Marks, Inscriptions, and Distinguishing Features
At top of cross: INRI
Bottom center: 1532, flanking serpent holding a ring in its mouth with open wings, facing right
Bottom center: coat of arms of the Dassel family
Bottom left: GENEROSO DNO HENRICO RANTZOVIO VICARIO REGIS DANIAE /
PRODUCI CIMBRICO D.D. HARDWIGVS A DASSEL IC.CAESAR.
XXVI DIE OCTOBRIS. ANNO CD.D.XCVI
[Given to the Honorable Henry Rantzau, Vicary of the King of Denmark, Nobleman of Holstein, by Doctor Hardwig of Dassel, in the Emperor’s Service, on the 26th day of October, 1596]
Recounted in all four Gospels, the Crucifixion is one of the pivotal events in the Christian religion. With his death on the cross, Jesus Christ atones for the sins of humankind, a necessary prelude to the Resurrection and the promise of salvation.
Here, Christ’s death takes place against a darkening sky and he is flanked by two crucified men, traditionally identified as the Good Thief and the Bad Thief. His body is presented frontally and symmetrically, and the ends of his loincloth flutter in the wind. In accordance with biblical accounts, the letters INRI written at the top of the cross stand for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).
The lower half of the painting is filled with a multitude of figures, who can be divided into two groups that reflect the associations with left and right found in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance: right is good, left is bad. Christ turns to the Good Thief, on his right, as if to promise that he will join Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). The soldier in armor astride a white charger is quite possibly the Centurion (Mark 15:39), who was among the first Gentiles to recognize Jesus as savior. Another proposal is that the soldier is Longinus. 1 Also on Christ’s right is the swooning Virgin, in dark blue, who is supported by John the Evangelist and comforted by several holy women. The elegantly clad woman kneeling in prayer at the foot of the cross is Mary Magdalene, who has renounced her sinful life.
Conversely, the Bad Thief and Christ’s tormentors are on his left. The man in contemporary clerical robes with an ermine collar may represent one of the Pharisees, and he leans toward a bearded figure wearing an Eastern turban. Both men look away from Christ. Especially striking is the copper-colored armor worn by the mustachioed soldier and his horse, whose pose may have been inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513). 2 At the bottom, a group of angry men cast lots for Christ’s cloak. Particularly odd is the slashed garment worn by the man standing at far right, which reveals his bare lower-right leg and upper-left thigh. As Ruth Mellinkoff has pointed out, such bizarre costumes are “signs of otherness” that mark their wearers as evil.3
Lucas Cranach the Elder is usually considered one of the most Lutheran of artists. Martin Luther and Cranach were close friends. Cranach was a witness at Luther’s wedding in 1525, and Luther was godfather to Cranach’s daughter Anna. Cranach and his assistants produced portraits of the theologian, his wife, and other reformers, as well as depictions of subjects popular during the Protestant Reformation. Cranach spent most of his career in Wittenberg, Luther’s hometown, under the protection of the dukes of Saxony. It is important to keep in mind, however, that Cranach also worked for Catholics; one of his major patrons was Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg, a fierce enemy of Luther.
The Crucifixion can be easily interpreted as a “Lutheran” picture, illustrating the central tenet of the reformer’s doctrine: salvation is an act of divine grace, obtained through faith alone. 4 This is particularly true for the Good Thief and the soldier on Christ’s right, both of whom are saved through faith rather than good works. If the soldier is indeed the converted Centurion, then his words “Truly this man was the Son of God!” and ensuing salvation are achieved through God’s grace. This is in dramatic contrast to the cleric in the ermine-collared robe, at Christ’s left, who calls to mind the abuses of the clergy, such as the accumulation of wealth, against which Luther railed. The notion that the painting embodied Lutheran beliefs led Laurinda Dixon to see depictions of specific individuals, including Pope Julius II, Emperor Charles V, and even Luther himself.5 Martha Wolff was not persuaded by these identifications, and neither am I.6
The painting’s layout and design is traditional and in keeping with earlier and contemporary depictions of this subject in Northern European, particularly German, art. The theme was much in demand, and Cranach and his atelier produced a number of Crucifixions in the 1530s that can be related to the Clowes work, such as those at The Art Institute of Chicago, dated 1538 (fig. 1); 7 Dessau, Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie, about 1537/1538;8 and Merseburg, Domstift, middle panel of the Heinrichsaltar.9
Cranach’s early works are often signed with the monogram LC, but in 1508 Duke Friedrich the Wise granted him a coat of arms depicting a serpent with upright bat wings and a ring held in its mouth. The winged serpent probably had humanistic or hieroglyphic significance and could stand for Kronos, the Greek god of time, a pun on the artist’s name in Latin as well as German. Cranach used this device on his paintings from 1508 onward. 10 This coat of arms signature is present at the bottom of the Clowes painting.
