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Law and Gospel: scripture, truth, and pictorial rhetoric.


It is much more certain and much safer to stay with the words and the simple meaning, for this is the true pasture and home of all the spirits.

Martin Luther, "Concerning the Letter and the Spirit," 1521 (1)

... One has to instruct ordinary people simply and childishly, as much as one can. Otherwise, one of two things will happen; they will neither learn nor understand, or else they will want to be clever, and use their reason to enter into high thoughts, so they move away from belief.

Martin Luther, Third Easter Sermon, 1533 (2)


Cranach's identity as a Reformation artist is linked inextricably to a pictorial type known as Law and Gospel (figs. 1 and 2). Not only does Law and Gospel recapitulate key notions of Lutheran theology, but its form, iconography, and function differ pointedly with art of the preceding period. Nonetheless, throughout its long historiography, many scholars have dismissed Law and Gospel as little more than an extension of a Lutheran theological treatise. (3) In the early twentieth century Wilhelm Worringer declares, "'Instead of works of art we have mere theological tracts....'". (4) In the 1970's, Carl Christensen states that after consulting Luther's writings only "a minimum of commentary should suffice to explain the significance of the symbolism of the panel." (5) And, in Joseph Koerner's memorable formulation, the painting becomes "as interesting as a solved crossword puzzle" once the theological code is deciphered. (6) All of these scholars' statements are in fact consistent with the intended meaning of the image, to recapitulate clearly defining ideas of Lutheran salvation. As Paolo Berdini rightly asserts, one objective of German Reformation art was to limit the expansive potential of pictures. (7)


Art historians have long acknowledged that the relationship between text and image is a complex dynamic, not a question of written ideas precisely reflected in different media. (8) Nonetheless, scholars have tended to set aside the complexities of the text / image relationship when they interpret Law and Gospel, accepting that the intended meaning is the only possible meaning.

Without denying the plausibility of a direct Lutheran interpretation, in this essay I will qualify the nature of the relationship of Law and Gospel to Lutheran theology and propose that this important pictorial type is more multivalent than many other scholars have allowed heretofore. Despite the almost certain intention of artist and theologian to relay a direct message, it is worth reiterating the obvious truth, curiously overlooked by many scholars, that the painting remains a translation of ideas expressed verbally into an alternative, visual language. This shift from word to image creates a space for uncertainty other art historians have denied.

Berdini makes the important observation that for Luther, pictures were meant to illustrate texts, not to replace them. (9) Law and Gospel only makes sense for the beholder already trained in Lutheran thought. It therefore may supplement a text or ideas expressed in written form. The image is not an interchangeable substitute for a text. This Lutheran idea of image as supplement differs from the traditional justification of religious art associated with Gregory the Great. According to the accepted interpretation of Gregory, images may offer scripture to the unlettered in an alternative, visual form. (10) L.G. Duggan, in his discussion of Gregory the Great's famous and far reaching defense of images as "books of the unlettered", asks "... can 'reading' pictures only remind one of what one already knows or can it also, like the reading of books, convey essentially new information?" Dugan's concludes that, whatever Gregory's actual or received assertions, pictures may only remind the beholder of what is already known; they cannot impart fresh information. In this sense, reading pictures is fundamentally unlike reading books. (11)

Scholars have presented Law and Gospel as the translation of a textual original, Lutheran theology. I am insisting here that the painting does not replicate its sources, but rather appropriates meanings of its own based on the properties of its own medium. And even if Law and Gospel did somehow perfectly reflect Luther's ideas, those ideas themselves inevitably contain some ambiguity. An analogy illustrates hazards of looking at an image as a footnote to written ideas rather than a concoction of motifs with their own semantic possibilities. An author might recognize her or his own words in a translation into a foreign language, but taking the translated text in isolation and returning it back into the original language would never precisely replicate the original.


This discussion will proceed in three stages. First, I will rehearse the picture's most broadly accepted interpretation, rooted in Lutheran theology. Second, I will trace some of the interpretations less rigidly Lutheran that a minority of scholars have proposed. Though these interpretations are inconsistent with Lutheran thought, the picture provides sufficient formal evidence to support some of them. I will also propose my own reading of some of the picture's motifs. And third, I will analyze the didactic and rhetorical strategies of Law and Gospel and explain how form and function, as well as iconography, define the parameters not only of Law and Gospel, but also of Lutheran art more broadly. Though scholars have approached Law and Gospel with reference to Lutheran ideas, many have not explicitly considered the striking similarities between the rhetorical strategies of Luther's writing and the pictorial strategies of the image. (12)

Cranach, Luther, and the Journey from Law to Gospel

It is necessary to distinguish most clearly between the power of God and our own, between God's works and ours, if we are to live a godly life.

