BREMEN, GERMANY.- The Paula Modersohn Becker Museum
in Bremen opened the exhibition "Lucas Cranach in Bremen" which runs through August 23. As the leading member of a German family of artists, Lucas Cranach was a painter, printmaker and book illustrator with a most individual manner and a highly successful business. He was one of the most distinctive artists of the German Renaissance, court artist to the Saxon electors, a staunch supporter of the Reformation, and a close friend of Martin Luther. During the course of his long career, Cranach created striking portraits and expressive devotional works, propaganda for the Protestant cause, as well as his own brand of erotic female nude and inventive treatments of biblical, mythological and classical subjects.
Cranach adopted his surname from his birthplace Kronach, a town in Upper Franconia. No works by him are known before c. 1500 when he was nearly 30 years old and living in Vienna. His activity in the Danube region placed him at the forefront of a school of painting which fused landscape and human action with emotive force. His religious paintings set in the wild landscapes of the Alpine foothills, with ruins and windswept trees, are profoundly devotional.
In 1505, shortly after his period in Vienna, Cranach settled in Wittenberg as court artist to the Saxon electors, a position he held under three successive rulers. There he established a highly productive workshop, enlarging his reputation by his prolific work in portraiture, religious and mythological painting, and as a designer of crests, court dress, and murals for the Saxon palaces and hunting lodges. Bold design, intense colour and gracefully outlined costumes typify Cranachs court portraits. His likenesses of the personalities of the day have shaped our conception of them. He was among the first artists to paint full-length portraits; notable also is Cranachs skill in psychological characterisation, seen for example in his portraits of children such as the Portraits of a Saxon Prince and Princess, c. 1512, from the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
In 1508 the Elector Frederick the Wise conferred on the artist a coat of arms with the winged serpent that then became the basis of his standard signature. In the same year Cranach visited the Netherlands, where he painted portraits of great figures such as The Emperor Maximilian I and his successor, the future emperor Charles V, then still a young prince. Like his rival and near contemporary Albrecht Dürer (14711528), who also enjoyed the patronage of Frederick the Wise and was later court painter to Maximilian, Cranach also created engravings and woodcuts.
Cranach was to become a close friend of Martin Luther, professor of theology at Wittenberg University. He supervised the printing of Luthers propaganda pamphlets; designed woodcuts for Luthers translation of the New Testament; painted altarpieces for Lutheran churches; invented entirely new pictorial types for the reformed faith; and made portraits of the Protestant Reformers and princes (such as the Portrait of Martin Luther, 1525, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery). Cranachs involvement with the Reformation did not impede him from continuing to work for Catholic patrons, including Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, one of Luthers principal opponents,