul rises to meet the
Trinity in heaven, and salvation is clearly
shown to depend on faith and not on good works.
Other works of this period deal with sin and divine grace. One shows
Adam sitting between
John the Baptist
John the Baptist and a prophet at the foot of a
tree. To the left God produces the tables of the law, Adam and Eve
partake of the forbidden fruit, the brazen serpent is reared aloft,
and punishment supervenes in the shape of death and the realm of
Satan. To the right, the Conception, Crucifixion and Resurrection
symbolize redemption, and this is duly impressed on Adam by John the
Baptist. There are two examples of this composition in the galleries
of Gotha and Prague, both of them dated 1529. His workshop made an
altarpiece with a Crucifixion scene in the centre which is now in the
Madonna under the fir tree (1510), Archdiocesan Museum, Wrocław.
Towards the end of his life, after Luther's initial hostility to large
public religious images had softened, Cranach painted a number of
Lutheran altarpieces" of the
Last Supper and other subjects, in which
Christ was shown in a traditional manner, including a halo, but the
apostles, without halos, were portraits of leading reformers. He also
produced a number of violent anti-Catholic propaganda prints, in a
cruder style, directed against the Papacy and the Catholic clergy. His
best known work in this vein was a series of prints for the pamphlet
Passional Christi und Antichristi, where scenes from the Passion of
Christ were matched by a print mocking practices of the Catholic
clergy, so that Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple was
matched by the Pope, or Antichrist, signing indulgences over a table
spread with cash (see gallery below). Some of the prints were echoed
by paintings, such as his c.1517 Adoration of the Shepherds.
One of his last works is the altarpiece, completed after his death by
Lucas Cranach the Younger
Lucas Cranach the Younger in 1555, for the Stadtkirche (city church)
at Weimar. The iconography is original and unusual: Christ is shown
twice, to the left trampling on Death and Satan, to the right
crucified, with blood flowing from the lance wound. John the Baptist
points to the suffering Christ, whilst the blood-stream falls on the
head of a portrait of Cranach, and Luther reads from his book the
words, "The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin."
Cupid stealing honey
Cranach was equally successful in somewhat naive mythological scenes
which nearly always feature at least one slim female figure, naked but
for a transparent drape or a large hat.
These are mostly in narrow upright formats; examples are several of
Venus, alone or with Cupid, who has sometimes stolen a honeycomb, and
complains to Venus that he has been stung by a bee (Weimar, 1530;
Berlin, 1534). Other such subjects are Diana with Apollo, shooting a
bow, and Hercules sitting at the spinning-wheel mocked by
her maids. A similar approach was taken with the biblical subjects of
Salome and Adam and Eve.
These subjects were produced early in his career, when they show
Italian influences including that of Jacopo de' Barberi, who was at
the court of Saxony for a period up to 1505. They then become rare
until after the death of Frederick the Wise. The later nudes are in a
distinctive style which abandons Italian influence for a revival of
Late Gothic style, with small heads, narrow shoulders, high breasts
and waists. The poses become more frankly seductive and even
Humour and pathos are combined at times in pictures such as Jealousy
(Augsburg, 1527; Vienna, 1530), where women and children are huddled
into groups as they watch the strife of men wildly fighting around
them. A lost canvas of 1545 is said to show hares catching and
roasting hunters. In 1546, possibly under Italian influence, Cranach
composed the Fons Juventutis ("Fountain of Youth"), executed by his
son, a picture in which older women are seen entering a Renaissance
fountain, and exiting it transformed into youthful beauties.
Portrait of a Saxon Prince (Possibly Johann, husband of Elizabeth of
Portrait of a Saxon Princess (possibly George of Saxony's
daughter-in-law Elizabeth of Hesse)
John Frederick I
Sibylle of Cleves, wife of John Frederick I
Johannes Cuspinian's wife
Venus and Amor
Cupid complaining to Venus
A young man
Judith with the head of Holofernes
Samson's Fight with the Lion, 1525
Phyllis and Aristotle, 1530
References and sources
^ a b The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum
of Art. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1984. p. 101.
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder was perhaps the
most successful German artist of his time.
^ a b c d e f "About Lucas Cranach". Cranach Digital Archive. Archived
from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2012.
^ "Gallery Label for Crucifixion".
^ "Commemorations". lcms.org.
^ Lutheranism 101 edited by Scot A. Kinnaman, CPH, 2010
^ Snyder, James (1985). Northern
Renaissance Art. Harry N. Abrams.
p. 383. ISBN 0-13-623596-4.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cranach, Lucas".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Luther, Martin (1521) Passional Christi und Antichristi Reprinted in
W.H.T. Dau (1921) At the Tribunal of Caesar: Leaves from the Story of
Luther's Life. St. Louis: Concordia. (Google Books)
Posse, Hans (1942) Lucas Cranach d. ä. A. Schroll & Co., Vienna
OCLC 773554 in German
Descargues, Pierre (1960)
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder (translated from the
French by Helen Ramsbotham) Oldbourne Press, London, OCLC 434642
Ruhmer, Eberhard (1963) Cranach (translated from the German by Joan
Spencer) Phaidon, London, OCLC 1107030
Friedländer, Max J.and Rosenberg, Jakob (1978) The Paintings of Lucas
Cranach Tabard Press, New York ISBN 0-914427-31-8
Schade, Werner (1980) Cranach, a Family of Master Painters (translated
from the German by Helen Sebba) Putnam, New York,
Stepanov, Alexander (1997) Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472–1553
Parkstone, Bournemouth, England, ISBN 1-85995-266-6
Koerner, Joseph Leo (2004) The reformation of the image University of
Chicago Press, Chicago, ISBN 0-226-45006-6
Moser, Peter (2005) Lucas Cranach: His Life, His World, His Pictures
(translated from the German by Kenneth Wynne) Babenberg Verlag,
Bamberg, Germany, ISBN 3-933469-15-5
Brinkmann, Bodo et al. (2007) Lucas Cranach Royal Academy of Arts,
London, ISBN 1-905711-13-1
Heydenreich, Gunnar (2007) Lucas Cranach the Elder: Painting
materials, techniques and workshop practice, Amsterdam University
Press, ISBN 978-90-5356-745-6
O'Neill, J (1987). The
Renaissance in the North. New York: The
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sören Fischer (2017): Gesetz und Gnade: Wolfgang Krodel d. Ä., Lucas
Cranach d. Ä. und die Erlösung des Menschen im Bild der Reformation,
Kleine Schriften der Städtischen Sammlungen Kamenz, Band 8, Kamenz
2017, ISBN 978-3-910046-66-5
Cranach's Adam and Eve, Smarthistory
Lucas Cranach the Elder's
Cupid complaining to Venus, Smarthistory
Lucas Cranach the Elder:
Cupid Complaining to Venus, National Gallery
Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Smarthistory
Media related to Lucas Cranach d. Ä. at Wikimedia Commons
cranach.net Containing more than 15000 images and 6000 research
documents, collaborative project by about 60 international art
Cranach Digital Archive (cda) Containing images and research
information, collaborative project by 26 international galleries
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Fifteenth- to eighteenth-century European paintings: France, Central
Europe, the Netherlands, Spain, and Great Britain, a collection
catalog fully available online as a PDF, which contains material on
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder (cat. no. 9)
Prints & People: A Social History of Printed Pictures, an
exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully
available online as PDF), which contains material on Lucas Cranach the
Elder (see index)
Discussion of Portrait of
Martin Luther by
Janina Ramirez and Peter
Stanford: Art Detective Podcast, 26 April 2017
ISNI: 0000 0001 2131 9721
BNF: cb12176451h (data)