Originally the wing of an altarpiece, this panel represents Maurice, the Roman legion commander martyred for refusing to slaughter Christians. It was likely commissioned by Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490–1545), the most powerful prelate in the Holy Roman Empire, who established the collegiate church at Halle as a showplace for his art patronage and his collection of over 8,200 relics. Cranach’s painting reproduces one of the church’s treasures, a life-size reliquary statue of Saint Maurice in a gold-trimmed suit of silver armor. The collar of the Golden Fleece and the imperial eagle on the banner are references to the reigning emperor, Charles V.
According to the oldest known version of the story, the Passio acaunensium martyrum (The Passion of the Martyrs of Agaunum), dating to about 450 and based on the writings of Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, Maurice commanded a Roman legion in Thebes, which was an early Christian territory. When he and his African soldiers were ordered by Emperor Maximian to persecute the Christians in Gaul, they refused and were martyred near Agaunum (present-day Saint-Maurice-en-Valais) on September 22 in 280 or 300. The cult of Saint Maurice, most widespread in the Late Middle Ages, was first associated with the royal house of Burgundy and thereafter with Saxon and Ottonian kings. One of the main centers for the veneration of Saint Maurice was the archdiocese of Magdeburg, particularly the eastern German city of Halle, where as early as 1184, an Augustinian convent and monastic school were founded and dedicated to him. From 1484 to 1503, during the rule of Archbishop Ernst of Wettin, the Moritzburg—the seat of the ruler—was built in Halle. Ernst was among the most notable art patrons of the period, surpassed only by his successor, Albrecht of Brandenburg.
The youngest son of a family of Wettin and Habsburg descent, Albrecht was elected archbishop of Magdeburg and bishop of Halberstadt in 1513. He quickly rose in the church hierarchy, and in 1518 he was made cardinal and succeeded as high chancellor primate, becoming one of the most influential and wealthy individuals within the Holy Roman Empire. Albrecht made the Moritzburg his main residence and endowed the Dominican church nearby with special privileges upon its dedication in 1523 as the Neues Stift (New Foundation). The church, with Saints Maurice, Erasmus, and Mary Magdalen as its patrons, became Albrecht's showplace. From 1520 to 1525, he commissioned sixteen altarpieces from Lucas Crananch and his workshop; these exist today only in fragmentary state, although their original placement is known from a detailed inventory.
The Neues Stift also housed the most important collection of relics in northern Europe, which had been initiated by Ernst of Wettin. The first inventory of the collection appeared in 1520; in 1526–27, a second inventory, called the Liber ostensionis and generally known as the Halle Heiltumsbuch (Halle Book of Relics), was produced for Albrecht's personal use. It described 353 reliquaries, all but three of which were illustrated (probably by a Cranach pupil). Approximately seventeen of the images in the Hallesches Heiltumsbuch depict Saint Maurice and the relics associated with him. The most important of these was a lifesize silver reliquary statue produced about 1520–21, the designer of which remains unknown. This work was the prototype for the Museum's painting and for another that forms the left wing of a 1529 polyptych attributed to Simon Franck (Marktkirche, Halle).
In the reliquary statue, and the two related paintings, Maurice is depicted as the patron saint of the empire and not, as had been more common from the twelfth century on, as the patron of the Magdeburg archdiocese. The armor worn by both the statue and the figure in the MMA painting clearly refers to Emperor Charles V. The symbol of the Burgundian Golden Fleece is attached to the cuirass, the Saint Andrew's Cross appears between sparking flint stones on the pauldrons, and the banner bears the imperial eagle as well as Charles's emblems. The sword denotes Maurice's role as a soldier saint as well as the instrument of his decapitation. It may also represent the gilded-silver ceremonial sword presented to Emperor Maximilian I by Pope Leo and passed on to Albrecht at his investiture as cardinal. Installed in a place of honor near the high altar and bearing the insignia of Charles V, the reliquary thus symbolized the close relationship between the emperor and Albrecht.
The Museum's painting follows the Saint Maurice illumination of the full-length reliquary statue in the Hallesches Heiltumsbuch quite closely while masterfully adjusting the figure and his massive armor to fit the narrow format of a side wing of an altarpiece. Since Maurice faces to the right here, this panel probably formed the inside left wing of an altarpiece, the remainder of which has not been identified and may no longer exist.
The armor is a type known as Feldküriss (field armor) and dates about 1510–20. It is thought to have been based on that worn by Charles V for his coronation in Aachen in 1520, which was subsequently given to Cardinal Albrecht as a present; however, documentary proof of this theory is lacking.
The authorship of the painting has been addressed infrequently, as it has not been available for firsthand study. The sixteen altarpieces that Albrecht commissioned from Cranach between 1520 and 1525 comprised more than 142 separate panels. Cranach and his shop were accustomed to handling large commissions, and by this time he had adopted an increasingly streamlined painting technique that permitted rapid execution by both himself and his assistants. It is not always easy to distinguish Cranach's own hand from that of his assistants, but clues concerning authorship have been derived through infrared reflectography. In this work, Cranach's hand is most likely seen primarily in the design stages and only to a restricted degree in the paint layers. The sense of assurance and directness in the handling of the saint's face is found in works most reliably attributed to the master, including The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara (MMA 57.22). Certainly, the detailed rendering of the face and the masterful treatment of the landscape reflect a level of execution above that displayed in the treatment of the armor, the tedious, painstaking execution of which was surely turned over to an assistant. Which assistant was given the task may become clearer with continued investigations of the Cranach workshop.
[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The wood panel support is made of two boards of linden, with the grain oriented vertically. The join is reinforced with two original butterflies that are visible on the surface in a strong raking light and in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 1), which also reveals tow covering the join below the preparation. The unpainted wood border and barbe at the top and sides indicate that an engaged frame was in place when the white ground preparation was applied. The bottom edge has been trimmed.
