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The Reformation: Lucas Cranach, the Elder and his Workshop

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Lucas Cranach, the Elder and Workshop

Cranach and his wife Barbara had five children. Together with his sons Hans and Lucas Cranach ran a thriving workshop, that produced several thousand paintings, engravings and prints. Often it is not clear exactly who created what.  -  He retired in 1552 to Weimar, leaving his sons, Hans and Lucas the Younger, to carry on his workshop.

Below, each image is also a link to more information.

Lucas Cranach, the Elder - Katharina von Bora Luther

Lucas Cranach, The Law and the Gospel Law and Grace

c. 1529, oil on wood, Schlossmuseum, Gotha, Germany

Lucas Cranach, Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Lucas Cranach, the Elder, 1547 Wittenberg Altarpiece

In 1547, shortly after Luther’s death, Catholic forces defeated the Lutherans in the Smalkaldic War and entered the city of Wittenberg, Luther’s home, and did great damage. In the aftermath, Lucas Cranach, the great artist of the electoral court in Saxony was commissioned to create a new altar piece for the town church in Wittenberg, Saint Mary’s. This work, which is still extant within the Church, has been said to have transformed the function of art and religion.[1]

Standing over the altar, the piece is divided into four sections (see figure 1). The artist is using a conventional format for altarpieces at the time, called a Tryptic. The side panels on many of these could be folded inward in the season of Lent or other penitential times, often revealing another picture on the back of the panels. Cranach was endeavoring to demonstrate the Lutheran movement for the reader of this painting. Each panel depicts at least one essential element of the Lutheran movement.

Dr. Phil Brant - Concordia University Portland


[1] Bonnie Noble, “The Wittenberg Altarpiece and the Image of Identity” in Reformation, published online 21 April, 2015, pp. 79-129.

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