Depictions of Christ and Mary


We close with two depictions of Christ and Mary by Lucas Cranach: on your left is a traditional Virgin and Child composition from 1514, and on your right, a jarringly unfamiliar yet somehow comforting depiction from about 1516 to 1520. Nearly contemporary, these two depictions provide differing avenues to the divine. The earlier depiction is full of Italian influences and promotes the traditional dogma that the path to Christ is through the Virgin and the saints. Cranach’s later depiction of an adult Christ and Mary removes every detail of narrative—even making the identification of Mary somewhat questionable. Here Cranach has put us face to face with divine humanity. As with his Bible translation, Luther advocated that art also should be understandable and accessible to a general audience. Perhaps in this exceptional painting we find the greatest depiction of that access to the divine as the very human face of Christ looks out at us: Luther’s priesthood of all believers

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Virgin and Child with St. John as a Boy, about 1514. Oil and tempera on panel. Federal Republic of Germany (on permanent loan to Veste Coburg Kunstsammlungen).

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Christ and Mary, ca. 1516–1520. Oil on parchment on panel. Foundation Schloss Friedenstein, Gotha.