Lot 9. Lucas Cranach the Elder (Kronach 1472 - 1553 Weimar), Portrait of Martin Luther (1483-1546), signed with the winged serpent device and with traces of date centre left, and bears date upper left: 1517, oil on beechwood panel, 15 7/8 by 10 1/2 in.; 40.3 by 26.5 cm. Estimate 800,000 — 1,200,000 USD. Lot sold 2,295,000 USD. Photo: Sotheby's.
Provenance: Possibly Fürst Ludwig Kraft zu Oettingen-Wallerstein (1791-1870);
In the collections of the Fürsten zu Oettingen-Wallerstein, Kloster Maihingen, near Wallerstein, until at least 1948;
Charles Frederic, Prince of Oettingen-Wallerstein, Haburg Castle, Bavaria;
Private collection, Switzerland, by the mid-twentieth century;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Exhibited: Basel, Kunstmuseum, Lukas Cranach. Gemälde. Zeichnungen. Druckgraphik, 15 June – 8 September 1974, no. 43;
Hamburg, Buscerius Kunst Forums, Lucas Cranach. Glaube, Mythologie und Moderne, 6 April – 13 July 2003, no. 43;
Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Cranach, 23 November 2007 – 17 February 2008, no. 38.
Literature: D. Koepplin and T. Falk, Lukas Cranach. Gemälde. Zeichnungen. Druckgraphik, exhibition catalogue, vol. I, Basel and Stuttgart 1974, p. 100, no. 43, reproduced p. 99;
M.J. Friedlander and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London 1978, p. 99, cat. no. 147, reproduced;
W. Schade, Lucas Cranach. Glaube, Mythologie und Moderne, exh. cat., Hamburg 2003, p. 175, no. 43, reproduced;
B. Brinkmann (ed.), Cranach, exh. cat., Frankfurt and London 2007, p. 188, cat. no. 38, reproduced.
Schneider, in Luther! 95 Schätze - 95 Menschen, exh. cat., Wittenberg 2017, pp 156-157, reproduced in colour.
Note: Just over five hundred years ago in 1517 Martin Luther pinned his Ninety-Five Theses challenging the Catholic Church’s practice of the sale of indulgences to the doors of the church in Wittenberg in Germany. By so doing he precipitated a chain of events that would lead directly to the Protestant Reformation, and thus change the political and religious landscape of Europe forever. This is the first known painted portrait of the great reformer and shows him during the most important (and dangerous) eighteen months of his life. It was painted in Wittenberg around 1520, shortly before his excommunication by the Pope and his summons by the Emperor Charles V to defend his actions at the Diet of Worms in 1521. This panel is of very considerable importance in its own right, for it is also the first painted portrait of Luther by his lifelong friend Lucas Cranach, one of the greatest artists of the German Renaissance. No doubt because of this, it has an immediacy and sympathy for character which distinguishes it from the many portraits of his friend that Cranach would later paint. Unshaven but steadfast, we can readily sense here the fixity of purpose and resolute belief in his own principles that Luther would display in the months ahead.
Luther is shown by Cranach in three-quarter profile, the black of his robes and hat set against a deep olive green background. The costume in which he is depicted combines the habit of a monk of the closed Order of Augustinian Friars, which he had joined in Erfurt in July 1505, with the doctoral hat which marked his being made Doctor of Theology at Wittenberg University in 1512. Cranach had very recently showed Luther separately in both guises, the former in front of a recess in an engraving of 1520 (fig. 1),1 and the latter in an engraved profile portrait of 1521 (fig. 2).2 Another engraved portrait, closely related to the first of these and showing the thirty-seven year old Luther in head and shoulders format, again dressed as an Augustinian monk but without the niche, also dates from 1520 (fig. 3).3 The date of 1517 which appears in the upper left corner of the present painted panel is a later addition and thus unreliable, and in any case would not fit with what we know of Cranach’s style at that date. Unfortunately the traces of the original date which accompanied Cranach’s serpent device beside the sitter’s shoulder are now too indistinct to shed any further light, but even without a clear date, the close relationship between the three engravings and the painted portrait, together with Luther’s relatively youthful features, all clearly suggest that they were executed within a very short time of each other.