Lucas Cranach the Elder (workshop of) - inv. 1036

Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder

Portrait of Martin Luther
1529 c.
oil on wood  
38,3 x 24 cm
1894 acquisition 
Inv. 1036

Foreign Artist Room
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This work is linked to Portrait of Katharina von Bora (inv. 1035).

The diptych with the portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora is in a good state of conservation; a layer of paint laid on the back indicates that it could be closed and transported, almost as though it were a portable altar.

The great German religious reformer, father of Protestantism, is depicted half-bust against a blue background. He is wearing a black cap that lets slip locks of curly hair. The black mass of his clothes concentrates attention on his face, with its thin lips, prominent nose, and lines marking the eyes. He has a lively, almost ironical gaze, unlike his wife who appears distant and austere. Katharina is wearing a black-edged white shirt, a laced bodice and an overdress with a fur collar. The artist has caught every detail, from her hairnet to the fur, so realistic as to seem real.
The precision of the drawing is typical of German Renaissance art. Cranach, in particular, was an esteemed engraver and his drawing ability is clearly visible also in his painting. Using brushes with fine points, he outlined the smallest detail, as can also be seen in the Diptych with the Virgin, the Child and Saint John the Baptist also in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum.

The date 1529 is visible to the left of the reformer, together with a winged dragon, which the artist, followed by his sons Hans and Lucas the Younger (both painters), used as his symbol. The portraits are accompanied by two quotations from the bible: on Luther’s, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” from Isaiah (30:15); on his wife’s, “She shall be saved in childbearing” from the first Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy (2:15).
Cranach adhered to the Protestant reforms and his image of Luther was spread far and wide through numerous copies – among which this painting – produced in series by his extremely active workshop.

F. A.

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