Cranach Family

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CRANACH FAMILY. Lucas Cranach the Elder (14721553), Saxon court painter and printmaker, Wittenberg city alderman (15191545) and mayor (1537/38, 1540/41, and 1543/44), owner of a Wittenberg printing business, apothecary and book shops, and a wine monopoly, was the most important member of this six-generation dynasty. Son of Hans Maler ("Hans the Painter," 14481528), presumably his first teacher, and grandson of Lucas Maler (14201488), Cranach was first employed in the ducal fortress at Coburg in 1500. By early 1502 he had settled in Vienna, painting portraits of the young rector of the university, Johannes Cuspinian, and his bride Anna (both 1502, Winterthur Museum) and designing woodcuts for Cuspinian's publisher Johannes Winterburger. In 1505 he became court painter to the saxon elector Frederick III (called the Wise, ruled 14861525), working in his castles at Wittenberg, Torgau, and Lochau, and designing woodcuts for the illustrated catalog of Frederick's extensive collection of holy relics. On 6 January 1508 he received a personal coat of arms featuring a winged dragon. Cranach also served Frederick's successors Johan the Steadfast (ruled 15251532) and Johan Frederick the Magnanimous (ruled 15321547), a tenure of office unique in the history of European court painting. Cranach was succeeded by his son Lucas the Younger (15151586).

The grand house in Wittenberg, where the exiled king Christian II of Denmark had been a guest (1523) and where Katharina von Bora lived before her marriage to Martin Luther, remained the family home as the dynasty continued under Lucas the Younger's son Augustin (15541595) and grandson Lucas III (15861645).

The elder Cranach, described by the reformer Andreas Karlstadt as an excellent Latinist, was sent by Frederick on a secret diplomatic mission to the Netherlands, where he saw paintings by Quinten Metsys and Hieronymus Bosch that influenced some of his later work. His marriage in 1512 to Barbara Brengbier (d. 1540), the daughter of a Gotha city councilman, produced three daughters, Barbara, Anna, and Ursula, in addition to sons Hans (1513?1537) and Lucas, whom he trained to assist him in the workshop, where there were also at times as many as a dozen apprentices. When his last employer, Johan Frederick, at the head of the Schmalkaldic League, was defeated by the imperial army of Charles V and imprisoned, Cranach temporarily resigned his position as court painter, but resumed it at the Augsburg meeting of the Reichstag (1550), since Charles had brought along his own court painter, Titian (in Augsburg 15481551). Cranach's portrait of Titian has been lost, but his portrait of Charles survives. When the imperial army was defeated in battle by the new elector, Moritz of Saxony (1552), who freed Johan Frederick, Cranach followed Johan Frederick to his new residence in Weimar, remaining there until his death at eighty-one.

Best known today for the many versions of his coquettish nude nymphs and Venuses, and for the various "power of women" paintings designed for the bridal suites of Frederick's successors, it was the elder Cranach's personal friendship with Martin Luther, professor of biblical theology at Wittenberg University, that was most important in his own day. Luther was godfather to Cranach's daughter Anna (b. 1520), and wrote to him immediately after the Reichstag at Worms (1521), hinting at his planned disappearance. Cranach was one of the few whom Luther visited in his disguise as "Junker Jörg" on his surprise trip to Wittenberg from his refuge in the Wartburg (1522). Cranach and his wife were witnesses at Luther's wedding in 1525, and Cranach was godfather to the couple's first child, Hans (1526). Cranach also lent his printing equipment for Luther's early publications (15231525). Their friendship may account for Luther's relatively moderate attitude toward religious works of art. However, Cranach also fulfilled commissions for Luther's foremost opponents, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg and Duke George the Bearded of Saxony, and made devotional works for Frederick the Wise, who never abandoned his Catholic faith.

Representative works by Lucas the Elder include the Crucifixion (1503, Munich), a Rest on the Flight to Egypt (1504, Berlin), the first dated chiaroscuro woodcut (St. Christopher, 1506), portraits of Duke Henry the Pious and his wife Catherine (1514, both Dresden), the Torgau altarpiece (1509, Frankfurt), The Nymph of the Well (1518, Leipzig), Venus and Cupid as a Honey Thief (a theme from Theocritus, 1521, Nuremberg), the Altarpiece of the Princes (1510, Dessau), The Fountain of Youth (1546, Berlin), and numerous portraits of both Luther and his wife in various media.

See also Art: Artistic Patronage ; Luther, Martin ; Prints and Popular Imagery .


Friedländer, Max J., and Jakob Rosenberg. The Paintings of Lucas Cranach. Ithaca, N.Y., 1978. Translated by Heinz Norden from the 1932 Berlin edition. The standard oeuvre catalogue of the paintings.

Hollstein, F. W. H. German Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts c. 14001700. Vol. 6, CranachDruse. Amsterdam, 1954.

Koepplin, Dieter, and Tilman Falk. Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik. 2 vols. Basel, 1974. Catalogue of the exhibition honoring the 500th anniversary of the artist's birth.

Rosenberg, Jakob. "The Problem of Authenticity in Cranach's Late Period." Art Quarterly 18 (1955): 164170.

Schade, Werner. Cranach: A Family of Master Painters. New York, 1980. Translation of Die Malerfamilie Cranach, 1974.

Thulin, Oskar. Cranach-Altäre der Reformation. Berlin, 1955. Much of this work is by Lucas the Younger.

Jane Campbell Hutchison