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Lucas Cranach I (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar), Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg as Saint Jerome in a landscape, indistinctly signed with remains of the artist’s serpent device (lower left), oil on oak panel, 19½ x 14 5/8 in. (49.5 x 37.1 cm). Estimate $1,000,000 – $1,500,00. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015

Provenance: Andreas Achenbach (1815-1910), Düsseldorf; (†) sale, Lepke, Berlin, 17 November 1910, lot 148.
Marczell von Nemes (1866-1930), Budapest and Munich.
Dr. Karl Lanz (1873-1921), Mannheim, by 1917.
with Karl Haberstock, Berlin, by 1923, where acquired for 18,000 Swiss francs on 15 May 1923, with a letter of expertise by M.J. Friedländer, by the following.
B. Hürlimann-Hirzel, Zurich, and by descent in the family of the present owner.


LiteratureGemäldesammlung Dr. Karl Lanz, Mannheim, Mannheim, 1917, p. 8, no. 13.
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The paintings of Lucas Cranach, Secaucus, 1978, p. 106, no. 184A.
H. Friedmann, A Bestiary for Saint Jerome: Animal Symbolism in European Religious Art, Washington, 1980, p. 132.
F.B. Polleross, Das sakrale Identifikationsporträt: ein höfischer Bildtypus vom 13. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert, Worms, 1988, p. 310.
A. Tacke, ‘Albrecht als heiliger Hieronymys: Damit « der Barbar überall dem Gelehrten weiche! »‘, Der Kardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg: Renaissancefürst und Mäzen, II, Regensburg, 2006, pp. 122-4, fig. 5, as workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder.
A. Tacke, ‘With Cranach’s Help: Counter-Reformation Art before the Council of Trent’, in B. Brinkmann, ed., Cranach, London, 2007, p. 87.

Exhibited: Basel, Kunstmuseum, Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, 15 June-8 September 1974, no. 47.
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Images of Erasmus, 8 November 2008-8 February 2009, no. 28.

Notes: Cranach’s Portrait of Albrecht von Brandenburg as Saint Jerome in a landscape is an icon of Northern Renaissance art. The picture is rare surviving evidence of the relationship between Albrecht von Brandenburg, the supreme Catholic dignitary of the age, and Lucas Cranach, an artist often described as Martin Luther’s foremost propagandist. Thus, the story of this portrait brings together three titans of the Reformation whose inextricably entwined destinies shaped this period of European history.

Albrecht von Brandenburg (1490-1545) was born the younger son to the powerful house of Hohenzollern, the ruling dynasty of the Eastern German principality of Brandenburg in the Holy Roman Empire. Ambitious and intelligent and attuned to the humanist debates of the day, he embraced a religious career and quickly rose up within the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1513, aged only 23, he was made archbishop of Magdeburg and administrator of the diocese of Halberstadt. One year later, he became archbishop of Mainz, making him an Elector, one of the ruling princes allowed to select the Holy Roman Emperor. By 1518, he had become a cardinal.

In 1517, Albrecht initiated a massive sale of indulgences – purchasable remissions of one’s sins. Proceeds from this project were used by Pope Leo X to fund the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The idea that one could buy salvation, and Albrecht’s involvement in this commerce, infuriated Martin Luther, then a 35 year-old monk, preacher and theologian of rising influence in Wittenberg. In response Luther nailed his notorious pamphlet, the 95 Theses, to the door of the cathedral at Wittenberg, a seminal act that sparked the Reformation.

Luther’s attack did not deter a financially stricken Albrecht from issuing another campaign of indulgences only four years later for anyone that came to venerate the impressive collection of relics he had amassed in Halle, the seat of his power and main residence. Inevitably, this project ignited Luther’s ire. In his correspondence, Luther called Albrecht the pope’s « creature » and condemned the « sacrilegious action of that son of perdition ». (For more on the strained relationship between Luther and Albrecht von Brandenburg, see: S. Ozment, The serpent & the lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the making of the Reformation, New Haven & London, 2011, pp. 81, 125-8, 139-42; and M. Brecht, Martin Luther, Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532, II, pp. 13-4.)

Such was the state of affairs between the two religious leaders when, from 1519 to 1525, Cranach – a close friend of Luther and the great visual promoter of his doctrine – was called by Albrecht to produce a massive decorative programme of over 142 paintings for the collegiate church in Halle. Interestingly, Cranach’s well-documented relationship with Luther did not prohibit him from working for Albrecht, a representative of traditional Catholic doctrine. Indeed, in these early days of the Reformation the schism did not appear to contemporaries as irrevocable as it eventually became. Whatever his personal beliefs, Cranach’s art was deeply adaptable and allowed him to serve both patrons successfully.

