Franconian painter Lucas Cranach, born in 1472 and raised near Coburg, would serve the Saxon court for 50 years. Cranach between 1495 and 1500 may have worked at Coburg, the southernmost residence of importance for Frederick the Wise. Cranach refined his art in Vienna from 1500 to 1504. By 1505 he was in Frederick’s court. From Cranach’s home base in Wittenberg Frederick sent him all over the empire. In 1508 he was in the Netherlands painting portraits of emperor Maximilian and the future emperor Karl V. Cranach worked with lightning speed. He did anything Frederick asked. He painted carriages. He painted Prince Johann’s 1513 wedding bed. He painted altarpieces. Frederick the Wise rewarded him well for his skill and willingness.
Cranach engraving of Frederick the Wise 1509
When Luther arrived in Wittenberg in 1512 to replace his mentor Staupitz as professor of the Bible at the university Lucas Cranach was a real presence in the town. Frederick the Wise had granted him his own crest. He had married well. Just off the town square he had built a house with at least 84 heated rooms! In the future he would prosper even more. Anyone at the university had to know about Cranach, if for no other reason than his apprentices in his expanding workshop constantly clashed with university students.
***A quirk in the law allowed Cranach’s students to arm themselves; university students could not. Yet they swilled beer in the same establishments, pursued the same women. Of course there was a blowup. Wise heads wanted to disarm the apprentices; fools wanted to arm the students. Luther was enraged at the violence and lack of cooperation all around. It climaxed in 1520. Numerous fights brought soldiers from Frederick the Wise. Frederick issued an ordinance for ‘peaceful behavior’, prohibited weapons and set a curfew.
***The tumult did not affect Luther’s relationship with Cranach. That very year of 1520 Cranach etched a copperplate of the bony-faced, tonsured monk. It would be naïve not to think Frederick the Wise approved it. When Luther departed Worms in April 1521 after appearing before the emperor Luther sent a very personal letter to “his dear fellow-godfather and friend” Cranach. Their friendship strengthened over the years. Cranach attended Luther’s wedding with Katherina von Bora and later painted their portraits as well as portraits of Luther’s parents.
References: Ingetraut Ludolphy, Friedrich der Weise: Kurfürst von Sachsen, 1463-1525 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: 1984) and Gottfried G. Krodel, ed., Letters I, volume 48 in Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963).