Lucas Cranach the Elder

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Lucas Cranach the Elder
Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses" and schism

Portrait of Martin Luther

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
  Whatever happens on pilgrimages other than whores and knaves from all over the place get together for their fun? And does the Pope do anything other than defile and prostitute himself? We want neither to go on pilgrimages nor to heed the words of the Pope, but only to seek God in our hearts.

Martin Luther, "Table Talk", 1537

Wittenberg Castle Church:
Martin Luther reputedly nailed his
"Ninety-Five Theses" to the portal

Lucas Cranach the Elder
Martin Luther Preaching
(detail of the altar predella)
Trouble was brewing in Europe: abuse of authority, ostentation, debauchery and bribery. Or so some Christians viewed the state of affairs around 1500. They considered the Pope the devil incarnate and his Church a bastion of lust, stupidity, greed and corruption. The sermons of the Dominican Johann Tetzel were water on the critics' mill. In 1517 Tetzel proclaimed that the Pope had granted him such authority that he could grant absolution even to someone who confessed he had fathered the child of the Virgin Mary — that is, if the sinner was to pay.
For some time now pulpits had been resounding with sermons offering remission of sins for money and a direct path to Heaven without a detour through Purgatory. The sermons preached by Johann Tetzel, however, were the ones that provoked Martin Luther, an Augustine monk and professor of theology at Wittenberg. In mounting a challenge, Luther said it was utter nonsense to think God could be bought. He held that the only thing one could do for one's salvation was to believe in God and live accordingly. Luther was in a rage when he wrote out his "Ninety-Five Theses". He is said to have nailed them to the portal of Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October 1517. All that has been conclusively proved by historians, however, is that he sent his "Theses" to his bishop on the Saturday that marks the beginning of the Reformation.
Luther's goal was a theological debate; the authorities would have none of it. But thousands of copies of the "Theses" had been made and distributed, thanks to the new technology of printing, and a popular movement coalesced around them. It was too late for the ancient Church: the Reformation became a revolution, scourging pilgrimages and liturgical practises as "senseless foolery". Led by Luther's rhetoric which was sometimes eloquent and religious, sometimes violent and vulgar, the Reformers went quickly from demanding the abolition of priestly celibacy to a thorough re-casting of the Church. And the movement assumed a political and social dimension, propagated under the slogan: "freedom of Christian people". Together with the Humanist movement, the Reformation effected cultural change on a hitherto unprecedented scale.
Luther had a broad following: he was joined by merchants, peasants, craftsmen and princes. Supported by the princes, Luther was able to stand up to the Pope and the Emperor. Among his followers was the Northern Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. At the Wittenberg Court, Cranach became a personal friend of the Reformer. Cranach executed several portraits of Luther, among them one for St Mary's Church, Wittenberg. It portrays Luther in his office as preacher there. In much of northern Europe, the ancient Church was no match for Luther's movement. After the Schism with Rome had taken place, Protestantism was ready to grow into a world-wide movement.      

General view of the altar predella in St Mary's Church, Wittenberg

Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1530
Oil on wood, 42 x 49 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Christ and the Adulteress
Wood, 82,5 x 121 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Christ and the Adulteress (detail)
Wood, 82,5 x 121 cm (full panel)
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

The Crucifixion with the Converted Centurion
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Portraits of Johann I and Frederick III the wise, Electors of Saxony
Oil on wood, 20 x 15 cm (each)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Young Mother with Child
Oil on wood, 60 x 37 cm
Wartburgstifung, Eisenach

Portrait of a Young Man
Oil on wood, 30,5 x 23 cm
Staatliches Museum, Schwerin

Saxon Princesses Sibylla, Emilia and Sidonia
c. 1535
Oil on limewood, 62 x 89 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Portrait of a Young Girl
c. 1540
Oil on wood, 39 x 25 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Portrait of Dr. J. Scheyring
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Hercules and Onfale
Anton-Ulrich Museum

Hl. Anna Selbdritt


Portrait of Johannes Geiler von Kaysersberg
Wood, 29,9 x 23 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich


Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Judith with the Head of Holofernes
c. 1530
Oil on wood, 87 x 56 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

c. 1530
Wood, 87 x 58 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist
Bob Jones University Collection, Greenville

Hunt in Honour of Charles V at the Castle of Torgau
Oil on panel, 114 x 175 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Lamentation
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Young Bridegroom
oil on panel
Museum of Art, Sao Paulo

John, Duke of Saxony
tempera and oil on wood
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Portrat einer jungen Dame