Station: [6] The Cranachs’ Business Ventures

Lucas Cranach the Elder was no starving artist. He was a talented businessman with the skills to market his art. He was also a politician; owned a chemist’s shop, sold wine over the counter and was a property-owner. You’re probably wondering how he managed all that – and how he was able to fund it!

As court painter, Cranach earned around 100 guilders a year. On top of that, the court reimbursed him for canvas, brushes and paints. He was issued with court dress and was able to eat in the palace kitchens until he moved to the Markt address. It was an all-round carefree package that enabled him to accumulate wealth early on and buy houses in premier locations, like this one overlooking the market square. 

Cranach didn’t confine himself to painting for the Saxon electors; he also accepted commissions from church dignitaries, university professors and wealthy citizens. Thanks to his canny business sense, he soon became a wealthy and influential resident of Wittenberg. He’s also said to have...

 ... owned a print shop? So did he have his own printing house? Or was the printer Melchior Lotter just renting a property owned by Cranach? There’s still some debate about that in 2023. We do know that one of the Cranach Courts housed a print shop where the Leipzig printer Melchior Lotter the Younger worked. Many of Luther's writings, and important works by other reformers, were printed there. Cranach and the artists in his workshop illustrated the print shop’s output. So with their art, the Cranachs made a major contribution to publicising the Reformation.

The printing press on display here isn’t a historical exhibit, but a working replica of a press from the 1520s. The design is based on a woodcut from Cranach’s workshop. 

And now: what do you think the barrel on the left of the type-case was for? Have a guess.

It’s a book barrel designed to hold piles of loose-leaf collections or stacks of bound books. That meant they could be safely transported by horse-drawn cart.


All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch und Cranach Stiftung