Station: [5] The Cranach Serpent

A winged serpent with a ring in its mouth – this is unmistakably Lucas Cranach the Elder’s signature. But some paintings by Cranach are signed in other ways.

During his time in Vienna, between 1501 and 1505, the artist began to call himself Lucas Cranach after the town where he’d been born. From then on, he signed his pictures with the monogram "LC". But then came the 6th of January 1508, when Elector Friedrich the Wise granted his court painter a coat of arms as a sign of his esteem:  

"In particular, a yellow shield, within it a black serpent, having in the middle two black bat wings, on its head a red crown and in its mouth a golden ringlet, set with a small ruby" 

... to quote the description in the Grant of Arms. Cranach was immediately able to seal documents with his new coat of arms. At the same time, he also began to use his heraldic animal to sign his works, at first in combination with his monogram. Only later did the serpent on its own become the signet of the entire family of artists.

The "Cranach Serpent" quickly became the trademark of the Cranach workshop, where other painters, including specialists who painted carvings, as well as printers, gilders and carvers worked. The produced paintings, ceiling paintings and prints in a "Cranach style" everyone had to follow. Over a period of eighty years, the workshop developed an extraordinary level of productivity. It created some 5,000 works, of which around 2,000 can still be found in museums and collections the world over. 

Itwas not until Cranach's son Hans died in 1537 that Lucas Cranach the Elder changed the workshop signature: the bat wings became bird wings. That was the symbol with which Hans Cranach had signed his works from 1536 onwards.


All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch und Cranach Stiftung