Cardinal Albrecht as St Jerome.

Poster for students

Background Information For Elementary Students

Biography of Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder was a painter, engraver, and designer of woodcuts. He was born in 1472 in Germany, more than 500 years ago. When he was about 30 years old, he traveled to Vienna, Austria, and a few years later he moved to Saxony, Germany. There he established a large workshop and worked as a court painter for the political leaders in that country. He also became friends with Martin Luther, a religious leader who revolted against the Catholic church. This revolt was called the Reformation, and resulted in the establishment of a new religion--the Protestant faith. Lucas Cranach the Elder was greatly influenced by Martin Luther. The painter not only became a Protestant, but also painted illustrations for Luther's writings.

Cranach also painted portraits (pictures of people), landscapes (pictures of nature), and sometimes designed works based on a famous printmaker, Albrecht Duerer. Cranach's sons, Lucas II and Hans, worked with him in his studio. And although Cranach the Elder always signed his paintings, it seems probably that his sons deserve some of the credit.

Lucas Cranach the Elder died in 1553, at the age of 81.

During the Middle Ages (ca. 476-1450), most writing, painting, and learning focused on the salvation of the soul through the teachings of the Church and the grace of God. But following the Middle Ages came a period of history we call the Renaissance -- 300 years during which people began to create art, write books, and investigate the principles of science which examined the place of man within his natural environment. The Renaissance was also a time of renewed interest in the ideals of Greek and Roman civilization.

Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and painted during the last part of the Renaissance. For several hundred years before that time in history, paintings were almost always of religious figures. But by the time Cranach was born, painters had begun to make pictures of everyday people in everyday settings. When an artist was hired to paint an important person's portrait, often that person would tell the artist how he wanted to be pictured.

Cardinal Albrecht chose to be painted as St. Jerome, surrounded by objects and animals that had special, traditional meanings. Jerome, a monk who lived 1200 years before this painting was made, was a scholar who had translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, the common language of the people. The lion, according to legend, had been Jerome's companion in the wilderness. The beaver represents hard work and perseverance. The peacocks and pheasants (two kinds of birds) symbolize salvation and life after death. The apple reminds us of the story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit. The pear represents Christ when He was on earth. And the grapes symbolize the sacrament of the Eucharist--a part of the Catholic worship service where bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The picture on the wall behind Cardinal Albrecht shows Mary and baby Jesus, and the red hat and robe on the table are clothing a Cardinal might wear.

Cranach the Elder was a friend and follower of Martin Luther, who inspired the new faith of Protestantism. Although Cranach became a Protestant, he still painted portraits of important people in the Catholic church--including Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (who was Luther's main enemy). By choosing to be pictured as St Jerome, Cardinal Albrecht intended to be identified as a defender of the Catholic Church and a supporter of the Counter Reformation.

Cranach pictured the Cardinal in his own study, at his own desk. And although there are many interesting elements in this painting, the artist was careful to draw our attention to the Cardinal himself. This was accomplished by "pushing" the viewer's eye in the direction of the Cardinal's face. Look at the lines that make up the window, bench, ceiling, and right side of the desk. If these lines were continued toward the center of the painting, they would meet very close to Albrecht's face. This is how the artist made certain that Cardinal Albrecht was the most important part of the painting. These lines also create a sense of depth, which make the picture look more natural.

By the way, look at the chandelier in the picture. It is made of antlers. The next time you visit the Museum, you can see a similar piece hanging over this painting in our gallery.

Cultural Context
For several centuries before Lucas Cranach the Elder was born, artists throughout most of Europe thought of man and nature as divine products of God's creation. Almost all art reflected this way of looking at the world. But at about the same time that Cranach began painting, artists in that part of the world started looking at man and nature a little differently. They emphasized man's individuality. People were pictured more often in common-place settings surrounded by common-place objects--and less often against religious backgrounds surrounded by religious objects. By the time Cranach painted Cardinal Albrecht as St. Jerome, this new way of thinking had become evident in literature, music, fine art, architecture, philosophy, economics, and science. Many famous thinkers lived during this time, including Michelangelo (the artist who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel), Leonardo da Vinci (a Renaissance painter and inventor), Copernicus (the founder of modem astronomy), Erasmus (a Dutch scholar), and Martin Luther (a religious reformer).

One of the reasons this new way of thinking became so wide-spread so quickly was due to the invention of movable type. Before movable type was invented, books were copied by hand, usually by monks in monasteries. This process was extremely slow, and books were not available to everyone. But then Johannes Gutenberg

figured out how to produce books much more quickly, by creating plates of metal letters that could be covered with ink and "stamped" onto paper. Instead of copying every word by hand, full pages and entire books could be made much more quickly. The same idea was used to create engravings and woodcuts, which were used to produce multiple copies of the same picture. One of the most famous printmakers who lived during this time was Albrecht Duerer. As books became common, more and more people were exposed to new ideas. As prints became common, more and more people were exposed to art.

When Cranach the Elder was about 45 years old, there was a great change in religious thinking. Religious reformer Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Palast Church in Wittenberg. These criticisms of the Catholic church encouraged many people to break away from Catholicism, and Protestant churches came into being. In addition to inspiring Protestantism, Luther's criticisms also made Catholics take a fresh look at their own faith. A movement called the Counter-Reformation took place, which had the effect of changing the ways Catholics thought and worshipped. Only nine years after Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, Lucas Cranach the Elder painted Cardinal Albrecht as St. Jerome.

Since ancient times, people have made paint by putting pigments (colors from flowers or fruit or minerals) in egg yolks. About 600 years ago, artists discovered that they could put pigments in oil--which was a much better way to create details and natural light.

Cranach's painting Cardinal Albrecht as St. Jerome was made using this then-new, oil-based paint. To make this painting, he applied the new kind of paint to a wood panel.

St. Jerome
St. Jerome was born more than 1600 years ago, in the year A.D. 347. When he was a young man, he studied in Rome (the religious center of the Christian faith). Later he went to Bethlehem and spent the rest of his life in a monastery specially built for him. He was a very important person in the Catholic Church at that time. One of his most important works was translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, which was the language most people spoke in that part of the world at that time in history.

Jerome was a scholar and a very religious person. He believed that poverty and strict self-discipline would help him learn more about God and his faith. Paintings of St. Jerome frequently pictured him as a hermit in the desert or in a cave, beating his chest with a stone and praying or writing. Sometimes paintings of him included a crucifix (cross) and skull, which symbolized the hermit's thoughts about eternal life after death. Sometimes he was pictured with an owl, which represented wisdom and solitude. And sometimes he was pictured with a lion.

According to legend, one day a lion came limping to the monastery. Though the other monks fled in fear, Jerome was not afraid. He looked at the lion's foot and discovered that there was a big thorn in the its paw. Jerome pulled the thorn out. In gratitude, the lion remained Jerome's constant companion from then on.