Before entering the collection, the panel had been thinned, marouflaged to a secondary oak panel, and attached to a mahogany cradle. Later, the cradle was removed, several splits repaired, and a custom-made spring tension strainer attached; however, the secondar panel was left intact.
Although there are a number of scattered flake losses throughout, the paint layer is in very good condition overall, with only one area of significant damage, in the foliage at the bottom center, and surface abrasion limited to the tops of some of the more raised craquelure.
The white ground is primed with pale pink. Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 2) revealed extensive underdrawing. This confident, freehand drawing was applied with a brush and a liquid medium containing coarse black particles that were visible with magnification. The underdrawing was not followed exactly in the final composition; there are shifts in the placement of elements of the armor, in details of the flag, and in the articulation of the armor apron. Portions of the underdrawing, including the loose, tailing curves and coils of the ostrich feather plumes on the hat, are clearly visible in normal light. While this effect is perhaps intentional, it may have been enhanced as the paint film became more transparent with age.
The painting was produced in a sequential manner, and the quality decreased as the work progressed. While the underdrawing is extremely dextrous and the underpainting skillful, the final decorative details are weak. In the armor, for example, the shading and articulation of forms are sensitively handled and display a solid understanding of how to create the illusion of three dimensions, but the finishing touches describing the golden decorative metalwork are simplistic and somewhat crude.
The sky is underpainted in shades of gray, darkest at the top to nearly white at the horizon; these tonal gradations are followed in the finished painting.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
probably commissioned by Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop Elector of Mainz, Halle (from about 1522–25); ?Habsburg collections, Schloss Ambras, near Innsbruck; Waldemar Müller, Berlin (in 1906); [Ephron Gallery, New York, after 1940]; private collection, Pennsylvania (until 1946; sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, May 15–16, 1946, no. 36B, for $3,100); Mr. and Mrs. Paul Kollsman, New York and Beverly Hills (by early 1970s–his d. 1982); his widow, Eva Kollsman, New York (1982–d. 2005)
Berlin. Ehemalig Gräflich Redern'schen Palais. "Ausstellung von Werken Alter Kunst," January 27–March 4, 1906, no. 20 (as "Der hl. Maurizius. Ganze Figur," by Lucas Cranach the Elder, lent by Waldemar Müller).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Cranach's Saint Maurice," April 20–July 27, 2015, no catalogue.
Martin Weinberger. Letter. May 4, 1945 [published in part in Ref. Parke-Bernet 1946], dates it between 1525 and 1529, i.e., after Grünewald's "Saints Erasmus and Maurice" in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and before the panel of the altarpiece in the Marktkirche, Halle; calls the latter work "unmistakably inferior" to the MMA picture; notes that it reproduces a famous statue of Saint Maurice made for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg in 1521–25, and believes it was executed probably by Cranach himself from the drawing by Cranach or one of his sons in the Hallesches Heiltumsbuch [see Notes].
Exhibition & Sale. Park-Bernet, New York. May 15–16, 1946, p. 20, no. 36B, ill., dates it 1525–29, based on Weinberger's letter of 1945 to the owner [see Ref.]; provides provenance information.
Fred. A. van Braam, ed. World Collectors Annuary 1 (1946–49), p. 155, no. 2033, records the purchase price at the sale of 1946 as $3,100.
Gude Suckale-Redlefsen with the collaboration of Robert Suckale. Mauritius: Der heilige Mohr/The Black Saint Maurice. Houston, 1987, pp. 91–92, 218, 221–22, no. 105, ill. p. 93, as whereabouts unknown; attributes it to Lucas Cranach the Elder and a pupil, calls it the wing of an altarpiece, and dates it about 1522; states that the artist responsible for the drawings in the Hallesches Heiltumsbuch also painted the panel of Saint Maurice in the Marktkirche, Halle, and suggests that he may be Cranach's pupil Simon Franck; provides detailed information on the reliquary statue, which she claims wore the ceremonial armor from Charles V's coronation of 1520, given by him to Cardinal Albrecht.
Andreas Tacke. Der katholische Cranach: Zu zwei Großaufträgen von Lucas Cranach d.Ä., Simon Franck und der Cranach-Werkstatt (1520–1540). Mainz, 1992, pp. 90–91, suggests that it might have served as the left wing of Grünewald's "Saints Erasmus and Maurice," which replaced Cranach's "Entry into Jerusalem" in the cycle of the Passion and saints made for the Halle Stiftskirche (now scattered); judging from a photograph, suggests an attribution to Simon Franck (the Master of the Mass of St. Gregory); due to the narrow format, wonders if the panel has been cut down.
Andreas Tacke inDer Kardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg: Renaissancefürst und Mäzen. Ed. Andreas Tacke. Exh. cat., Moritzburg, Halle, et al. Vol. 2, "Essays."Regensburg, 2006, p. 211, fig. 11 (color), attributes it to Cranach's workshop, identifying the painter as the same one responsible for the Halle cycle of the Passion and saints; dates it about 1520; calls it the left wing of an altarpiece that was probably once in Halle.
Andreas Tacke. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. December 4, 2006, expands on his argument outlined in Ref. Tacke 1992.
Maryan W. Ainsworth in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2006–2007." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Fall 2007), p. 20, ill. (color), believes it was originally the left wing of an altarpiece, probably commissioned by Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg for the church at Halle; mentions the life-size reliquary statue of Maurice that was housed in that church and notes that this painting "reproduces this magnificent object".
Maryan W. Ainsworth inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 5, 73–77, 289–90, no. 16, ill. (color) and fig. 64 (infrared reflectogram).