Cranach’s works bear witness to an artistic self-conception and self-confidence that did not shy away from creative rivalry with other artists but, on the contrary, even seem to have sought it. His innovative pictorial solutions cannot be fully grasped solely in the context of artistic exchange within the Holy Roman Empire. The exhibition will thus pursue the aim of elucidating Cranach’s relationships with other artists of his time, and retracing his witty and creative game of absorbing, adopting and surpassing their ideas as illustrated by concrete examples. In doing so, particular focus will be on his competition with other eminent artists, including Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Younger, while at the same time taking a closer look at the points of contact between his œuvre and Italian art. Cranach responded to the works of artists like Jacopo de’ Barbari or Lorenzo Costa the Elder with his own formal repertoire and ideals of beauty.

Within the context of this artistic competition, Cranach had a remarkable talent for embracing certain artistic themes and leaving such a strong imprint on them that they are still inextricably associated with him today. The Museum Kunstpalast has in its holdings a prominent example of a theme thus “claimed” by Cranach – the panel of an Ill-Matched Pair, which in the framework of our show will be juxtaposed with many other versions.

Two generations of electors entrusted Cranach with the responsibility for the entire production of art at their courts over a period of nearly fifty years. Yet Cranach’s activities for the Electoral Saxon court by no means defined the limits of his productivity and creative energy. He supplied artworks for rulers and princes, secular and ecclesiastical, all over Europe; among his clients were the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian and his daughter Margaret of Austria, governor of the Netherlands, King Christian II of Denmark and leading representatives of the princely dynasties of the Holy Roman Empire.

Furthermore, Cranach portrayed the civic and intellectual elites of his time. By presenting Cranach within this complex of clients of widely differing political and confessional makeup, the exhibition will provide insights into the specific production conditions of Cranach’s art – as a court artist he was not a member of a guild and thus enjoyed a special status – while on the other hand shedding light on his clever dealings on the European art market.

New technological investigations and archive research offer fascinating insights into day-to-day practice in one of the sixteenth century’s most innovative and productive artists’ workshops. Analyzing the multifarious relationships between commissions, materials, techniques, workshop organization and artistic forms of expression, the exhibition will provide visitors with an overview of the research carried out by the Cranach Digital Archive. Light will be shed on various stages of the working process, among other things the serial production of images with the employment of standard formats and the reciprocal influences of painting, woodcut and book printing.

The exhibition will show underdrawings concealed beneath the paint layer and visualized with the aid of infrared-reflectographic techniques, and illuminate not only the enormous wealth of painting materials and highly efficient artistic techniques but also the influence of commerce and economic conditions on the execution of the paintings. The investigation results provide new answers to questions of authenticity, division of labour, dating, and the original functions and contexts of the works to be presented in the show.

Not least importantly, the exhibition will also examine how the paintings have changed over the course of five hundred years and reunite works whose individual elements today belong to different collections.

Whatever Lucas creates appears glorious in its radiant splendor.

(Theologist Andreas Bodenstein, called Karlstadt, 1509 about Lucas Cranach)

Lucas Cranach the Elder was not only a close confidant of Martin Luther and a witness to the Reformer’s marriage to Katharina von Bora, but also the decisive agent in the dissemination of Reformational ideas. The exhibition will examine the proposition that Cranach’s effective workshop production as well as his captivating pictorial language were solely responsible for making the Reformation a European phenomenon within such a short time. In this context Cranach once again demonstrated his innovative powers by contributing decisively to shaping entirely novel – genuinely Reformational – pictorial themes such as “law and grace”, which rapidly spread across half the European continent. In an era charged with friction between different beliefs, Cranach was the painter of the Reformation. In his capacity as a portraitist and graphic artist he created the images of the Reformation’s leading figures by which we still know them today, first and foremost Martin Luther. Cranach’s decisive importance for the Reformation and its dissemination can hardly be overestimated, and will be paid due tribute by the exhibition – to take place in 2017, the year marking the five-hundredth anniversary of Luther’s publication of his theses.

I was painting and went to the Pinakothek in Munich every day. I love these Cranachs, I love them. Old Cranach. The tall nudes. The naturalness and material reality of his nudes gave me inspiration for the flesh paint.

(Marcel Duchamp, 1949)

Cranach’s works were the first to take Martin Luther’s stance on the use of imagery into account and to emancipate themselves from the age-old burden of serving as objects of worship. The Lutheran Reformation, and with it the works of Cranach, cleared the way for an art that could exist for its own sake, free of a cultic purpose. In short, Luther and Cranach prepared the ground for a modern conception of art. Against this background it hardly seems surprising that leading trailblazers and exponents of modern art entered into the same competition with Cranach that he had engaged in with his contemporaries. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marcel Duchamp oder Andy Warhol adopted and interpreted Cranach’s pictorial language and motifs and arrived at solutions on a par with his. This phenomenon has continued to the very present, as seen in the works of such artists as John Baldessari, Yasumasa Morimura or Leila Pazooki.