Luther, The Bondage of the Will (13)

Cranach created and produced Law and Gospel in consultation with Luther around 1529. (14) Law and Gospel is frequently called Law and Grace, a title that derives from a version of the painting in Prague, (fig. 1) where the terms "Gesecz" (Law) and "Gnad" (Grace) are boldly painted and plainly visible. (15) Cranach's earliest paintings of Law and Gospel, both from c. 1529, include the panel in Prague and a version currently in Gotha (fig. 2). Though Law and Gospel has been translated into every imaginable medium, from book illustrations to stovetops, all the variations derive from these two prototypical versions. (16) In the Gotha panel, two nude male figures appear on either side of a tree that is green and living on the gospel side to the viewer's right, but barren and dying on the law side to the viewer's left. The Old Testament stories of the Brazen Serpent and the Fall of Humanity appear in the background on the law side, while in the foreground a skeleton and a demon force a frightened nude man into hell, as a group of prophets, including Moses, point to the tablets of the law. On the gospel side of the image John the Baptist directs the figure to both Christ on the cross in front of the tomb and to the risen Christ who appears on top of the tomb. Six columns of Bible citations appear at the bottom of the panel. (17) The Gotha version formed the prototype for later paintings in Cranach's production, including panels in Weimar and Nuremberg; the outer panels of the Schneeberg Altarpiece, and the central panel of the Weimar Altarpiece. (18)

In the Prague version, a single naked man, rather than one on either side, sits at the base of the bisecting tree, the lower half of his body facing law and the upper body turned towards the gospel. On his immediate right, a prophet bends over him, pointing ardently to Christ on the opposite side with a gesture that echoes both that of Christ and of John the Baptist. The Brazen Serpent appears in the background on the left. (19) Above this scene, Moses receives the tablets of the Law. Farther down along the left edge a serpent presides over the Fall of Humanity, while in the foreground a corpse lies in an open coffin. On the right side of the image the risen Christ stands on top of a skeleton. Next to the tree, John the Baptist, also pointing with his right hand, looks over his right shoulder at a naked figure. Above the Crucifix, in the upper right corner, stands the Virgin on a steep hill, with her hands folded in prayer. Besides "Gesecz" and "Gnad," the Prague panel contains labels within the painting itemizing individual motifs. At the base of the Prague panel appear four columns of text from the German Bible. (20) The Prague Law and Gospel resembles versions of this subject produced outside Germany, including a print by Geoffrey Tory and a painting by Holbein (fig. 3). Variations of the Prague composition also appear as title pages for Luther Bibles. (21)

The function and significance of Law and Gospel as a pictorial type derives from Luther's understanding of scripture and its relationship to art. The Lutheran Reformation, like many earlier religious schisms, turned on the interpretation of scripture. (22) Luther, however, contended that it was possible "to stay with the words and the simple meaning", as the opening quote above from "Concerning the Letter and the Spirit" declares. As long as devotional practice and theological doctrine were grounded in right understanding of scripture, the believer would surely worship according to God's wishes. Luther's efforts to reform the church aimed in part to recover scripture's pure meaning, which the Catholic establishment had obfuscated, and which all Christians desperately needed to hear. Luther coached his followers to understand scripture "correctly" so that they would arrive at its "true" meaning, that is, a reading consistent with his theology. The following quotation, also from "Concerning the Letter and the Spirit" epitomizes Luther's beliefs about the lucidity of scripture:
 The Holy Spirit is the simplest writer and adviser in
 heaven and on earth. That is why his words could have
 no more than the one simplest meaning which we call
 the written one, or the literal meaning of the tongue. But
 [written] words and [spoken] language cease to have
 meaning when the things which have a simple meaning
 through interpretation by a simple word are given further
 meanings and thus become different things.... (23)

Luther's convictions about the meaning of scripture determined his qualified acceptance of religious art. For Luther, art is a heuristic tool to aid the viewer in right understanding of the Bible. The purpose and function of religious art was to lead the beholder to scripture's "true" and "simple" meaning, or to a fundamental theological point supportive of that meaning. Lutheran paintings are Merckbilder, pictures meant to remind the beholder of the Word and to teach the fundamentals of Lutheran thought. (24) This concrete and narrow role for images to play contrasts pointedly with the varied function of much fifteenth- and earlier sixteenth-century art. Much earlier art originated from non-scriptural sources and performed nebulous functions, such as to inspire pious meditations or even private visions. Pre-Reformation images could bestow merit upon the beholder and frequently became the objects of veneration themselves. The varied origins and functions of art before the Reformation accorded considerable interpretive freedom to the beholder, freedom evangelical images stridently endeavored to curtail. (25) Luther's insistence on the reciprocity of pictorial content and scriptural meaning asserts the primacy of function as the key factor distinguishing Lutheran art. Unlike other reformers such as Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, who condoned iconoclasm, Luther believed that religious art was acceptable as long as it was not misused. (26)


