The Illustrator of the Reformation: LUCAS CRANACH

Painting by LUCAS CRANACH

The painting on the second last page (p. 19) is by Lucas Cranach the Younger.

He was one of the most important painters of the late Renaissance and a personal friend of Martin Luther’s. Lucas Cranach the Younger and his father Lucas Cranach the Elder were the guys who “illustrated the Reformation.” If you’ve ever seen a portrait of Martin Luther from this time, it’s probably by one of these two. This painting printed here is the central altarpiece in the city church of Weimar in Germany. Cranach the Younger finished it in 1555, making it over 450 years old; a few years ago we celebrated the 500th anniversary of Lucas
Cranach the Younger’s birth.

There are many aspects to this particular painting. I remember travelling to Weimar many years ago and standing in front of this altar in absolute amazement at the intricate details on show. There is just so much happening, all in this one painting! In the centre we see Christ crucified; to his left, there are three characters standing under the cross – on the right we see Martin Luther, open bible in hand; next to him is Lucas Cranach the Elder, the father of the artist, who had just passed away in 1553; and next to him stands John the Baptist, as ever with a finger pointing to Christ, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!” To the left of the cross is a portrayal of the resurrected Christ, slaying the dragon lying at his feet. And in the background, we see various scenes from the Old Testament… One could spend hours looking at this picture, and still not see and grasp everything.

I recall showing this picture to a class of Confirmands some years back. Of all the many details in the painting that could have attracted the children’s attention, this one got the most reaction:

The stream of blood squirting out from Jesus’ side onto the head of Lucas Cranach the Elder! This little detail caught their attention. “Why is that old man being sprayed with blood?” Come to think of it, it does seem kind of strange and almost macabre, standing under the cross and being sprayed with blood. But that is exactly what Cranach depicted here. There is his deceased father, hands folded in prayer, standing under the cross of Christ, being sprayed with blood! What is Cranach the Younger trying to say with this?

Pastor Roland Johannes, Wartburg

 

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