Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472 – 16 October 1553) was a German Renaissance painter and printmaker in woodcut and engraving. He was court painter to the Electors of Saxony for most of his career, and is known for his portraits, both of German princes and those of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, whose cause he embraced with enthusiasm. He was a close friend of Martin Luther. Cranach also painted religious subjects, first in the Catholic tradition, and later trying to find new ways of conveying Lutheran religious concerns in art. He continued throughout his career to paint nude subjects drawn from mythology and religion. Cranach had a large workshop and many of his works exist in different versions; his son Lucas Cranach the Younger and others continued to create versions of his father’s works for decades after his death. He has been considered the most successful German artist of his time.

Cranach’s cultural impact is significant. As the most important artist of the Protestant Reformation, his court portraiture and woodcuts helped Protestantism become the major movement within Christianity in sixteenth-century Europe. His close friendship with Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, allowed him to paint many altarpieces and court portraits of the key Protestant thinkers and make woodcuts for the Lutheran bible. Indeed, Cranach was the “pictorial propagandist” for the Protestant cause, leaving behind a body of work that has provided a visual record of the key figures who shaped this most tumultuous period in German and western Christian history. His early Viennese works are considered his most individualistic and have earned him renown as a key influence on the painterly landscapes that became the trademark of the Danube School. Cranach ran a workshop that produced over 100 woodcuts and engravings during its lifetime. Indeed, with his famous compatriot, Albrecht Dürer, he established the woodcut as a defining feature of sixteenth-century German art. Although not well traveled, Cranach spent a short, but highly productive, spell in the Netherlands where he absorbed Italo-Netherlandish treatments of the monumental nude. Back in Saxony, Cranach painted female subjects in all their rarefied elegance; typically bedecked in fashionable dress and jewelry. In his mythical works, meanwhile, he converted the Renaissance model of Giorgione’s Venus into a sensual language that was expressed through the stylized elongation the female form.