(Kronach 1472 - 1553 Weimar)
The Young Christ Adored by Saint John the Baptist
signed lower left with artist's device of a winged serpent with elevated wings and dated 1534 oil on panel
137⁄8 by 91⁄8 in.; 35.2 by 23.2 cm.


Edward R. Bacon, New York;
Albert Keller, New York, by 1928;
Mr. and Mrs. Drury W. Cooper, New Jersey, by circa 1935-40;
Thence by descent to John N. Cooper, Princeton;
By whom anonymously sold, New York, Sotheby's, 12 January 1995, lot 10;
Private Collection, US;
By whom sold, New York, Sotheby’s, 28th January 2016, lot 14;
Where acquired by the present owner.

M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach, Berlin 1932, p. 64, cat. no. 184, reproduced;
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London 1978, p. 114, cat. no. 222, reproduced.


Lucas Cranach the Elder executed this highly refined small panel in 1534, when at the height of his artistic maturity and under the employ of John Frederick the Magnanimous, Elector of Saxony. The painting is a testament to Cranach’s unique artistic style and extraordinary technical ability in rendering material surfaces. Its intimate size and near microscopic attention detail, coupled with its beautiful preservation, reminds the viewer that its original intention was to serve as an object of private veneration, likely for an elite individual of the Saxon court, in which Cranach served from 1504 until his death in 1553.

Friedländer and Rosenberg considered this picture the prime version of its type.1 It should be compared to a handful of similarly arranged compositions in which the Infant Saint John the Baptist kneels beside a head on lamb whilst in veneration of the Christ Child. In this particular iteration, the figures are set before a steep, rocky cliff and a lush, green bush as they rest upon on soft flowering grass.

A nearly identical version, dated by Koepplin to circa 1535,2 is in the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover, and is set in front of a sparse black background with rocky floor. The theme must have found favor in the Saxon court as in the same year Cranach returned to it in a panel with various compositional modifications, notably the addition of various macabre and ascetic iconographic elements including a biting snake, skull and stylized dragon (Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, inv. no. 391).

The ultimate source of inspiration for The Young Christ adored by Saint John the Baptist can be found in numerous Italian Renaissance sources. In various treatments of the subject by southern contemporaries of Cranach we see direct similarities in Christ’s blessing pose, as well as overall compositional design. Cranach appears to have been aware of Italian art from early in his career, as a number of works from the first quarter of the 16th century demonstrate a direct knowledge of Italian designs. He may have encountered Italian art in Vienna while en route to Nuremberg, or during a visit to the Netherlands in 1508, as Joachim Jacoby has suggested.3 Other scholars, notably Mark Evans, have gone further to speculate that Cranach might have made a journey to Italy, possibly in early 1509.4 While such a sojourn remains somewhat speculative, one need only examine his Madonna and Child with Saint John of circa 1514 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) to be immediately reminded of the early work Raphael and Perugino.5
1See Literature, Friedländer and Rosenberg 1978, cat. no. 222.
2D. Koepplin in G. Bott (ed.), Martin Luther und die Reformation in Deutschland. Ausstellung zum
500. Geburtstag Martin Luthers, exhibition catalogue, Frankfurt 1983, pp. 360-361.
3J. Jacoby in A. Coliva and B. Aikema (eds.), Cranach: a different renaissance, exhibition catalogue,
Rome 2010-11, p. 280.
4M. Evans, in B. Brinkman (ed.), Cranach, exhibition catalogue, Frankfurt 2007, under Literature, pp.
49-61, and especially p. 57.
5Ibid, pp. 144-5, cat. no. 16, reproduced in color.

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