- CRANACH, Lucas, The Elder
German painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach, along with rival artist Hans Burgkmair,* is credited with inventing the chiaroscuro woodcut, a medium Cranach perfected. Born in Kronach, Lucas succeeded several generations of painters, including his father, Hans Maler, who trained the artist. Settling in Vienna, a humanist center, Cranach painted an extraordinary pair of marriage portraits of Dr. Johannes Cuspinian and his wife, Anna Cuspinian. Set in a landscape depicting the four elements—air, earth, water, and fire—various motifs allude to the humanist Cuspinian's interest in cosmography, as well as Christian symbolism.Cranach moved to Wittenberg to become court painter to Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, who was Martin Luther's* benefactor. Luther became a close friend, serving as witness to Cranach's wedding in 1525 and godfather to his children, an honor Cranach reciprocated. After returning from a diplomatic mission to the Netherlands, Cranach painted a large altarpiece of the Holy Kinship for Frederick, no doubt influenced by Quentin Massys's* Antwerp altarpiece of the same subject. The painting represents the genealogy of the holy family enacted by the imperial family, including likenesses of Frederick, his brother Duke John the Steadfast, and Emperor Maximilian. As part of another major court commission, Cranach contributed eight pages to the grandiose Prayerbook of Maximilian.Cranach was in Wittenberg on All Saints' Eve in 1517 when Luther posted his ninety-five theses. After his excommunication at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther returned to Wittenberg in the guise of Jonker Jorg, an aristocratic knight, and was arrested there on Whitsuntide. Among Cranach's many likenesses of Luther, one of his most compelling is his representation of the Protestant leader as Jonker Jorg, in woodcut and panel. Cranach played a more direct role in the Protestant Reformation in 1519 when he designed the first Reformation broadsheet, the "Furhwagen" (Chariot to Heaven and Chariot to Hell). Cranach also illustrated the Book of Revelation for Luther's first edition of his translation of the New Testament, the ''September Testament'' in 1522, with woodcuts inspired by Albrecht Dürer's* Apocalypse woodcut series. A new subject reflecting Protestant views originated in Cranach's workshop. Allegory of the Law and the Gospel, painted in 1529, illustrates Luther's tenet of redemption through faith, defining the Law under Moses as one of judgment and punishment, while under the Gospel, as forgiving and merciful. In the altarpiece, bifurcated by a central tree, dead branches and a nude man damned to hell for his sin of idolatry symbolize the Old Law under Moses. On the right side, the tree rejuvenates into the Tree of Life, and the same nude man is redeemed through Christ's sacrificial crucifixion. Cranach is equally renowned for his depictions of mythological subjects, developing a distinctive idealized version of the female nude—soft and willowy, the antithesis of the classical nude—who emanates both innocence and sensuality.Cranach continued to immortalize the Saxon court in portraits throughout his life. After Charles V* defeated and imprisoned John Frederick, a leader of the Schmalkaldic League, in 1547, Cranach remained loyal to the Saxon noble, following him to Weimar upon his release, where the artist died at the age of eighty-one in 1553.BibliographyA. Stepanov, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1997.Susan H. Jenson
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.