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The Artistic Heritage of Modena: The Art of Diplomacy

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

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

Date:
1532–33
Medium:
Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
Dimensions:
8 1/4 x 5 7/8 in. (21 x 14.9 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1871
Accession Number:
71.128
  • Catalogue Entry

    This small posthumous portrait belongs to a series of sixty portrait pairs of the brothers and Saxon electors Friedrich III, the Wise, and Johann I, the Constant, that Johann I's son and successor, Johann Friedrich I, the Magnanimous (r. 1532–47), commissioned from Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1532. The commission coincided with Johann Friedrich's assumption of electoral office after the death of his father. An extant record of payment indicates that Cranach and his workshop completed the series in 1533. Many of the portraits from this series are still extant in public and private collections. The works also gave rise to a number of variants, such as the triptychs in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, both datable to about 1535, which display larger portraits of Friedrich, Johann, and Johann Friedrich.

    Because of the great size of the series, the content of the accompanying poems, and the religiopolitical position of Electoral Saxony in those years, it is thought that Johann Friedrich intended the portraits to serve as instruments of propaganda. He is presumed to have given them to other political figures in order to gain influence and support at a time of growing antagonism between Saxony and the Habsburgs. The Augsburg Confession, the fundamental doctrinal statement of the Lutheran Reformation, of which Elector Johann and Johann Friedrich were signees, had been submitted at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 and was subsequently rejected by Emperor Charles V (r. 1519–56). Furthermore, at the beginning of 1531, both Johann and Johann Friedrich had opposed the election of Charles's brother, Archduke Ferdinand I, as king of the Romans. In February of that year, several Protestant princes and cities, led by Elector Johann and Philipp I, Landgrave of Hesse, founded the Schmalkaldic League to defend against potential Habsburg incursions. As a result, after Johann Friedrich took office in 1532, Charles V refused to invest him with the electoral title until 1535.

    The 1532–33 portrait pairs appear to address this political situation through their poems, which were possibly composed by Martin Luther. These are printed on pieces of paper that have been pasted down on the panels. The texts emphasize the passage of Saxon electoral dignity from Friedrich to Johann, thereby implying the legitimacy of Johann Friedrich's electorate. Also, while invoking the electors' facilitation of Luther's religious reforms, the verses simultaneously attest to Friedrich's support of Charles V and to Johann's ultimate reconciliation with Charles after the controversy over Archduke Ferdinand's election as king of the Romans. In this way, the portraits convey a tactful message of electoral Saxony's resolution to protect its own political and religious interests while remaining loyal to the empire.

    The overall compositional scheme of these works appears to derive from the engraved likeness of Friedrich that Albrecht Dürer made in 1524, which depicts the elector in a similar pose and attire above a fictive epigraphic tablet. The particular Friedrich type that Cranach employed for the series is based on one he developed by 1522 and reused in various formats. The long-established type for Friedrich served, in turn, as the model for the figure of Johann as it appears in the 1532–33 series.

    The series exemplifies the speed and efficiency of which the Cranach workshop was capable. The modeling was carried out with a typical economy of means, and certain compositional and material elements, particularly the conformity of the figures' silhouettes and the use of printed texts, were clearly intended to speed production. This panel appears to have been produced entirely by the workshop. A more refined portrait pair from the series also in the Museum's collection (MMA 46.179.1, .2), may have been partly executed by the master himself.

    The portrait of Johann was likely paired with a pendant of Friedrich in a diptych arrangement.

    [2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]

  • Technical Notes

    As with the Museum’s other portrait of Johann I in Cranach’s elector series (46.179.2), the sitter’s likeness is accompanied by two original paper labels printed in black ink. One, with the sitter’s name, is attached in the upper left corner, and the other, with a poem, is attached at the bottom. A slight indentation of the characters, which resulted from the printing process, is visible in raking light. The labels are legible and intact, although the paper support has darkened and degraded owing to acidity in the wood panel and the absorption of varnish. At some point before it entered the Museum, the painting was transferred to canvas and attached to an expandable stretcher. The original ground preparation is white. Damage extending vertically through the face was probably caused by a split in the original wood support. The dimensions match Heydenreich Format A.

    The painting is in poor condition. There are large losses and severe abrasion in the cheek and beard at right and large losses in the hat and torso and in the background. The entire surface is distorted by a fabric-weave texture imparted during the transfer process.

    The pale blue background was painted first and, as in MMA 46.179.1–2, an area was left in reserve for the figure. The smoothly blended flesh tones were achieved with a wet-on-wet application of paint. The hair, beard, and fur coat were painted wet on dry, beginning with a dark, warm undertone followed by fine, detailed strokes, first in a darker hue and then with a lighter tone. The figure was painted quite close to the edge of the printed verse. As in 46.179.2, a strong black line overlaps the edge of the paint on one side and the edge of the paper on the other. A similar line can be found on the bottom and right edge of the paper label attached in the upper left corner. Examination with infrared reflectography did not reveal underpainting or underdrawing.

    [2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Labeled (printed paper): (upper left) Johans der Erst / Churfurst / und Herzog zu Sachssen; (bottom) Nach meines lieben bruders end / Bleib auff mir das ganz Regimend. / Mit grosser sorg und mancher fahr / Da der Bawr toll und toricht war. / 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 gewislich. / Ferdnand zu Romischm Konig gmacht / Und sein wahl ich allein anfacht. / Auff das das alte Recht bestund / Inn der gulden Bullen gegrund. / Wiewol das grossen zorn erregt / Mich doch mehr recht denn gunst bewegt. / 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 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 as 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

    ?by descent to Martin Comte Cornet de Ways Ruart, Brussels (until d. 1870); [Étienne Le Roy, Brussels, 1870; sold through Léon Gauchez, Paris, to Blodgett]; William T. Blodgett, Paris and New York (1870–71; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett, New York, and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1871; sold to MMA)

  • References

    Catalogue of the Pictures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 681 Fifth Avenue, in the City of New York. [New York], 1872, p. 39, no. 89, as by Lucas Cranach the Elder; mistakenly calls it a portrait of John Frederick, the Magnanimous.

    Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 172, 197, 206, 244–45, appendix 1A no. 89, ill.



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