LUCAS CRANACH THE YOUNGER
1515 Wittenberg – Weimar 1586
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Philipp Melanchthon 1558
woodcut; 272 x 213 mm (10 11/16 x 8 3/8 inches); sheet: 398 x 232 mm (15 11/16 x 9 1/8 inches)
Heller, p. 226, no. 538 (304); Dodgson, p. 347 nos. 31 and 31a; Geisberg 673 (Geisberg/ Strauss, p. 637); Hollstein p. 152, no. 49; cat. Basel, p. 719, no. 649; Strauss, p. 149, no. 6
PROVENANCE Pierre Sentuc (Lugt 3608)
The print is one of the highlights in the graphic oeuvre of the younger Cranach, displaying a style that is clearly distinct from that of his father. Woodcuts by Lucas the Younger are characterized by a less dramatic deployment of light and shade. They show a more calligraphic delineation of the composition which can here be seen in the closely observed features of the old reformer. Prints such as this one demand meticulous cutting of the block and the quality of work of the Formschneider can only be appreciated in early impressions of which merely a handful survive. Only one other impression is known with the complete Latin text of 1560 (British Museum, London; the BM owns another early impression without the text and there are two in the Albertina, both without the text).
Based on the date and accompanying text of the British Museum’s impression (to which ours can now be added), the print was always seen as a memorial portrait of Melanchthon who died on April 19, 1560. However, the recent discovery of an impression with a laudatory poem by Johannes Stigel and the date 1558 printed below the image in Weimar establishes that the woodcut was actually created as a life-time portrait of Melanchthon in old age. After Luther’s death in 1548, the responsibility to continue the work of the reformer fell jointly on Melanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen. The latter died in 1558 – which was in all likelihood the instigation to publish this imposing portrait of the last important member of the first generation of the Wittenberg movement.