Lucas Cranach the Younger | Christ as the Man of Sorrows with the Virgin and Saint John



(Wittenberg 1515 - Weimar 1586)
Christ as the Man of Sorrows with the Virgin and Saint John
oil on panel, a fragment
31.5 by 73 cm


Private Collector, Munich;
Confiscated from the above on 18, November 1938 and allocated for the Kunstmuseum Linz (inv. 2550);
Recovered by the Monuments Men and sent to the Munich Central Collecting Point (inv. 4273), on 15 July 1945;
Transferred to Wiesbaden on 25 May 1949 and restituted to the heirs of the private collector on 2 December 1949;
Thence by descent until sold, New York, Sotheby's, 29th January, 2016, lot 425;
Where acquired by the present owner.


The devotional theme of Christ as the Man of Sorrows in art had its roots as far back as the Middle Ages, but the intensely spiritual and emotionally charged nature of this panel reflects the particular impetus that both the Renaissance and the Reformation had given to this subject in Cranach’s own time. The naked body of Christ, crowned with thorns and splattered with droplets of blood, is displayed against His tomb, his wounds displayed so as to invite meditation upon His suffering on the part of the viewer. The subject was particularly popular in the art of Protestant northern Europe, and notably in German art, where the eyes of the Redeemer were often shown open as here, emphasising the fact that though He is dead as a man He is risen again as God.

In this panel, probably painted around 1540, Lucas Cranach the Younger shows the pale figure of the Man of Sorrows against a dark background, flanked by the standing half-length figures of the Virgin and St John the Evangelist. The Virgin dries her tears on a piece of her headscarf, while St John looks on, hands clasped in both anguish and prayer. The composition of the panel reflects the evolution of the design in the workshop of his father Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) over the course of the previous decade. The overall design is very different from Cranach the Elder’s first treatment of the them, painted in 1524 and now in the Augustinermuseum in Freiburg im Breisgau, in which Christ’s tomb is set in an open landscape. It is most closely related to three later paintings, the first of which is that of 1537 now in the Historisches Museum in Regensburg, in which Christ sits with his arms crossed upon a rock, and groups of winged cherubs float above the figures of Mary and Saint John. This probably represents the last fully autograph version by the elder Cranach of this subject and is much the largest version. The present panel is closer still to two other panels, both painted around 1540, and was very probably painted at much the same date as them. The first of these is today in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg. Although accepted by Friedländer and Rosenberg as the work of the elder Cranach, modern scholars have noted that ‘…one cannot rule out the possibility of workshop participation, among others by Lucas Cranach the Younger’. Here the figure of Christ sits with his arms straight and his hands clasped in his lap. The position of the hands is repeated in the last version, an unsigned panel that was sold London, Sotheby’s, 7 July 2011, lot 214 and is now in a private collection. In all of these versions of the design the head of Christ is tilted to the left and in the last two, Christ sits with his legs inside the tomb. Although the present panel has been reduced along its bottom edge, it is likely that the figures fairly closely reflected the design of the Hamburg and Sotheby’s panels, but the angle of his left arm, which is held further away from the body, suggest that in the present work Christ may have been gesturing at his wounds or perhaps holding a symbol of his Passion. This variation may reflect the introduction in the later 1530s of examples of the composition in which Christ appears as a solitary figure, often holding some of the instruments of his torture. By this date, especially following the early death of his elder brother Hans in 1537, Lucas Cranach the Younger had assumed an increasingly important role within the Cranach workshop. As Friedländer and Rosenberg proposed citation needed here, and as the vast majority of subsequent scholars agree, it is likely that it was the younger Cranach who introduced this particularly Protestant theme to the Cranach family repertoire and who continued to develop it thereafter.

The attribution to Lucas Cranach the Younger was kindly confirmed by Dr. Dieter Koepplin at the time of the 2016 sale on the basis of photographs.

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