A brief explication of some of the crucial points of Luther's theology, as well as the reformer's relationship to Cranach, will situate Law and Gospel historically and theologically. (27) For Cranach, the reform of the church was as much a personal experience as a political and religious event. Cranach and Luther both lived in Wittenberg, ruled by the Electors of Saxony. Cranach and Luther were lifelong friends, even becoming godparents to one another's children. In addition to friendship, Cranach and Luther collaborated professionally to produce prints and book illustrations as well as paintings. (28)

From the very beginning of Lutheran reform, Cranach made pictures to perpetuate religious change. A famous and early Cranach-Luther collaboration is the Passional Christi et Antichristi, an acerbic, propagandistic, illustrated book of 1521 which contrasts Christ with the Pope in the role of the anti-Christ. (29) According to a statement of an employee in the Lufft print shop in Wittenberg Luther supplied the text for the project:
 the honorable doctor recommended some of the
 figures himself, how one should sketch or paint them,
 how one was supposed to paint according to the text, and
 did not want any extra, unnecessary things that did not
 serve the text. (30)

This quotation is compelling for at least two reasons. First, it highlights the priority of aligning pictorial and textual meaning, of creating a limited, reciprocal relationship between word and image, to the exclusion of "unnecessary things that did not serve the text." Second, it indicates that Luther at least advised the production of the image, exercising influence on its content. The persistent contrast between Christ and the Pope makes the Lutheran agenda unmistakable.

Law and Gospel, the most notable result of the alliance between Cranach and Luther, established Cranach as the premier maker of images in the service of Lutheran theology. Law and Gospel explicates and synthesizes the defining point of Luther's theology, the idea of salvation by faith alone. This understanding of salvation exploded the theological bases of many Catholic practices, especially the idea that human action or "good works" could help move the believer closer to salvation. Catholic good works are predicated on the assumption that believers may play some active role in their own salvation. This is not to say that people may actually earn salvation or save themselves, but rather that God may nonetheless recognize and reward human effort, no matter how miniscule compared to divine action. Instead, Luther insisted that salvation is possible only through undeserved grace freely bestowed by a benevolent God.

Underpinning the Law and Gospel panels are Luther's famous Reformation slogans: sola gratia, sola fides, and sola scriptura. Sola gratia means salvation by grace alone, as an act of pure divine mercy bestowed upon humanity. This concept interlocks with sola fides, faith alone. John Dillenberger calls sola fides the central Christian reality, the idea that faith, which itself comes from God, brings a sinful human being into a relationship with God. (31) The dual gifts of both faith and grace make salvation possible. Sola fides and sola gratia reject Catholic theology of good works, where the believer attempts to do good deeds and expiate sin. The disagreement about good works or the place of human action in salvation, schematically outlined in Law and Gospel, in large measure defines the source of Luther's objections to and conflict with Catholic theology and practice. Simply stated, Lutheran salvation is a pure act of undeserved divine mercy. Therefore, acts of penance demanded, and forgiveness bestowed, by the Catholic church no longer possessed the power to lead believers towards salvation. For Luther, good works do not yield divine blessings; instead, they evince divine mercy, that God has already moved the believer to do good. (32)

The third Reformation slogan, sola scriptura, affirms the centrality of scripture as the place where God's word, that is, His mercy, is revealed. As Dillenberger explains, scripture is the way faith becomes reality. (33) Though Luther translated the Bible into the vernacular and was prepared to proclaim the "priesthood of all believers", he did not trust his followers to understand scripture correctly without his guidance. For this reason much of his writing, notably the fundamental Small Catechism of 1529, was designed to make sure everyone understood the Bible as he wished them to. (34) In the Small Catechism, Luther simplifies the commandments, omitting any mention of idols and idolatry in the first or second commandments, thereby avoiding the tricky issue or religious art completely. (35) Clearly he preferred ordinary believers not to worry themselves over the nuances of Exodus 20:45: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them ..."

Sola gratia, sola fides, and sola scriptura, epitomize Lutheran theology, as the famous slogan: justification by faith through grace. Luther's theological universe rests upon this idea, which he explored repeatedly for approximately 25 years, from the writing of his groundbreaking treatises beginning in 1520 to his death in 1546. (36)

This theological background is the point of departure for Law and Gospel, which is meant to summarize, in visual form, the Lutheran notion of salvation by faith through grace. Though Lutheran thought underpins the meaning of the painting, no single text acts as a script for Law and Gospel or any other evangelical image. Instead, the conceptual foundations of Luther's theology served as a broad foundation. (37)

If we interpret Law and Gospel as an exponent of Lutheran theology, Law and Gospel clearly concerns two fundamental aspects, both judging and merciful, of God's relationship to humanity. God judges and condemns human sin, as the scenes of judgment on the left testify; but God also shows mercy and forgiveness, granting unearned salvation to sinful believers, as the scenes on the right demonstrate. (38) If Law and Gospel simply distinguished between the Old and New Testaments, or even more broadly Judaism and Christianity, then it would not be specifically evangelical, or in any way innovative, art historically or theologically. The arrangement of motifs belies any correlation of the separate sides to the Old and New Testaments. (39) On the law side appear Adam and Eve and Moses, but also Christ in Judgment. On the Gospel side two representations of Christ, crucified and risen, inhabit the landscape. Each side depicts a naked figure who has no obvious place anywhere in scripture. Law and Gospel interprets the roles of law, good works, faith, and grace in the human relationship to God.