Of particular note is a nearly exact copy of the Clowes Crucifixion that is now in a private collection (fig. 2). Virtually the same size, that painting, on oak, is dated after 1532 and lacks only the Latin inscription at the lower left of the Clowes picture. 11 Both paintings, interestingly, include the Dassel family coat of arms at bottom center (fig. 3).
Lucas Cranach the Elder may be viewed as a successful entrepreneur. He was the head of a large and productive workshop, which included his sons Hans, who died in 1537, and Lucas the Younger, and many assistants. All works of art, regardless of quality or degree of participation by the master, however, left the shop under the master’s name. 12 More than 400 paintings have been assigned to Cranach and his atelier, and, inevitably, greater or lesser degrees of workshop participation are evident. In the case of the Clowes Crucifixion, however, the high quality and attribution to Cranach the Elder have never been doubted.
Hardwigus a Dassel, Doctor of the Canonic and Civil Law (1557–1608), member of Dassel family, near Einbeck, Hannover, by 1596;13
Heinrich Rantzau (1526–1598), probably Schloss Breitenburg, near Itzehoe, Schleswig-Holstein.14
Antonia Migazzy, née Marczibanyi (died 1886);15
Possibly Prince Windisch-Graetz, Sarospatak, Hungary or possibly Count Hans Johann Nepomuk Wilczek (1837–1922), Kreuzenstein Castle;16
(E. and A. Silberman, New York);
Dr. G.H.A. Clowes, Indianapolis, in 1936;17
Clowes Fund Collection, Indianapolis, and on long-term loan to the Indianapolis Museum of Art since 1971 (C10030);
Given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2000.
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1936, The Centennial Exposition: Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts, no. 15 (illustrated);
John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis, 1950, Holbein and His Contemporaries, no. 19;
John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis, 1959, Paintings from the Collection of George Henry Alexander Clowes: A Memorial Exhibition, no. 20;
The Art Gallery, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 1962, A Lenten Exhibition, no. 13;
Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, 1963, Northern European Painting: The Clowes Fund Collection, no. 42.
Daniel Catton Rich, Catalogue of the Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection of Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1938), 39, no. 34;
Mark Roskill, “Clowes Collection Catalogue” (unpublished typed manuscript, IMA Clowes Archive, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN, 1968);
A. Ian Fraser, A Catalogue of the Clowes Collection (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1973), xlvii–xlviii, 176–177;
Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1978), 112, no. 218;
Anthony F. Janson, 100 Masterpieces of Painting (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1980), 50–53;
Laurinda S. Dixon, “The Crucifixion by Lucas Cranach the Elder: A Study in Lutheran Reform Iconography,” Perceptions 1 (1981): 35–42;
Ellen Wardwell Lee, ed., Indianapolis Museum of Art Highlights of the Collection (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2005), 96;
Martha Wolff, ed., Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago/New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), 356;
Crucifixion, US_IMA_2000-344, In Cranach Digital Archive, http://www.lucascranach.org/digitalarchive.php.
The absence of an inscription makes the identification ambiguous. The Centurion is often accompanied by the inscription, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Longinus is the name given to the soldier who pierced Christ’s side with a spear (John 19:34–35); he is sometimes shown pointing to his eye, a reference to a miraculous cure. The two figures are often confused.
