CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)

Triptych with the Holy Kinship

Oil on panel, 121 x 100 cm (central panel), 121 x 45 cm (each wing)
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

The subject of the triptych is the legendary family of Christ, derived from the idea of Anne's three marriages with Joachim, Cleophas and Salomas. In the central panel Mary is seen with her mother tending the infant Jesus while her husband Joseph sleeps. Mary is said to have had two similarly named stepsisters, whose marriages with Zebedee and with Alphaeus produced the Apostles John the Evangelist and James the Greater (right) and James the Less and Joseph and Simon and Jude (left and centre).

There are actual political comments in the painting: Elector Frederick the Wise and his brother, Duke John the Steadfast are shown full-length in the side wings in the roles of husbands of Mary's two stepsisters. The second and third husbands of Anne seen in the gallery are given the features of Emperor Maximilian and one of his advisers at court. The painting suggests the loyalty of the Saxons towards the Imperial court.

On his journey to the Netherlands in 1508, Cranach may have seen Quentin Massys's St Anne Altarpiece which Massys was currently working on. The central panel of this altarpiece Depicts the Holy Kinship with similarly grouped figures.