This is the central panel of a triptych forming the altarpiece of the Weimar parish church of St. Peter and Paul, one of the flagship churches of the Reformation. The triptych was commissioned as an epitaph for John Frederick of Saxony and his family, who are depicted on the two side panels. It was Lucas Cranach the Elder’s last work. He died in 1553 before completing it, and it was finished by his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger.
In its didactic rather than devotional nature, the Weimar altarpiece is a prime example of the Reformation’s visual propaganda. It is composed of a number of different scenes (approved by Luther himself) that explain the meaning of Christ’s death and that combine to form an elaborate allegory of salvation. Cranach the Elder (second from right) and Luther (far right) stand next to John the Baptist (third from right) in the foreground of the panel. Luther points to a passage in the open bible, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us of all sins.” The blood spouting from Christ’s wound falls on Cranach’s head, thus offering a literal illustration of the biblical text. Oil painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-86), c. 1555.