A famous painter
He was born in Kronach in Upper Franconia in 1472 and probably learned painting and engraving in Vienna, Austria. He quickly became famous thanks to his highly intense religious paintings, such as the Martyrdom of Saint Katherine in 1506. Many of his works were on religious themes, but he also dealt with lay themes, mostly mythological. They display, among other qualities, a renewed aspect of the nude, for instance his famous Venus dated 1529 and the Three Graces, both at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
In 1502 he was called to the court of Saxony by Frederick II the Wise, prince Elector of Saxony and settled in Wittenberg. Until he died in 1553, he was the official painter at the court of Saxony. Besides the portraits of reigning princes he was appointed to make, Cranach also painted one of Charles V. His occupation made him a public figure in Wittenberg. He set up his workshop there, became the owner of a pharmacy, which enabled him to develop lucrative activities; he also bought a printing shop, the very one where Luther has his theses and later his translations of the Bible printed. He was also asked to become member of the City Council and was the burgomaster at different times.
Friendship with Luther
Upon the posting of the 95 theses in Wittenberg, Cranach took sides with Luther. They instantly became friends and never failed to help each other: Luther was the godfather of Cranach’s daughter and Cranach was Catherine Bora’s witness when she married Luther. Other evidence is a series of portraits of Luther and his loved ones, notably of his daughter Magdalena who died when she was 7, and can be seen at the Louvre. Paintings on wood or engravings over time and circumstances also bear witness to their friendship, for instance in 1519 Cranach portrays Luther as a focused and friendly young man in a private collection in Brussels; in 1520 an engraving shows a tonsured Augustinian monk at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library); in 1522 he portrayed Luther with a beard he grew so as not to be recognised at the Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Belgian Royal Library); in 1525 he painted Luther with his wife.
Cranach supported Luther’s reformative work by developing an iconography illustrating the main theological arguments of the Reformation. Such as the engravings illustrating biblical scenes and celebrating Sola scriptura. But also altarpieces like the one in Saint Mary’s Church in Wittenberg showing the main liturgical modifications of the Reformation; the importance of the sermon and the way the Last Supper was celebrated. In 1529, one in Prague portrayed Law and Grace. In Weimar at Pater und Paulkirche, he displayed the theme of justification through faith. After Cranach died the altarpiece was completed by his son Hans Cranach, called Cranach the Younger (1556-1586). In both pieces Luther, as well as Cranach, were portrayed.
The place of images in the history of the Reformation
After the Council of Trent and the importance it gave to religious painting in order to prevent the spreading of the Reformation, a degree of mistrust towards the image developed in Reformation circles. Calvin himself was definitely opposed to any representation of biblical scenes. Cranach’s works, like those of Rembrandt, showed that mistrust can be overcome. And one must acknowledge that the Counter Reform was the source of outstanding works.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Martin Luther’s theology is based on the Bible and not on dogmas. Referring to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he claims that salvation is given through God’s grace and not through deeds. It was adopted by Lutheran Churches, and also by the other Reformed Churches, in principle.
Martin Luther and public life
Luther’s teaching, writings and sermons were widely distributed. After his 95 theses had been posted, and he was condemned by the Pope as a theologian, many of his fellow citizens decided to follow him: knights, peasants or bourgeois. These first Lutherans saw him as a prophesying individual, and looked for his support in their various conflicts.
Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation
Martin Luther, a german augustin monk, questioned the dogma of salvation through deeds. He was condemned by Pope Leon X, and started the extensive movement of religious reform of the 16th century in which Protestantism originated.
Martin Luther and music
Martin Luther (1483-1548) was not only a theologian and a reformer, he was also a musician and a composer.
In the reform of the liturgy, he gave community singing a renewed role. He composed about thirty chorales, and, with other musicians, a hymn book. He asked that singing be taught in schools.
The role Luther wanted music to have contributed to the incredible development of this art in German speaking countries.
Martin Luther, translator of the Bible
As early as 1517 Martin Luther started translating the Psalms into German. In 1521, when he was imprisoned in Wartburg, he set about translating the New Testament. This great undertaking was an immediate success. Martin Luther continued with his translation of the books of the Old Testament. The translation of the whole Bible was completed in 1534. This version, though it has been revised, is still used in German speaking countries.
Martin Luther, his written works
Martin Luther was the author of substantial body of written works at the service of the Reformation. All his life Luther published theological writings. His commitment also induced him to write political and polemical texts. His works in Latin and in German widely spread thanks to printing.
Martin Luther and Erasmus
The relationship between Luther and Erasmus was rich but stormy. The theologian and the humanist had very close understandings in their translations of the Bible. But they had different points of view on what could save individuals from sin and lead them on the path to salvation. For Erasmus it was provided by good deeds. For Luther, salvation only came from God’s grace. The debate reached its peak in the famous controversy about free will between 1524 and 1526.
Martin Luther, his theology
Luther founded his theology on the Bible and more specifically on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, as far as salvation through God’s grace and not through one’s deeds was concerned. His theology was the basis of the protestant Reformation. Lutheran Churches, but other protestant Churches also embraced it and its principles.
500 years ago… Luther posted his 95 theses!
According to tradition, in 1517, Martin Luther displayed 95 theses on the doors of the chapel of the castle of Wittenberg. The idea was to start a theological controversy on the legitimacy of the trade of “indulgences”, then very active as money had to be found to build the dome of Saint Peter Cathedral in Rome. The impact was far greater than anticipated. The posting of the these became the founding event of the Protestant Reformation the 50th anniversary of which is celebrated in 2017.