The splendor displayed in the church in Halle, integrating Cranach’s paintings with silk hangings and ornate reliquaries, was a manifesto of Roman magnificence and deliberately meant to astonish, and ultimately persuade, the worshipper. This tradition of courtly brilliance in the service of the church pervaded every aspect of Albrecht’s patronage. The sheer breadth and quality of the artistic patronage of this Renaissance prince was unparalleled, as was recently highlighted in a 2006 exhibition organised by Andreas Tacke in Halle (Der Kardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg: Renaissancefürst und Mäzen).

Never was Albrecht more prone to extravagance than when fashioning his own public image. In 1519, Albrecht Dürer received the extraordinary sum of 200 florins and 20 yards of damask to produce an engraving of the cardinal (fig. 1).


Fig. 1 Albrecht Dürer, ‘Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg; The Small Cardinal’, 1519.

By contrast, Dürer’s contemporaries Bernard van Orley and Conrad Meit, respectively court painter and court sculptor to Margaret of Austria in Mechelen, earned the modest annual salary of 18 florins (G. Messling, ed., Cranach et son temps, Paris, 2011). Albrecht particularly favoured the ‘historiated’ portrait, the portrayal of a contemporary patron in the guise of a religious or mythological figure, which became increasingly popular during the Reformation. Albrecht had himself included in the guise of Erasmus, his personal saint, in The Meeting of Saint Erasmus and Saint Mauricepainted by Matthias Grünewald (fig. 2).


Fig. 2 Matthias Grünewald, Saints Erasmus and Mauritius, 1520-1524 © Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany / Interfoto / The Bridgeman Art Library

There are four surviving portraits of Albrecht in the guise of Saint Jerome painted by Cranach, of which only the present picture remains in private hands. Two of these portraits depict the Cardinal as Saint Jerome in his study (1525, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt; and 1526, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; fig. 3) in a free adaptation of Dürer’s celebrated print of 1514. We are grateful to Dr. Dieter Köpplin for confirming the dating of the present picture to c. 1527 (private communication, May 2013). In both this picture and another from the same year (now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), the saintly scholar, still immersed in his theological reflections, has been transported into a landscape. The verdant background, so carefully rendered in this picture, is, however, more reminiscent of the Saxon forest than the Syrian desert.


Fig. 3 Lucas Cranach I, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg as Saint Jerome, 1526, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota.

By the early 16th century, Saint Jerome had become the embodiment of the exemplary Christian scholar and a role model for humanists. His popularity among erudite circles had been heightened by the critical edition of his collected works that the greatest thinker of the age, Erasmus of Rotterdam, had published in 1516, the Sancti Hieronymi Stridonensis Opera Omnia. In portraying himself this way, the Cardinal was following an already established tradition of cardinals portrayed as Jerome. For example, Jan van Eyck’s Saint Jerome in his study (Detroit Museum of Arts) is believed to be a historiated portrait of cardinal Niccolò Albergati.

As the official translator of the Bible into Latin, in its canonical version known as the Vulgate, Saint Jerome was regarded as the custodian of the Gospels’ truth and integrity. Luther undertook his own translation of the Bible from Latin to vernacular German, which was first published in 1522, and was deemed invalid by Church authorities. One of his main principles was that every believer should be able to read the Bible without clerical mediation. By the time that this portrait was painted in the 1520s, Albrecht had also produced a translation of the Bible which was embraced by the Roman authorities. Thus by taking the guise of Saint Jerome, Albrecht emphasized his own role as a translator of the Scriptures (Tacke, 2007, op. cit., p. 87).

The tame lion looking out to the viewer is the traditional iconographical attribute of Saint Jerome. It became the saint’s lifelong companion after Jerome removed a thorn from its injured paw. The stag is a common Christian symbol and its antlers are often associated with the wood of the Cross and the Resurrection. The younger stag or hind nearby, defenseless because of its lack of antlers, can be seen to represent the vulnerable Christ, at the mercy of humanity. A pair of partridges with their young in the foreground perhaps recall a legend in which partridges would steal eggs from the nests of other birds and then hatch them as their own. Jerome considered the partridge a despoiler of homes. Furthermore, in the writings of Saint Augustine, the partridge was likened to heretics, who adopt those they have not bred, a symbolism heavy with meaning in the context of Albrecht’s ongoing struggle with the ‘heretic’ Luther and his growing number of followers. (For more on animal symbolism, see: H. Friedmann, 1980, op. cit., pp. 132, 288-4; C. Campbell, Temptation in Eden: Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve, London, 2007, p. 76.)

In 1541 Albrecht surrendered Halle to his opponents and died four years later, having failed to stem the growing tide of support for Luther. This jewel-like portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder immortalises one of the church’s most brilliant patrons during this turbulent period of European history.

Christie’s. RENAISSANCE, 28 January 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza