The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Friday, April 11, 2008
Should Art Take a Stand?
Before there was Thomas Kinkade there was the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach. There is a show of his stuff at the Royal Academy in London that has been getting some press.

Cranach had close ties to Martin Luther and is often heralded as an artist who embodied Reformation principles in his art. But a closer look at his art shows that he was more of an astute businessman that theologically driven/inspired artist. He employed a large workshop which produced hundreds of his popular portraits of Luther and other Reformational luminaries. But also continued to create devotional images of Mary and Saints for Roman Catholic clientele.

As one reviewer of the London exhibit observes:

When Luther took the dramatic and scandalous step of marrying a former nun in 1525, the timid Melancthon stayed away, but Cranach was Luther's best man. He sold mass-produced sets of paired wedding portraits of the couple, a defiant proclamation of the reformer's evangelical freedom from monkish vows. Painter and preacher were godfathers to each other's children, and in 1527 Cranach painted tender portraits of Luther's aged father and mother. The insight into character and obvious affection of these great pictures were another testimony to the painter's love for Luther and his family.

And yet, during these same years, Cranach's workshop was also turning out scores of Catholic pictures for Catholic patrons, including Luther's bête noire, Cardinal Albrecht, the archbishop of Mainz. These included altarpieces for Albrecht's cathedral, devotional panels of Christ as the Man of Sorrows (an image closely associated with the doctrine of transubstantiation), images of favourite Catholic saints, or of Mary assumed into heaven. Cranach and his assistants painted Cardinal Albrecht himself as Saint Jerome in his study (in a composition borrowed from a famous print by Dürer), and as witness to the miraculous Mass of Saint Gregory, a subject associated not only with transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, but also with the release of souls from purgatory, and so absolute anathema to Luther. Characteristically, however, Cranach never drew Albrecht from the life, and probably never met him: instead, he copied Albrecht's features from Dürer's 1519 portrait.

How can we account for this duality? Was it the almighty Mark?

Or maybe it was because Cranach followed Luther in a Two Kingdom approach to artmaking?!!!