Speaking in colours

The beautifully engraved chain around the neck of Princess Sibylle of Cleves in Weimar. The delicate fabric that barely conceals Aphrodite in Gotha. Blood spurting from the torso of the beheaded John the Baptist in Neustadt an der Orla. The Cranachs always painted with remarkable attention to detail. If you take a step closer, you will discover the true power of their paintings. They portrayed mankind and the world with a vibrancy that had not been seen before. .

In Thuringia, Cranach’s paintings still resonate with audiences today, engaging them in a lively dialogue of colour and pattern, giving worlds new meaning through the language of art. Above all, their style speaks of a time in which a new era was beginning! 

Solving the mysteries hidden in the canvas

When interpreting paintings, you may think differences of opinion are inevitable. But not always. Paintings not only present an image, they bring their subject to life and give people a deeper understanding of it. Like when solving a mystery, you have to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. People see things differently – and paintings are no exception. 

In the early 16th century, pictures were a common means of communication, as reading was reserved for the elite. What’s more, messages of this type circulated more quickly. 500 years on, not much has changed. We still like to watch. Whether it’s advertising, films, exhibitions or museums, pictures continue to have an enormous appeal. 

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Monumental paintings

The Sixtina of the North in Bad Frankenhausen

Paintings can be inspirational and thought-provoking even in current times. A fine example is Werner Tübke’s ‘Early Bourgeois Revolution in Germany’, a panorama depicting the German Peasants’ War. On permanent display at the Panorama Museum in Bad Frankenhausen, this monumental painting portraying the Thuringian uprising under Thomas Müntzer in May 1525 is a novel interpretation of this important historical event. Why monumental? Because the painting is an impressive 14 metres high and 123 metres long.

Unearthing secrets 

What message did the artist want to convey? Thanks to modern technology, we can now answer this question and resolve some of the mysteries surrounding Cranach. Sophisticated techniques are required to get to grips with the master. Researchers use state-of-the-art infrared cameras to quite literally illuminate the painting. Reflectography is used to detect sketches or outlines on the wood, which give more accurate conclusions about the original artist. But don’t we always know who painted it? Not always it seems. In the case of some valuable paintings, art historians are still puzzling over who the artist was. Lucas Cranach the Elder? Or maybe one of his sons?

Back again in Gotha!

The Return of the Lost Masterpieces

On a stormy December night in 1979, five priceless Old Masters were stolen from Friedenstein Palace. Today, more than 40 years later, these painting are now safely back in Gotha. The theft was the biggest art heist in the former East Germany. A special exhibition opening in October 2021 charts the eventful history of the collection and shows that old paintings can sometimes also have a new story to tell.

The power of pictures

Have you seen the Luther Bible at the Duchess Anna Amalia Library? Have you looked in detail at the illustrations inside? They were also the work of Cranach – or, rather, his workshop. These pictures played no small part in the success of Luther’s version of New Testament. In the three years following its initial publication, it was reprinted no fewer than 42 times. 

A complete edition comprising the Old and New Testament came 13 years later, this time featuring a total of 117 woodcuts. A special edition of this Luther Bible dating from 1534 has been preserved in Weimar. After printing, it was enhanced with colour and embellished with gold. In 2015, this copy was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register together with other writings by Martin Luther.

Take a look at the Luther Bible here.

Cranach’s Deluge of Paintings (’Cranachs Bilderfluten’)

An exibition of the Weimar Klassik Stiftung Foundation

The historical main building of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library is currently undergoing renovations. From early 2022, an exhibition on Lucas Cranach, his workshop and his milieu will be on display in the newly refurbished Renaissance hall. One of the highlights will be the original Luther Bible from 1534.

Cranach became the painter of the Reformation, not least because of his friendship with Martin Luther. Our image of Luther was certainly influenced by the fact that Cranach often painted the reformer and his wife for propaganda purposes (Luther, a former monk, and Katharina von Bora, a nun who had fled the convent, together a married couple). Cranach made Luther the icon of the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s achievements in the field of language are comparable with Cranach’s in the arena of art. Cranach brought prominence to the leading lights of the Reformation and embellished their writings with his illustrations. Thanks to his workshop, he was able to make large quantities of prints and distribute them quickly. Cranach’s paintings epitomise the Reformation. He was, so to speak, the marketing department for the Reformation.

Traces of Cranach in Thuringia

Cranach in Thuringia

A passion for art

Lucas Cranach the Elder was one of the most exciting artists of his time. He was friends with Martin Luther and printed pamphlets for the Reformation, yet he still had Catholic patrons. Question marks remain today as to whether many of the works were created by Cranach himself or one of his sons. Through his workshop, Cranach had developed a label, a real brand, intended to make identifying individual employees impossible. A number of these works can be seen in Thuringia.

Further information on the life and work of the Cranachs.

Title: ©Jessica Mintelowsky, Thüringer Tourismus GmbH

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