Friedrich Ohly interprets Law and Gospel as typology, that the idea of the events of the Old Testament foreshadow the New Testament, or that events of the New Testament fulfill events of the Old. (40) For example, the type of Isaac's near death at the hand of his father foreshadows Christ's death and resurrection, the antitype. Unlike typology, however, Law and Gospel does not concern events foreshadowing or fulfilling one another in time. Rather, Law and Gospel describes events throughout the Bible that reveal the dual aspect of God's relationship to people, both judging and merciful.

Luther's idea of law is multifaceted, and bears a complex relationship to his idea of gospel. In How Christians should Regard Moses Luther succinctly defines the importance of law for Christians. First, Mosaic law is the basis for natural law, and as such may be useful for secular rulers. (41) Second, the Books of Moses contain "promises and pledges of God about Christ. It is something that is not written naturally into the heart, but comes from heaven." (42) In other words, law encloses the promise of the gospel. And third, law contains within it "beautiful examples of faith, of love, and of the cross." (43) Even though the law contains natural law, the promise of gospel, and examples of faith, Luther makes it clear that it still condemns. "In turn there are also examples of the Godless, how God does not pardon the unfaith of the unbelieving." (44) Most important, law makes it possible to identify sin and the necessity of grace. Though law alone will never make salvation possible, it remains indispensable as the way the believer recognizes sin, the impossibility of achieving salvation by good works, and the necessity of grace for true salvation. Law enables salvation by preparing the way for the apprehension of grace.

In the Gotha Law and Gospel, the motifs on the left side of the composition are meant to exemplify the idea that law alone, without gospel, will never secure salvation. Christ sits in judgment as Adam and Eve eat the fruit and fall from grace, and as a skeleton and a demon pursue a desperate man into eternal damnation. Moses beholds these events from his vantage point towards the center of the picture, his starkly white tablets leaping out against the saturated orange robe and the deep green tree behind him, literally highlighting the association of law, death and damnation. Taken together, these motifs demonstrate that law leads inescapably to damnation when mistaken for a path to salvation, as the damned naked man demonstrates. (45)

Though gospel and law are indeed distinct, their relationship in Lutheran

thought transcends simple contrast. Two motifs in particular, Christ in Judgment and the Brazen Serpent, mitigate the strict bisection the composition of Law and Gospel may suggest. Christ in Judgment is the only New Testament motif on the law side of the equation. (46) In proximity to Old Testament figures, and removed from the gospel by the dividing tree, Christ as judge becomes an element of law. In Cranach's evangelical images, including all versions of Law and Gospel, Christ as Judge appears only in association with the law. (47) Christ in Judgment warns that human action cannot bring the believer to God. (48) The motif reiterates the Lutheran idea that active righteousness, either performing good works or fulfilling the obligations of a covenant, can never, by themselves, lead to salvation. Rather than ensuring salvation--and this idea is key--good works reveal that God has already moved the believer to do good. (49) Judgment and law become means to an end, the way the believer learns the truth about human nature and action. Law becomes the inspiration to abandon action and obedience in favor of faith and grace. The placement of Christ as Judge on the law side tells us that Law and Gospel presents not Old Testament vs. New Testament, or type against antitype, or even law against gospel, but rather the distinct and simultaneous relationships of God to humanity, both judging and merciful. Christ in Judgment reveals the fugue-like coexistence of law and gospel, albeit in differing measure, throughout scripture.

The Brazen Serpent (Numbers 21: 6-9), which appears on the law side of the Gotha panel, complicates the division between law and gospel in a way similar to Christ in Judgment. Although the Brazen Serpent appears in the law side in the Gotha panel, in subsequent versions of Law and Gospel, it consistently appears on the gospel side. In the story of the Brazen Serpent, God sends serpents to punish the Israelites fleeing from Egypt for their aspersions against God. To be rescued from this plague of serpents, the Israelites need only look at the serpent which Moses has elevated on a T-shaped cross. Luther interprets this looking as the key to salvation for those who simply believe. "'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.'" (John 3:14-15)

Because it exemplifies faith, the Brazen Serpent belongs more properly with Christ than with Moses, even though it is an Old Testament story. (50) The inclusion of the story on the gospel side in post 1529 versions of Law and Gospel emphasizes that grace exists in both the Old and New Testaments, just as judgment exists in both Testaments. Moreover, because it appears on the grace side of the composition, it demonstrates that the law and gospel coexist throughout scripture, even as they remain distinct.

