About Martin Luther at Gettysburg College
Gettysburg College’s Martin Luther is painted with oil on wood panel. Unframed, the painting is 15″x14.” It is dated 1547 and signed in black with the Cranach Workshop’s winged serpent insignia. The serpent has dropped wings, and faces the right.
Luther is shown down to his waist in three quarter view. His head, shoulders, arms, and hands holding a Bible form a pyramidal composition.
He looks to his left, with a withdrawn but confident look, characteristic of portraits of him post-1528. His eyes show a reflection of a window pane in front of him, influenced by the Northern Renaissance interest in mirrors and reflection.
Luther wears a pale, natural-toned sleeveless coat with fur trimming, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a red and white collar with a black tie. His clothing makes this work special because there are only a handful of portraits of Luther in this outfit known to exist, located in Germany and Poland. The Cranach Digital Archives has been an invaluable source in learning about the other pieces in this series.
His hair is dark and light grey with blue undertones. He has a small stray curl at the top of his head that is often featured in similar portraits of Luther after 1540.
Luther is shown against a blue background, likely made from azurite, the most commonly used blue pigment in Cranach the Elder’s workshop. The mineral was widely available in German mines and was supplied to Cranach in large quantities.Heydenreich, Gunnar. Lucas Cranach, the Elder: Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007), 154.
Luther’s Distinct Features
This work follows the standard for portraits of Luther. The pyramidal composition in a three-quarter view, the Bible, confident expression, thin eyebrows, dimpled chin, and thin lips are seen in almost every portrait of Luther by the Cranach Workshop after 1532. Additionally, Luther’s grey hair with a stray curl and no cap are commonly featured in portraits after 1539.
The repetition of these components made him easily recognizable, a key quality for the portrait of a leader.Hegner, Kristina. Kunst Der Renaissance. (Schwerin: Staatliches Museum Schwerin, 1990),22. An abundance of portraits of this type were produced until the 1580s. This suggests that they were made in large quantities and copied from the same original or from each other.Kulturstiftung Dessau Wörlitz , ed. Lucas Cranach Im Gotischen Haus in Wörlitz. Vol. 35. (München: Hirmer, 2015), 157.
The Fur Coat Series
Gettysburg College’s portrait is likely one of a series made in memory of Luther the year after he died. Four very similar portraits are located in Germany and Poland (see below). In each of the portraits, Luther wears the same special fur coat and has the staple features of his portraits after 1539.
The College’s archival records on this piece indicate that it is copied from an original done in 1539.Gettysburg College Art Inventory. 2002. MC-359. Gettysburg College Special Collections, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA. A 2015 publication on the portrait of Luther in a fur coat located at Evangelische Kirchgemeinde Wörlitz (below) argues that it is also likely based on a 1539 portrait by Cranach the Elder.Kulturstiftung Dessau Wörlitz , ed. Lucas Cranach Im Gotischen Haus in Wörlitz. Vol. 35. (München: Hirmer, 2015), 157. Thus, Gettysburg College’s and Evangelische Kirchgemeinde Wörlitz’s portraits may be based on the same image. The portrait of Luther owned by the National Museum in Wrocław (below), is the first known portrait of Luther in this fur coat, and is dated circa 1540. This could be the reference image for the two portraits.
In 1546, the Saxon elector, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire and the Cranach workshop’s most important patron, commissioned a series of small souvenir portraits of Martin Luther in a fur hood or gown with a Bible. He asked that they come with tablets containing a biography of Luther’s life. One such tablet is still attached to the Staatliches Museum Schwerin’s Martin Luther.Ozment, Steven. The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation’. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 1.Kulturstiftung Dessau Wörlitz , ed. Lucas Cranach Im Gotischen Haus in Wörlitz. Vol. 35. (München: Hirmer, 2015), 157. The images in the fur coat series may be based off of this commission.
Reattribution to the Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Younger
Attribution is difficult on many artworks from the Cranach Workshop. The workshop employed many artists, including Cranach’s sons, Hans and Lucas the Younger, who both worked and trained in the family studio from a young age. “Lucas Cranach the Younger.” Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum. Accessed September 27, 2021. … Continue reading The Workshop’s goal was to produce artworks with consistently high quality and similar style, so “all scholars who have tried to ascertain the contributions made by Cranach’s sons Hans and Lucas to his work have met with great difficulties.”Schade, Werner. Cranach, a Family of Master Painters. Translated by Helen Sebba. (New York, New York: Putnam, 1980), 77. Due to this, works from the Cranach Workshop have been attributed to the “Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder” or “Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Younger” to account for uncertainty about the artist and contributions of the Workshop’s employees.
Gettysburg College’s Martin Luther was attributed to the Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder by appraiser Lori Verderame. However, the three other most recent portraits of Luther in a fur coat are attributed to the Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Younger. I propose a change in attribution of the College’s work to the Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Younger based on the similarities of his pose, detailed features, facial expression, graying hair, fur coat, and Bible.
Provenance and Return to Gettysburg College
Gettysburg College’s remarkable portrait of Martin Luther was bequeathed to the College by John Henry Wilburn Stuckenberg in his will. Upon his death in 1903, all of his possessions went to his wife, Mary Gingrich Stuckenberg. She then loaned Martin Luther to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1915. Upon her death, ownership of the painting came to College, and in 1981 it came to its home on campus in accordance with Stuckenberg’s wishes.
Explore Martin Luther‘s details and compare the portrait to others in the series below. Click on Luther’s hair, eyes, mouth, hands, coat, or insignia to learn more.
Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Younger, Martin Luther, 1547, oil on wood, 15″x14,” Gettysburg College.
|↑1||Heydenreich, Gunnar. Lucas Cranach, the Elder: Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007), 154.|
|↑2||Hegner, Kristina. Kunst Der Renaissance. (Schwerin: Staatliches Museum Schwerin, 1990),22.|
|↑3, ↑5, ↑7||Kulturstiftung Dessau Wörlitz , ed. Lucas Cranach Im Gotischen Haus in Wörlitz. Vol. 35. (München: Hirmer, 2015), 157.|
|↑4||Gettysburg College Art Inventory. 2002. MC-359. Gettysburg College Special Collections, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA.|
|↑6||Ozment, Steven. The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation’. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 1.|
|↑8||“Lucas Cranach the Younger.” Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum. Accessed September 27, 2021. https://www.museothyssen.org/en/collection/artists/cranach-lucas-younger.|
|↑9||Schade, Werner. Cranach, a Family of Master Painters. Translated by Helen Sebba. (New York, New York: Putnam, 1980), 77.|