Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Frederick III the Wise, Elector of Saxony


Kronach, 1472 – 1553, Weimar)

Portrait of Frederick III the Wise, Elector of Saxony


Oil on panel, with inscribed verses on paper attached to the panel, 20.3 x 14.4 cm

Signed with the artist’s device of a winged serpent and dated upper left 1532


Cranach’s fate, as a person and as an artist, is inseparably linked to the fate of the small Saxon city of Wittenberg in which he spent the bulk of his long life.

In the year 1505 Cranach was appointed court painter to Friedrich III the Wise, Elector of Saxony a position he occupied almost uninterrupted until his death. In short Cranach was responsible for almost the entire aesthetic ambience of the court. To meet these extensive demands he established a workshop initially in the Wittenberg castle and later in the town. In 1508 he was awarded the heraldic letter bearing the symbol of a winged serpent by the elector. At an early stage Cranach began to identify his artistic production with the court and employed this insignia as a seal of approval on paintings produced by himself and his expanding workshop.

The present painting was part of a group of sixty portrait pairs commissioned in 1532 by Frederick’s nephew, John Frederick the Magnanimous to be sent to the towns and princes who had taken sides with Protestantism. This commission allowed the artist to create a new iconography of the portrait whose function was to serve as “propaganda” and be distributed throughout all the regions of Germany that supported the Reformation. As the official court painter, Cranach supplied numerous paintings aimed at promoting the Lutheran message.


Private collection, Germany from 1980s;

Important private collection, Zürich, Switzerland


“Art Rules” organized by Art-Life Project in Tallinn Town Hall, 5 June 2015 – 5 October 2015, Estonia;

“Old masters: image and symbol. Paintings from the 15 to the 17th century from private collections”, Artcentre.Moscow, 2019 – 2020

Other Artworks

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