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

Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg as St Jerome in His Study

Oil and tempera on limewood, 117 x 78 cm
Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt

Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545) was Elector and Archbishop of Mainz from 1514 to 1545, and Archbishop of Magdeburg from 1513 to 1545. He appears in the role of St Jerome in four paintings by Cranach. Two of them show the Church Father, alias Albrecht, in his study, and two in a landscape, though the latter two show him not as a penitent, but as an author, like the two indoor scenes.

In the Middle Ages the Church Father Jerome, whose Latin translation of the Bible from early Hebrew and Greek texts is still in use and known as the 'Vulgate'(the generally familiar version), became one of the most prominent saints. One particular pictorial type was formulated, emphasizing his philological work and making him a role model, even among humanists: it shows Jerome as a cardinal in his study, working on texts.

In Cranach's painting the spatial organization is undoubtedly drawn from Dürer's famous engraving of St Jerome in His Study of 1514, and the figure of Jerome is given the facial features of Cardinal Albrecht. This panel is one of the first examples of a new pictorial genre, the 'portrait historié' or historiated portrait, in which the person portrayed takes on the role of a historical, biblical or mythological figure.