Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472–1553)
6 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. (15.9 x 10.8 cm)
Purchase, Felix M. Warburg Gift, 1920 (20.64.21)
This small engraving shows Martin Luther as a monk of the Augustinian Order, which he joined in 1506. Lucas Cranach was an intimate friend and staunch supporter of Luther, who, in addition to producing some of the most lifelike images of the man, conveyed an abiding Lutheran spirit in many of his paintings and prints. This image was produced in 1520, the year Luther published a series of pamphlets in which he questioned the church's sale of indulgences and denied the supremacy of the pope. Cranach supervised the printing of the pamphlets. The Medieval Latin inscription that runs beneath the image implies that, though Luther's reflections may be eternal, this piece of paper, its subject, and its artist will all pass away. Directly below the date in Roman numerals, Cranach included his insignia of a crowned winged serpent with a ring in its mouth, which was based on the coat of arms conferred on the artist by Elector Frederick the Wise in 1508. Numerous states of the engraving exist. They vary both in the density of their inking and in the visibility of a mysterious profile of a bearded man in the upper left corner of the composition, clearly visible in a few existing impressions of the first state of this print. It was burnished away in this more common second state.