Friday, January 13, 2017

In Cranach’s Shoes

Copyright © Edward Riojas

They are, indeed, very large shoes to fill. Like any child who aspires to be a parent, it was inevitable that I would one day step into those artistic shoes and shuffle about, pretending to be the Northern Renaissance master himself.

Long ago, I planned to create a series of portraits to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The beginnings of that series were recently unveiled. I plan on adding a portrait or two as my schedule permits or as a change of scene necessitates, but for now I have Martin and Katharine to show for my efforts. Martin clearly has his mind on loftier things. Katie, on the other hand, is keeping a close eye on me.
“Katharina von Bora Luther”
Edward Riojas. 2017.

Lucas Cranach the Elder gave a face to the Reformation. Nearly every person closely associated with the Lutheran movement had their likeness painted by Cranach. Copies were made in Cranach’s workshop, and later were created by his sons, Lucas Cranach the Younger and – to a much lesser extent – Hans Cranach. The copies continued to be churned out decades after the elder artist died. One only need to peruse a catalog of Cranach’s work contained in to see the volume produced by his studio.

The Elder Cranach was a court painter to the Electors of Saxony, but was allowed the freedom to paint things apart from the demands of the court. Luther became a protectorate of the Electors, and it was natural to have portraits made of the independent-minded Reformer. Cranach became a friend of Luther, giving the artist exposure to those sympathetic to the growing movement.

It is clear, by natural observation if not by scholarly study, how Cranach’s workshop managed to produce so many likenesses of Luther and his followers. There are a few likenesses which show keen observation and care in execution – especially in those details which normally are of little consequence. Hands, for example, can belie the work of a master against that of an apprentice. There are other examples of work attributed to Cranach’s workshop, however, which may have a well-rendered face, but poorly wrought hands, and clothing rendered with even less skill. It is likely that the least talented in the workshop blocked in simple lines of clothing, copying earlier work. Those artists with marginal skill would add generic hands, ignoring individuality – and often anatomy – in the process. Only artists with the greatest skill would reproduce faces from earlier works and make sure important details were rendered correctly.
“Martin Luther”
Edward Riojas. 2017.

Thus, I stepped into the imaginary space of time and set to work on my own copies, making sure those copies were not forgeries of the originals, but perhaps pieces from the workshop that had become lost to time. For the benefit of our time and space, I wanted to include a quote from each “sitter” in English.

While we know that Katharine had great importance and bearing, there is very little of her words left to us. I used the one quote that does appear over and again, “I will cling to Christ like a burr to a cloak.” Her economy of words became the formula that I sought for each personality.

Out of volumes one could use in finding a quote from Luther, I wanted one that kept clear of necessarily-long excerpts on doctrine. I ignored the oft-used “Here I stand.” Instead, I used part of a quote that hinted at a unique brand of humility amid the Reformer’s far-reaching influence. Even in death, it rings as true for Luther as it does for us, “I have held many things in my hands and have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

The original paintings and giclee prints of the originals are for sale. To inquire or order, please e-mail the artist at

“Martin Luther” original painting, 18” x 24” with frame (not shown): $2,500
“Katharine von Bora Luther” original painting, 18” x 24” with frame (not shown): $2,500

Signed giclee prints of each, unframed and unmatted:
12” x 16” / $75
18” x 24” / $120

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