Cranach was following the familiar typological tradition, in which the Brazen serpent signified a type and the Crucifixion an antitype, when he placed the Brazen Serpent on the law side of the earliest versions of Law and Gospel. In Cranach's later variations of Law and Gospel, however, the motif migrated to the gospel side in accordance with the new model of salvation. The inclusion of the Brazen Serpent on the gospel side of Law and Gospel indicates the way familiar motifs evolved under new theological circumstances. The Brazen Serpent changed from a type to a symbol of Lutheran grace.

The uniquely Lutheran meaning and function of Law and Gospel becomes especially clear in comparison with one of Cranach's late medieval paintings, Der Sterbende or The Dying Man 1518. (51) (fig. 4) This comparison elaborates on the ways familiar motifs adapt under changed theological conditions. In both Law and Gospel and the Dying Man, a human figure in a bisected composition faces the eternal consequences of his earthly life. In the earlier panel, the protagonist lies in his death bed in the company of his wife who kneels and prays beside him. (52) An inscription identifies the donor as Heinrich Schmitburg, a juris doctor from Leipzig, as the donor. (53) To his right, a priest holds a crucifix, and angels and saints beckon and pray, while on the left, demons, a hippopotamus-like hellmouth, and a doctor proffering a beaker of fluid vie for the dying man's attention. Grohne identifies the nude figure floating above as a naked soul in a Last Judgment, or perhaps the soul of the dying man. (54) The trinity appear in a mandorla, and above them the Virgin in a golden halo presides over five figures kneeling in prayer in front of a small brick church. (55) Latin text, including Psalm 144 in the Vulgate (145:9 in the Luther Bible) supplement and identify the pictorial motifs. (56) Because Luther's German translation of the Bible is one of the cornerstones of his theology, the basis of sola scriptura, the Latin text in the 1518 picture marks a critical difference from Law and Gospel, where the appended Bible verses and the labels in the Prague panel are in German.


Both Law and Gospel and the Dying Man address the same fundamental problem: How does the Christian care for the soul? Both pictures depict conflict between good and evil, and between salvation and damnation. Moreover, both present this dilemma in the form of tension between one path and another, even if the meaning or nature of the choices is different, and even if we accept that choice in Law and Gospel is merely rhetorical. Dr. Schmitburg in the Leipzig panel faces a more straightforward either/or proposition, between demons and a hellmouth on the one hand, and salvation on the other. He literally chooses between God and the devil, between scenarios that constitute a choice of pure good and pure evil.


The differences between The Dying Man and Law and Gospel begin with what constitutes salvation or damnation, and the power a human being has over the fate of the soul. The practices Law and Gospel and the Dying Man recommend differ emphatically. The antithetical construction of the Dying Man prescribes one course of action over another, both of which are anathema to Lutheran doctrine. An angel holds a sign reading "good works": salvation for Dr. Schmitburg is to act, to do good, precisely what Luther rejected. The text at the foot of the bed states, "You must despair, because you neglected God's commandments, and fervently fulfilled mine (the devil's) with the help of the woman (i.e. Eve)." The panel therefore distinguishes between good and bad works, right and wrong action. The Dying Man presents a choice between one course of action and another; Law and Gospel more fundamentally reconfigures the very relationship between human action and salvation.

Gotha and Prague: Fracturing Consistency
 Melanchthon mentions in a letter that he suggested
 specific Bible citations to accompany Law and Gospel. (57)
 Scholars have used this fact to infer that Melanchthon's
 ideas, rather than Luther's, were primary. However, Christiane
 Andersson has cautioned that Luther typically left
 the selection of text to someone else, often Melanchthon.
 Luther and Melanchton were in general accord in the
 1520s and 1530s. (58) The most important product of their
 theological collaboration was the famous Augsburg Confession.
 (59) Lohse proclaims the Augsburg Confession "the
 basic confessional writing of Lutheranism" and according
 to McGrath it laid out "the main lines of Lutheran
 belief ". (60) Melanchthon, not Luther, was the writer of the
 Confession. If Melancthon supplied the text for Law and
 Gospel, it was almost surely with Luther's blessing. The
 debate about whether Luther or Melanchthon inspired
 Law and Gospel is the first sign that the painting is not
 as obviously Lutheran as some scholars suggest. (61)

As we saw above, Lutheran theology mitigates any simple contrast the bisected composition of Law and Gospel may propose. If we restrict interpretation to Luther's influence, the motifs on either side of the dividing tree engage in a dialogue that modifies the visual dichotomy, suggesting concepts with dynamic, rather than strictly contrasting, relationships. (62) Still, Donald Ehresmann, whose highly regarded work on Law and Gospel is the most fundamental scholarship on the painting in English, presents Law and Gospel (which he calls Law and Grace) as a contrast, suggesting that the divided composition presents "two opposing theologies". (63) Ehresmann declares, "The way to salvation set forth on the right side of the Allegory of Law and Grace panels is strikingly contrasted to the way to damnation on the left side." (64)

Could the picture be a contrast and remain evangelical nonetheless? Law as a concept in Law and Gospel disqualifies the notion that salvation calls for human action as a prerequisite for justification before a perfect deity. Visually, Law is constrained to relate neatly to the opposite side of the composition. The formal effect of the picture seems to be to clarify the differences between active and passive righteousness rather than to demonstrate the more dynamic concept of God's relationship with humanity, both judging and forgiving. Given the composition, Ehresmann's interpretation of the picture as a contrast makes some sense, even though it clashes with the more dynamic relationship between gospel and law as Luther presented it. Though passive and active depend on each other for definition, they remain separate things. Taken this way, interpreting the painting as a contrast is not so unreasonable.

