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Double Portrait of Christian, Duke of Saxony, and Marie, Duchess of Saxony, Lucas Cranach the Younger

The double portrait of Duke Christian and Duchess Marie belongs to a collection of six portraits of the family by Lucas Cranach the Younger, four of which are still in the collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden. It is likely that Elector August of Saxony (1526 - 1586), directly commissioned the artist to paint the portraits. Two double portraits were painted of his children: Duke Alexander of Saxony (1554 - 1565) with Duchess Elisabeth of Saxony (1552 - 1590), and their younger siblings presented here, the young Duke Christian I (1560 - 1591) and Duchess Marie (1562 - 1566) of Saxony. Another double portrait was painted of the Elector August himself with his wife, Anna of Denmark (1532 - 1585).

Although by 1564 Anna had given birth to ten children, only these four had survived. Another daughter named Dorothea, was born in October 1563. She may have been excluded from the portraits either because she was born after the commission was given to Cranach, or simply because she was too young at the time they were painted.

The double portrait of Alexander and Elisabeth features in the notices of the Dresden Museum as early as the seventeenth century and remains in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden to this day. The portraits of Christian and Marie, however, are first recorded in 1806. They were not kept with the paintings of their older siblings, and it seems the unity of these four portraits was forgotten by the 1700s. The portraits of Christian and Marie were devalued in the nineteenth century, after being mistakenly attributed to a later follower of Cranach. In 1860 both paintings were removed from the Dresden picture gallery and instead used to decorate the offices of the museum. When Germany disowned its princes following the First World War, the two portraits were given to the former dukes of the House of Wettin in 1924. Members of the House of Wettin later sold them on the art market. This is likely the moment when the paintings first received conservation treatments.

The double portrait of the parents is known in different versions. One pair on lime wood panel is kept in Dresden along with the double portrait of Alexander and Elisabeth, while another version on canvas is part of the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Each of the six portraits is signed with the artist's insignia, the winged serpent with dropped wings, and dated; the male portraits in the lower left corner and the female portraits in the lower right corner.

Lucas Cranach the Younger and the Saxonian dynasty

Born on 4 October 1515, Lucas Cranach the Younger was not destined to be his father's successor. He was the second son of Lucas Cranach the Elder, who had been appointed court artist to the Electors of Saxony in 1505. An affluent and influential family, the Cranachs owned several properties and were appointed honorary posts within the administration of their home town.

Like his older brother Hans, Lucas trained as an artist in his father's workshop. Because Lucas closely followed the style of his father, it can be difficult to attribute pictures to either, especially for the period of time when father and son worked together. A first mention of Lucas Cranach the Younger is found in an invoice of 1535, when both brothers worked together with their father on paintings in Torgau Castle. Early works by Lucas Cranach the Younger include the portrait of Christiane Eulenau from 1535, and a mythological scene depicting Hercules and Omphale. When Hans died unexpectedly in 1537, Lucas became the sole successor of his father.

During the Schmalkaldic War (1546 - 1547) the Elector Johann Friedrich I - in whose court Lucas Cranach the Elder was active - was defeated by his cousin Duke Maurice of Saxony, the older brother of August. The Electorship of Saxony was subsequently bestowed on Maurice, and would be inherited by August after his older brother's death in 1553.

When Cranach the Elder left Wittenberg in 1550 to follow his sovereign, Duke Johann Friedrich into exile, Lucas Cranach the Younger took over leadership of the workshop. The workshop continued to be productive and a leading artistic force. Cranach the Younger was called upon to portray several of the leading figures of his time, including Johann Friedrich I, Maurice of Saxony (posthumously) and of course the family of August of Saxony.

Object information

Oil paint on panel
143 cm x 84 cm x 15 cm
- House of Wettin, Saxony-Anhalt, 1924, gift from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden; - Collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 1806; - Collection Friedrich August I (1670 - 1733), Elector of Saxony (1694 - 1733) and King of Poland (1697 - 1733); - Collection Johann Georg III (1647 - 1691), Elector of Saxony (1680 - 1691); - Collection Johann Georg II (1613 - 1680), Duke of Saxe-Eisenach and Elector of Saxony (1656 - 1680); - Collection Johann Georg I (1585 - 1656), Duke of Saxe-Eisenach and Elector of Saxony (1611-1656); - Collection Schloss Moritzburg, Christian I (1560 - 1591), Elector of Saxony (1586 - 1591)
Wonderkamer I. Axel Vervoordt, DIVA Diamantmuseum, Antwerpen, 19.10.2018 - 28.04.2019.

Publication: LILENFEIN H., Lukas Cranach und seine Zeit, Bielefeld & Leipzig 1944, pl. 29 (Portrait of Duchess Marie).

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