Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Maler was the son of Hans Maler (Müller), who was also a painter by trade. He was born in Cranach (now spelled Kronach), Germany in October of 1472. He most likely learned painting from his father from 1495 to 1498, but he may have also had the opportunity to study with south German masters in the nearby capital of Bamberg or possibly Aschaffenburg before moving to Vienna. Besides drawing and painting, his training included the arts of engraving and printmaking in the style of the Renaissance.
Cranach is one of the most influential Renaissance artists to come out of 16th century Germany. His earliest surviving pieces were dated from 1502, and produced while he was already living in Vienna. It appears that he took on the name of Lucas Cranach while in Vienna, which was a common tradition of the time, to associate one’s name with the town of their birth. The students of the Danube School (of Art) in Vienna showed significant artistic changes in their illustrations and painting styles due to his influential productions he was there. His fame in Vienna by then must have been such that he received a letter of employment from Duke Friedrich III, in 1504, offering twice the salary as the Duke’s former court artist.
He was chosen by many of the German nobility to paint their official portraits, and additionally a number of his portraits were of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, as he was a close friend of Martin Luther (a monk who was ex-communicated for his controversial – Lutheran – beliefs). Cranach had embraced the Protestant Reformation and many of his religious paintings thereafter showed his effort of representing those changing beliefs through art. One of the most popular themes of the day remained to be paintings of nudes of both religious and mythological subjects; Cranach would paint many such works as those throughout his career.
His earliest works are considered his best; critics feel that he had lost some of his passion in his work after he reached 30 years of age. Cranach’s painting of the Crucifixion (1500), which he made while in Venice, along with his St. Jerome in Penitence (1502), are grand examples of his emotional force as a young avant-garde artist. His style did undergo changes as he followed the expectations of the Saxony court, and after a decade he eventually settled on a form of portraiture that made him a pioneer of frigid state portraits. His full-length portraits of Duke Henry the Pious and Duchess Katharina von Mecklenburg (1514) are splendid representations of the portraiture style which Cranach chose to remain with for the rest of his life.
Cranach had as many as ten apprentices in his large workshop, including his two sons Hans Cranach and Lucas Cranach the Younger. There is some issue concerning Cranach’s later paintings, after 1515, because of the lack of dates and the use of his signature on all works leaving his shop. His monogram from 1504 to 1506 was an entwined LC; then a separated LC until 1509. Again he changed his signature, adding his coat of arms - a winged serpent - between the initials, which was used until1514. All of his paintings in his workshop, from 1515 onwards, were signed with just the winged serpent.
Most of his paintings past 1515 were mass produced in his shop and copied from his previous works. His son, Lucas, and the apprentices even continued to paint versions of Cranach’s works for decades after he’d died, and the signature coat of arms was continually used and never dated. He was buried in 1553, and written on his tombstone are the words “Pictor celerrimus” which means “swiftest of painters”; Cranach’s contemporaries had been amazed at the speed in which Cranach would paint. His artworks are considered impulsive, imaginative and energetically creative; his productions were extremely popular in his time. Political and social upheavals in the 16th century made people long for idyllic paintings showing the beauty of man and nature - Cranach provided them just that.