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

Elector John the Steadfast of Saxony

Oil on lime wood panel, 57 x 37 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

John the Steadfast (1468—1532) was a member of the Ernestine line of the House of Wettin. During the lifetime of his brother, Elector Frederick the Wise, he became involved in the business of government. After his brother's death in 1525, John the Steadfast inherited the position of Elector and became Cranach's new master, in which role he proved no less benevolent than Frederick the Wise.

One of Cranach's main duties as court painter consisted in portraying the Saxon princes as well as their families and allies. The portraits were not only intended as documentation of the line of descent for royal ancestral galleries, but also as gifts. The mutual exchange of portraits was a court custom, with the result that we know what John the Steadfast looked like from a number of paintings by Cranach.

The present half-length portrait shows John the Steadfast in semi-profile at the age of 58. His arms are elided on the left and right edges of the painting, but the work's narrow format lends the portrait an expression of monumental immediacy. Moreover, the sitter stands out by virtue of the signet ring on his left hand, the chain around his neck bearing several rings and a small cross, and above all the rich embroidery on his shirt collar and the precious fur trim on his gown. The garland of carnations in his hair, traditionally worn at weddings, indicates that the portrait might have been painted on the occasion of the betrothal of the sitter's son, John Frederick the Magnanimous, to Sibylle of Cloves in 1526, and that the Elector is depicted here as the father of the groom.