Station: [13] Cranach and Luther

Cranach and Luther were "pretty much best friends", both privately and professionally. Luther was godfather to Cranach's youngest daughter Anna in 1520. The court painter was best man at Luther's wedding in 1525, and godfather to Johannes, the reformer's eldest son, a year later. 

Cranach’s first portrait of Luther was a small copperplate engraving, produced in 1520, that showed him as an Augustinian monk. You’ll find that engraving in the frame next to the door. The free-standing panel is based on a painting from 1528. Even in the 16th century, the pictures of Luther created in the Cranach workshop were copied and modified multiple times. Cranach shaped the reformer’s image with his portraits of his friend Luther.

When he illustrated the final chapter of Martin Luther's September Testament, Cranach was in his element. When Luther was holed up at the Wartburg in 1521 and ’22, he worked on translating the New Testament from Greek into German. His translation was published in mid-September 1522. For The Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of John, Cranach created visions of doom and salvation featuring powerful imagery. Skeletons on horseback, angels wielding swords, dragons with seven heads, fiery stars falling from the firmament. But Cranach also included subtle criticism of the Pope in his images. Take a look at the illustration of "The Whore of Babylon". You’ll find it the frame on the right, where it’s in the top row, the image on the left.

In the New Testament, the Whore of Babylon is a symbol of an evil global system controlled by the Antichrist. Cranach shows her as the epitome of the vicious, the wicked, and the depraved. But – she’s wearing a three-tiered crown, that is, a tiara, a papal crown. In 1522, that was a clear reference to Rome as the new Babylon, city of vice.

Cranach created his imagery for the Book of Revelation in 21 woodcut illustrations. We have facsimiles of all 21 of the woodcuts from the Cranach workshop on our wall. For comparison, there is also a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, who’d illustrated the Apocalypse of John 24 years earlier, though in just 15 scenes.


All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch und Cranach Stiftung