The primary meaning of Law and Gospel is the directly Lutheran interpretation rehearsed above. The continued application and reinterpretation of Law and Gospel in Cranach's paintings and prints of the 1530's-1550's further indicate its ongoing compatibility with Lutheran ideas, if not its genesis in Luther's mind. Without denying that Law and Gospel is Lutheran, I would simultaneously argue for the plausibility of secondary interpretations. Scholars have long acknowledged the idea, a veritable truism of art history, that intended meaning, no matter how indisputable, is not the same as received meaning. Reindert Falkenburg offers a pellucid explication of this idea in his discussion of Dutch landscape prints of the seventeenth century. For Falkenburg, meaning in landscape
 is not something inherently fixed in the image but consists
 of a 'field' of semantic potential which is 'triggered'
 by the image as well by the expectations and experiences
 of the audience. Depending on the cultural background
 and the experience of (looking at) art of the individual
 viewer, each 'act' of reception and interpretation realizes
 only part of the total semantic potential of the image. (65)

With reference to the Reformation in particular, Mark Edwards criticizes scholarly analyses which "fail to consider the varying meanings a polemic may have had for different readers, such as Protestant rulers, Protestant laity, and opponents. Instead it is mistakenly assumed that the meaning of a polemic is determined by Luther's explicit intentions and theological arguments." (66) Edwards writes further that Luther "could not (try as he might) control how he was interpreted by his readers." (67) In the present discussion, the different "readers" are the various viewers of the panel.

The dynamic and delicate balance between gospel and law would probably be evident to a viewer already conversant in Lutheran thought through sermons, pamphlets, or Luther's Catechism. However, for a beholder new to Lutheran thought, Law and Gospel does not communicate a singular and obvious message. Rather than encoding Lutheran theology in pristine form, the picture offers viewers a series of visual cues which become full-blown concepts only with the viewer's active and informed contribution. Here it is imperative to remember that Merckbilder are meant to remind the beholder of what is already learned or read. A viewer cannot be reminded of what is brand new; and such an ill prepared beholder will likely draw conclusions at odds from what Luther and Cranach hoped for, yet consistent with the formal information in the picture. Unlike Cranach's in situ pictures, where audiences are somewhat easier to characterize (though only broadly) the small scale and relative portability of Law and Gospel make narrowing down a specific audience impossible. Despite all these provisos, most scholars accept that the compatibility of Law and Gospel with Lutheran thought, combined with Luther's assertions about the reciprocity of word and image, override any potential ambiguity. In fact, its parallels with other types of pictures may lead to different interpretations.

The distance between word and image becomes clear when we begin to compare the subtle differences between the Prague and Gotha panels. Compositional elements of Law and Gospel depart from the intended meaning, leaving room for interpretive choices which may have been anathema to Luther, Cranach, and the pictures' intended beholders. Specifically, the dichotomous composition and the use of one (Prague) or two (Gotha) human sinners inflect the meaning of the picture, leaving the beholder to cope with some measure of iconographic ambiguity.

The dividing tree in Law and Gospel bears as much significance and symbolic valence as the motifs it separates. (68) The half-living and half-dead tree proposes a theology of opposites: life and death, old and new, passive and active, damnation and salvation. No matter how dynamic the relationship among these concepts in Luther's mind, in the picture they remain resolutely opposed. These contrasts move the meaning of the picture away from the letter of Lutheran orthodoxy. (69) The binary composition itself reduces Luther's more nuanced ideas into a brittle, possibly misleading contrast. Even though the brazen serpent, when it appears on the gospel side in the later versions of the picture, mitigates the contrast, the emphasis on death vs. life, hell vs. heaven threaten to overpower it. This ambiguity gives the lie to the idea that the picture is a mere reflection of Lutheran thought. Regardless of intention, Law and Gospel is an approximation, not a pristine reconstitution, of Lutheran theology.


The single human figure in the Prague panel, like the tree, is a deeply ambiguous motif. It is ambivalent in the most literal sense, moving back and forth between the poles of synthesis and mutual exclusion. The single figure embodies two ideas, uniting the sides of the composition. His lower body, the source of visceral, animal drives, twists towards damnation. Yet, following the urgings of John the Baptist and an Old Testament figure, the man rotates his upper body, the civilizing site of thought and conscience, salvation-ward. Like a satyr, this human figure embodies the conflict of body and spirit.

