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The Artistic Heritage of Modena: The Art of Diplomacy


Johann I (1468–1532), the Constant, Elector of Saxony

Lucas Cranach the Elder and Workshop (German, Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar)

Oil on paper, laid down on wood
8 x 5 5/8 in. (20.3 x 14.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Robert Lehman, 1946
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    These posthumous portraits of the Saxon electors Friedrich III, the Wise, and Johann I, the Constant belong to a series of sixty such portrait pairs, ordered by Johann I’s son and successor, Johann Friedrich I, the Magnanimous, when he became elector in 1532. He intended the portraits of his father and uncle to serve as instruments of propaganda. The accompanying laudatory poems emphasize the passage of Saxon electoral preeminence from Friedrich to Johann, thereby implying the legitimacy of Johann Friedrich’s own electorate.

    Completed in 1533, the extensive series demonstrates the speed and efficiency of which the Cranach workshop was capable.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Labeled (printed paper on panel): (upper left) Johans der Erst / Churfurst / und Herzog zu Sachssen.; (bottom) Nach meines [lieben bruders e]nd / Bleib auff m[i]r d[as ganz Regim]end. / Mit grosser sorg [und mancher fa]hr / Da der Bawr toll und [toricht w]ar. / Die auffrhur fast inn allem [land] / Wie gros fewer im wald [entbrand]. / Welches ich halff dempffen mit Gott / Der Deudsches land erret aus not. / Der Rotten geister feind ich war / Hielt im land das wort rein und klar / Gros drawen bittern hass und neid / Umb Gottes worts willen ich leid. / Frey bekand ichs aus herzem grund / Und personlich selbst ich da stund. / Vor dem Keisar vnd ganzen Reich / Von Fursten gschach vor nie des gleich / Solchs gab mir mein Gott besnnder / Und vor der wellt was ein wunder. / Umb land und leut [zu bringen] mich / Hofft beid freund vnd [feind ge]wislich. / Ferdnand zu Romisc[hm Konig] gmacht / Und sein wahl ich allein anfacht./ Auff das da[s] alte Recht bestund / Inn der gulden Bulen gegrund. / Wiewol das grossen zorn erregt / Mich doch mehr recht denn gunst beweg[t.] / Das hertz gab Gott dem Keisar zart/ Mein guter freund zu lezt er ward. / Das ich mein end ym frid beschlos / Wast sehr den Teuffel das verdros. / Erfarn hab ichs und zeugen thar / Wie uns die Schrifft sagt und ist war. / Wer Gott mit ernst vertrawen kan / Der bleibt ein unnerdorben man. / Es zurne Teuffel odder welt / Den sieg er doch zu lezt behelt. (On the death of my beloved brother / the whole job of ruling fell to me, / bringing much worry and considerable danger, / for the peasants were wild and foolish. / Violence flared throughout my country / like a great forest fire, / which I helped to quench with God, / who rescued German territory from its misery. / I was an enemy of the leaders of the rabble / and kept the Word pure and undefiled in my land. / I had to suffer dire threats, bitter hatred, and envy / for the sake of God's word. / I professed it freely from the bottom of my heart, / and I myself took a stand / before the emperor and the entire realm. / No prince had ever done such a thing before. / My God gave me alone that role, / and it was a marvel to the world. / Friend and foe alike sought to rob me / of my land and and people, to be sure, / and made Ferdinand [ Ferdinand I, 1503-1564] king of the Romans. / I alone opposed his election, / hoping to ensure that authority might continue / to be based on the Golden Bull of old. / Though this occasioned great wrath, / I acted according to what was right rather than out of partiality. / God gave the emperor a kind heart, / and in the end he became my friend / so that I ended my days in peace-- / Much to the Devil's dismay. / I have seen it myself, and I assure you / that as the scriptures tell us--and it is true-- / the man who can truly trust in God / will never be defeated. / The Devil and the world may rage all they will, / yet his is the victory in the end.)

  • Provenance

    [D. Heinemann, Munich, until 1929; sold to Lehman]; Robert Lehman, New York (1929–46)

  • References

    Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 43, no. 133 (with 46.179.1), pl. XXV, as John the Constant by Lucas Cranach the Elder; states "Dated 1533 and signed with the dragon with wings erect," without specifying that only 46.179.1 is so inscribed.

    Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 205–6, ill., state that the poem is by Martin Luther; discuss the large group of related portraits produced in Cranach's workshop [see Notes].

  • Notes

    This picture is the pendant to a portrait of the sitter's brother and predecessor, Frederick III (1463–1525), the Wise (MMA 46.179.1).

    When John the Steadfast died in 1532, his son and successor, John Frederick the Magnanimous, apparently ordered a large number of pairs of portraits of his father and uncle. Cranach received payment in 1533 for sixty pairs of such portraits, undoubtedly mostly executed by members of his workshop. Friedländer and Rosenberg, in "Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach," Berlin, 1932, p. 79 (rev. ed., "The Paintings of Lucas Cranach," Ithaca, 1978, pp. 135–36), state that the portraits of Frederick the Wise invariably turn to the right. Those of John the Steadfast, when facing to the left, were intended as pendants to Frederick the Wise. When turned to the right, they were used as part of a triptych with the three electors, or as independent portraits.

    The Museum owns a second, almost identical, portrait of this sitter, also attributed to Cranach's workshop (MMA 71.128).

  • See also