I am extremely grateful to the staff of the National Gallery of Art library for their unfailing and cheerful assistance. A note of thanks also to Gunnar Heydenreich of the Cranach Digital Archive for his expertise and help. ↩︎
Anthony F. Janson, 100 Masterpieces of Painting (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1980), 52; and Laurinda S. Dixon, “The Crucifixion by Lucas Cranach the Elder: A Study in Lutheran Reform Iconography,” Perceptions 1 (1981): 38, fig. 10. ↩︎
Ruth Mellinkoff, Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). ↩︎
The literature on the Reformation and on Lutheranism and the visual arts is enormous. See, however, Bonnie-Jeanne Noble, “The Lutheran Paintings of the Cranach workshop 1529–1555,” PhD diss., Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 1998; Carl C. Christensen, Art and the Reformation in Germany (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979); and Sonja Poppe, Bibel und Bild: Die Cranachschule als Malwerkstatt der Reformation (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2014). ↩︎
Laurinda S. Dixon, “The Crucifixion by Lucas Cranach the Elder: A Study in Lutheran Reform Iconography,” Perceptions 1 (1981): 37–39. ↩︎
Martha Wolff, Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago/New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), 356. ↩︎
Martha Wolff, Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago/New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), 353–358. ↩︎
Stephan Klingen, Die deutschen Gemälde des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts: Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau (Weimar: Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1996), 32, 34, no. 16. See also Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1978), 144, no. 377. ↩︎
Gunnar Heydenreich, Report, 24 July 2002 (2 pages), available at Cranach Digital Archive, https://lucascranach.org/documents/US_IMA_2000-344_FR218/09_Other/US_IMA_2000-344_FR218_2002_Document-001.pdf and https://lucascranach.org/documents/US_IMA_2000-344_FR218/09_Other/US_IMA_2000-344_FR218_2002_Document-002.pdf. ↩︎
John Oliver Hand, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield, German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1993), 26. ↩︎
The painting measures 76 × 55 cm and is signed with the winged serpent. This is the painting that is mistakenly reproduced in Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1978), 112, no. 218. Prior to being acquired, the picture was auctioned in Cologne, Lempertz, 21–25 November 1957, no. 448, lot 30, and Vienna, Dorotheum, 9 October 1996, lot 175. The absence of the inscription at the lower left implies, but does not prove, that the copy was made before the inscription was added in 1596 at the earliest. ↩︎
In much of Northern Europe, artistic production was regulated by the guilds, which set standards of quality and membership. Only artists who were certified as masters by the guild could sell their work. Assistants lived in the master’s studio for several years learning all aspects of production, and they could obtain guild membership as independent artists. Journeymen were not guild members but were artists who could be hired on a temporary basis; they had to learn to quickly emulate the style of the head of the workshop. They were especially useful in the event of a large commission with a pressing deadline. ↩︎
Based on the inscription on the painting at bottom left, which reads in translation, “Given to the Honorable Heinrich Rantzau, Vicary of the King of Denmark, nobleman of Holstein by Doctor of the Canonic and Civil Law Hardwigus of Dassel, in the Emperor’s service on the 26th day of October 1596.” Also known as Hartwig von Dassel. His identity as a member of the Dassel family is confirmed by the Dassel coat of arms at the bottom center of the painting. A brief biography can be found in Steffenhagen, “Dassel, Hartwig von,” in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 4 (1876), 761, https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd122855345.html#adbcontent. ↩︎
Based on the inscription on the painting at bottom left, which reads in translation, “Given to the Honorable Heinrich Rantzau, Vicary of the King of Denmark, nobleman of Holstein by Doctor of the Canonic and Civil Law Hardwigus of Dassel, in the Emperor’s service on the 26th day of October 1596.” A brief biography can be found in Gottfried Heinrich Handelmann, “Rantzau, Heinrich,” in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 27 (1888), 278–279, https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd11898716X.html#adbcontent. ↩︎
A paper label on the back of the panel reads “Gróf Migazzy Antónia,” a probable reference to Countess Antonia Migazzy. ↩︎
Ownership by Windischgraetz, or Windisch-Graetz, was suggested by the art historian William E. Suida; see Suida to G.H.A. Clowes, 22 January 1949, Correspondence Files, Clowes Registration Archive, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. This has not been corroborated. Wilczek’s name is not mentioned by Silberman as a previous owner. This may be because Silberman never wanted to reveal his immediate sources. Alternatively, speculation at a later date may be the reason his name is linked with this painting. Wilczek is known to have had an Old Master collection, but it is uncertain whether the Crucifixion owned by Clowes comes from the Wilczek collection. For more on Wilczek, see Andreas Nierhaus, Kreuzenstein: Die mittelalterliche Burg als Konstruktion der Moderne (Vienna, Cologne, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2014), 67–78. ↩︎
Purchase agreement between G.H.A. Clowes and Abris Silberman, 2 January 1936, Clowes Registration Archive, Correspondence Files, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. ↩︎