The figure's simultaneity of conscience and temptation is surely meant to recapitulate the quintessential Lutheran formulation of simul justus et peccator, or "at once justified and a sinner". (70) Simul justus et peccator signifies God's relationship to humanity, simultaneously judging and forgiving, that people are at once both judged and saved. Bernhard Lohse explains:
 The Word of God encounters people as law and as
 gospel, as a word of judgment and as a word of grace....
 It is certainly true that there is more law than gospel in
 the Old Testament and more gospel than law in the New
 Testament. Luther's distinction between law and gospel,
 however, referred to something other than the division of
 biblical statements into the two parts of the biblical
 canon. This distinction rather describes the fact that God
 both judges and is merciful. (71)

On the one hand, the human figure in the Prague panel synthesizes body and spirit and exemplifies simul justus et peccator. On the other hand, the Prague figure sits at the juncture of divergent paths and is exhorted to select one and to reject the other; he demonstrates the torture of indecision. The urgings of John and the prophet to choose gospel imply that the figure is to turn away from law, to forsake it in favor of the alternative. The figure's motion towards gospel declares that we witness the resolution of a conflict, the choice of good over evil. The convention of reading left to right reinforces the trajectory of his decision. (72) This moment of dawning recognition accords the beholder a variety of roles. The beholder may identify with the human figure's predicament, stuck between the roads taken and not taken. A viewer familiar with Lutheran thought may sympathize with the task of John and the prophet, wishing to coax the figure to choose the path of salvation. A beholder more familiar with art than Lutheran theology may tend to see in the picture a different kind of dilemma entirely.

A human figure deliberating at the juncture of two paths divided by a tree explicitly parallels Hercules at the Crossroads, the paradigmatic depiction of tortured decision where the Greek hero chooses between virtue and vice. (73) The single figure in the Prague panel, posed in a position of melancholy and vacillation, is caught between the two alternative paths, just like Hercules himself. In his 1537 version in Braunschweig (fig. 5), Cranach positioned a pondering Hercules looking toward a female figure with bound hair and long dress on his right, reaching for her hand as if to shake it. On the opposite side, a nude, Eve-like figure with a furtive gaze stands beside Hercules as she points provocatively to his staff. Hercules' lower body twists to his left and the nude figure as his upper body pulls towards his right and the clothed figure, indicating his conflict much like the twisting figure in the Prague panel. Though he turns his head towards virtue, he raises his left arm and twists his body in the opposite direction, his contrapuntal motion revealing his conflict. If we see the Prague panel in the tradition of Hercules, we may read gospel and law as separate paths, individual choices, rather than aspects of the same choice. Though this idea would be antithetical to Lutheran orthodoxy, the visual evidence supports it compellingly. (74)

Koerner rightly proclaims Hercules at the Crossroads to be the Renaissance humanist subject par excellence, signifying not just moral choice but interpretive freedom. (75) He also sees Cranach's Prague panel as the epitome of Lutheran theology, accepting only divine action in salvation. The Prague panel rejects not just freedom of choice, but even more basically the autonomous self. For Koerner, the Prague panel is not an exponent of Hercules, but its inversion; formal parallels between the two pictures only heighten their opposite messages. Koerner defends this interpretation with reference to Luther's disagreements with Erasmus of Rotterdam about free will. Erasmus' famous defense of free will goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, to whom God gave free choice to follow or not to follow his commandments, and of course they were punished accordingly. (76) In the case of Law and Gospel, the point of representing choice is, paradoxically, to teach the impossibility of choice. Law is not a choice but a way to reveal human weakness; it "reverses the humanist's exegesis." The human figure in Law and Gospel becomes an inverted Hercules, an "antihero." (77)

Koerner's interpretation may suit Luther's views of the self, but does it really apply to the picture and its intended beholders? Right understanding of the gospel and the law does have implications for the debate on free will, but the debate between Luther and Erasmus is far from central in the picture. Law and Gospel teaches a vernacular lesson; it does not lead an academic debate. Koerner himself defines the individual believer as the representative of "'simple folk'". He even reiterates Worringer's dismissal of the simplicity of Law and Gospel as appropriate for "'catechism pupils.'" (78) Speculating on the nature of the self surely would have qualified as the dangerous wish to "to be clever" Luther warned against in the Easter Sermon cited at the beginning of this discussion. (79) Seeing an explicit statement on free will in Law and Gospel is precisely such an error, especially because Luther asserted that images were suited only for weaker believers unable to cope with a more abstract, and superior, image-less devotion. (80)

Beyond the dichotomy shared with Hercules, pairings in visual culture and habits of looking generally may support the idea of antithesis in the Prague panel. A quick look at some subjects of fifteenth and sixteenth-century paintings demonstrates the prevalence of dichotomous compositions. Three of the most obvious subjects include the Last Judgment, with its division between saved and damned; the Crucifixion, with the good and bad thieves on either side of the Cross; and Ecclesia and Synagoga, female personifications of church and synagogue. Crucifixions and the Last Judgment permeate the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ecclesia and Synagoga shares direct parallels with Law and Gospel, because it contrasts Christian salvation with Jewish damnation. (81) Seeing contrasts may have been an important, possibly unconscious, convention, and one which would have led beholders to a formally supported but theologically unorthodox reading of the picture.

