CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)
The Virgin of the Grapes1520-25
Oil and tempera on beechwood, 60 x 42 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Portrayals of the Virgin and Child were among the favourite themes of Cranach, the Wittenberg court painter. Although the number of surviving pictures shows that this was an extremely successful product, Cranach carried out the many versions with great care. The version in Munich is of such high quality that it may have been painted largely by Cranach himself.
The bunch of grapes has numerous symbolic meanings, relating both to the Virgin and to Jesus. To interpreters of the Scriptures the Virgin is seen as the noble vine on which the divine grapes of Christ were nurtured. At the same time, by analogy with the grapes crushed in the winepress, it refers to Christ's forthcoming sacrificial death, as well as to the image of Christ as the true vine and his believers as the branches (John 15, 1-17).