top of page

The Apathetic Bishop and the Hard Monk

Back again to share another new-found insight into the Reformation from Steven Ozment’s book entitled, The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation. One of the prime movers and shakers of the sale of indulgences in 1517 was Cardinal Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz. The Archbishop was a powerful man who had purchased his office through family connections. In 1519 the well-known Nuremberg painter Albrecht Dürer completed a portrait of the Cardinal Archbishop and he wrote to Frederick the Wise’s chief counselor Georg Spalatin asking for an official portrait of Luther to be done.

Dürer who would later join Luther’s Reformation was patronized by the Cardinal Archbishop and as a result Dürer portrayed the Archbishop of Mainz as a manly churchman. In his request to Spalatin Dürer included this portrait.

I’ll let Ozment take it from here, “In preparing for his portrait of Luther, Cranach first copied Dürer’s portrayal of the cardinal in his own style, arguably doing so more from the spleen than from the heart. His 1520 pinewood panel of Albrecht did not project the manly Renaissance prince of the church that Dürer had etched the year before, in 1519. The viewer rather beholds, “an apathetic youth” who, when placed side by said with Cranach’s muscular, steely-eyed, angry monk Luther appears to be the far lesser force.”[1]

This contrast proved to be too much for the Frederick’s court politically. Cranach was subsequently asked to in modern parlance, “tone it down a bit.” This was especially necessary as the Diet of Worms was approaching in the Spring and Summer of 1521 and Luther needed to be seen as being a man of the church who was obedient and bearing an open mind.

Ozment again brings to the fore how important Lucas Cranach was to the Reformation. Cranach confined himself to a subtle and yet vital role in supporting Martin Luther and the cause of the Gospel. Ultimately his art, and his printing work helped carry the Word forward.

Personally, my favorite portrait of Luther is Cranach’s first. It takes a steely eyed church man to face down the arrayed might of the world with just one Word. And of course, that’s what he did.

[1] Steven Ozment, The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation, (New Haven: Yale, 2011), 126.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page