Crucifixion

Lucas Cranach the elder (German, 1472-1553)

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In this painting, the crucified Christ is surrounded by groups of figures. To his right, the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalene are among the mourners. In contrast, to his left, brutish soldiers ruthlessly cast lots for his garments. Behind the cross stand a monk, a cardinal, and a Turk, who represent the unenlightened—probably included as a critique of the Catholic Church.

As court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, who were powerful champions of Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach the Elder resided at the very heart of the emerging Protestant faith. Here, the tensions caused by the religious schism are manifested visually, emphasizing a central tenet of Lutheran theology: that sinful mankind can be reconciled to God only by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
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As court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, Lucas Cranach resided at the very heart of the emerging Protestant faith. His patrons were powerful champions of Martin Luther's reform of the Church, and Cranach has justifiably been called its ""official artist."" Cranach made numerous painted and engraved portraits of Luther, who was his close friend, and provided woodcut illustrations for his German translation of the Bible.

Cranach's Crucifixion should be seen in light of Luther's ideas. The emphasis upon the recognition of Christ's sacrifice by witnesses to his death on the Cross is a clear reference to one of the central tenets of Lutheran theology: that sinful mankind can be reconciled to God only by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The scene is crowded with figures that are symbolically arrayed at the right and left hand of Christ. To his right, the Virgin collapses into the arms of John the Evangelist, while the grieving Magdalene embraces the Cross. The Good Thief and Longinus, the Roman spear bearer who converted at Christ's death, gaze directly at him. They are contrasted with the brutish soldiers on his left, who ignore him and cast lots for his garments at the foot of the Cross. Cranach positioned the contemporary figures of a monk, a cardinal, and a Turk behind the Cross, among the unenlightened.

[I]mages for memorial and witness, such as crucifixes and images of saints, are to be tolerated.
-Theologian Martin Luther, 1525
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Provenance research is on-going at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Please contact Annette Schlagenhauff, Curator of European Art, at aschlagenhauff@discovernewfields.org if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.

Object Information

artist
Lucas Cranach the elder (German, 1472-1553)
creation date
1532
materials
oil on panel
dimensions
30 x 21-1/2 in. (panel)
approximately 39 x 30-5/8 x 2-1/2 in. (framed)
accession number
2000.344
credit line
The Clowes Collection
copyright
Public Domain
collection
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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