In Wittenberg in 1505 Cranach took on the wide-ranging tasks of a court painter. To the satisfaction of Elector Frederick the Wise and his brother John the Steadfast he featured both of them as donors in retables of a demanding subtlety.
As Frank Whitford writes in the Spring 2008 issue of RA Magazine, the religious theme of Cranach's 1509 triptych The Holy Kinship was typical of its time, yet the picture tells another story. Commissioned by Frederick the Wise and his brother, it is clear that one of the purposes of the painting was political, and it may even have been intended as a gift for the Holy Roman Emperor.
At this time, the relationship between Frederick – a Protestant and protector of Martin Luther – and Maximilian, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor, was in crisis. Their presence together in this painting as part of the Holy Family was meant to suggest the possibility of reconciliation.
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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Triptych with the Holy Kinship, 1509. Oil and tempera on limewood, centre panel: 121.1 x 100.4 cm, side panels each: 120.6 x 45.3 cm. Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
This interactive graphic is based on an article in RA Magazine.