Lucas Cranach the Elder Biography
CRANACH, Lucas The Elder (1472-1553). A German painter of the Renaissance. He was born at Cronach in Upper Franconia. There is much dispute in regard to his family name; according to Schuchardt, on Cranach's own testimony, it was Müller, others say Sunder. Cranach was a pupil of his father, and in 1504 became court painter to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, at Wittenberg, by whom he was held in high repute. His office included the duties of master of ceremonies at court, and besides this he found time for different business ventures at Wittenberg. In 1519 he was elected chairman of the town council; he became burgomaster in 1537 and again in 1540. Cranach was in equal favor with the two following Electors of Saxony, and for two years remained with John Frederick during his imprisonment. He died at Weimar, Oct. 16, 1553.
Cranach has been called the painter of the Reformation, because of his active part in spreading its doctrines. This he did by means of paintings and woodcuts ridiculing the Pope and explaining the teachings of the reformers, and by his numerous portraits of Luther (see Plate of Luther) and Melanchthon, who were both his personal friends. Because of this activity and also on account of his great productiveness he became the controlling influence in the art of middle and northern Germany and founded what may be called the Saxon school. He painted with great facility— in fact, the inscription upon his gravestone gives him the title of "celerrimus pictor." His early paintings were carefully executed, but in later life he did much negligent work. He paid great attention to detail, for which reason his smaller pictures were more attractive. His color was bright and clear, but his drawing was deficient, and he failed utterly whenever he attempted to represent the nude on a large scale. His work was always original, and though we see the influence of the Renaissance in his mythological subjects, his art was thoroughly German and national. It was, moreover, naïf and rich in fantasy, being best wherever there was a chance for genre.
Cranach's works survive in large numbers, especially in the German galleries. But he intrusted so much to his large school of pupils that it is difficult to decide how much is actually due to him. Among his best works are the "Repose in Egypt" (1504), now in the Berlin Museum; "Christ Blessing the Children," in the Baring collection in London; "Samson and Delilah," in the Museum of Augsburg, and the "Fountain of Youth," in the Berlin Museum. All of these pictures possess a charming naïveté. Of his larger religious paintings, good examples are the "Marriage of St. Catharine," in the cathedral of Erfurt, of his earliest period, and his last great work, the "Crucifixion," in the town church of Weimar. This depicts the object of the Reformation, quaintly introducing the figures of Luther and of Cranach himself. His best works are probably his portraits, for in these the detailed execution is more appropriate. But even here he falls far short of the strength of character of Dürer and Holbein. Among the best are "Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz as St. Jerome," in the Berlin Museum; John Frederick of Saxony, in Dresden; and an "Unknown Female" (No. 291), in the National Gallery, London. Cranach was also an excellent painter of miniatures, as may be seen in the album of the University of Wittenberg, now at Halle, and especially in John Frederick's "Book of Tourneys," now at Coburg, a work of 144 leaves. He also executed a few copperplates and a large number of drawings for woodcuts.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. VI (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 218-219.