Published Portraits

In 1520 the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) wrote in his diary, “And God help me that I may go to Dr. Martin Luther; thus, I intend to make a portrait of him with great care and engrave him on a copper plate to create a lasting memorial of the Christian man who helped me overcome so many anxieties.” Although Dürer never had the opportunity to portray Luther from life, many Europeans came to recognize Luther’s features through portraits made by two of Dürer’s artistic contemporaries. Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) and Hans Baldung Grien (ca. 1484–1545) both created images of Luther which would be disseminated widely in print during the early stages of the reformer’s publishing career. Following Luther’s death in 1546, later portraits of him were included in several printed eulogies and other memorials.

The early hand-colored woodcut portrays Luther while he was still an Augustinian canon at Erfurt and was copied from an engraving originally produced by Cranach the Elder. Situated in front of an alcove and holding an open book, he is wearing a monk’s habit and shown with a tonsure. Also based on Cranach the Elder’s portrait, the uncolored woodcut by Baldung Grien first issued in 1521 includes additional features that portray Luther much like a saint, illuminated by a halo and inspired by the dove of the Holy Spirit. The third woodcut, produced by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), is dated 1546 and shows Luther later in life, a comfortable and well-established religious figure, author, husband, and father. The hand-colored illustrated broadside also portrays the mature Luther, and includes a contemporary manuscript inscription recording the place, date, and hour of the highly-recognized reformer’s death.