The single figure in the Prague panel supports both a "both/ and" as well as an "either/or" reading. In contrast the Gotha Law and Gospel supports a more starkly polarized "either / or" reading, suggesting the consequences of decisions already taken, rather than the process of deciding. (82) The visual "or" in the Gotha panel enacts the effects of two separate decisions. Each of the two naked figures demonstrates the consequences of gospel and law individually; each has his own experience, one of damnation, the other of salvation. These distinct experiences formally reinforce the differences between gospel and law rather than their interconnection.


Koerner sees in the two nude figures in the Gotha picture implications for the authority of the beholder. For Koerner, the beholder of the Gotha Law and Gospel has been deprived of the individuality that comes from interpretive freedom. The manifest fate of the depicted sinners has usurped the beholder's autonomy, leaving no room for interpretive action; the beholder of Law and Gospel has lost the interpretive freedom accorded, for instance, to the beholder of Italian art. (83) Koerner also rightly argues that the picture "reads" like a book, where the motifs reference ideas symbolically rather than describing them illusionistically. (84) I would counter that the reader retains interpretive authority, whether the picture "reads" like a text or an Italian Renaissance image. Even the most dogmatic texts, Luther's treatises for instance, are subject to interpretation and disagreement. (85) The beholder of Law and Gospel has the same authority and interpretive freedom as the reader of any text, even one that seeks to eschew all ambiguity. Koerner traces the beholder's lack of authority to her/his exclusion from the picture. Cranach provides no foothold, no space within the picture where the beholder may imagine stepping in and becoming part of the unfolding events. For Koerner, such inclusion characterizes Italian art and creates richer interpretive possibility. However, the beholder of Law and Gospel arguably has even greater freedom. S/he occupies an omniscient vantage point above and beyond the dilemma of gospel and law.

The idea that meaning is a function of multiple factors, including the objectives of patron and artist, the circumstances of display, and the beholder's knowledge and expectations, is a commonplace of art history. Still, recent scholars have been so committed to the idea of reciprocity between Lutheran thought and pictorial meaning that they have overlooked the ambiguity of the language of the image itself, especially the bisected composition. The viewer's previous conceptual and visual training play a role in the constitution of meaning, and if that training involves reading Erasmus and beholding images of Hercules at the Crossroads, looking at Crucifixions or Last Judgments, Law and Gospel could support meaning at odds with Luther's intent.

4. Scholarly Variations and Rhetorical Strategies

Most, though not all, scholars agree that Law and Gospel is "Protestant", i.e. clearly not Catholic. (86) One scholar has suggested that the content of the painting, like the Reformation itself, contains nothing but the true meaning of Catholicism. (87) Other scholars have arrived at various interpretations. Friedrich Ohly contends that Law and Gospel concerns typology. (88) Other scholars argue that the Prague and Gotha panels each represent different subjects. According to Busch, Cranach's Prague type is an "unambiguous typological juxtaposition of the two testaments", while the Gotha type is more explicitly Lutheran. (89) Bach-Nielsen argues that the Prague and Gotha panels are qualitatively different: the Prague panel is better. (90) He argues further that the Prague panel shows the necessity of the entire Bible, the singular importance of grace, and the absurdity of free will, while the Gotha panel merely separates the testaments. (91)

A significant portion of twentieth-century scholarship concerns the inspiration for the picture and Cranach's role in the invention of this pictorial type. Most scholars believe that the image is a Cranach invention in all its variations. (92) Some argue that Cranach's Prague type is indebted to earlier versions of the subject, for instance Tory's woodcut or Holbein's Weltbild, (93) or the opposite, that Cranach influenced the French print. (94) Grohne is more concerned with the origins of Law and Gospel than any other scholar, and he proposes literary and pictorial sources of Cranach's image. (95)

The obvious explanation for these diverging scholarly opinions is that some scholars are right while others are simply wrong. However, given the ambiguous formal elements of the composition and the possible patterns of influence, the intended and received meanings of the picture are not so closely allied. Read in close association with Lutheran theology, the meaning may seem clear, but formally the evidence is less certain.

Cranach also produced two drawings of Law and Gospel, one in Frankfurt (fig. 6) and the other in Dresden (96) which may have been studies or preparatory drawings for the iconography of the picture. Both these two drawings, as well as the Gotha panel, have a nude figure on each side of the composition. The Frankfurt drawing contains elements not included in the Dresden version, including a tree in the center, Christ on the Cross on the right, and a figure of the Virgin in the right background,. The story of the Brazen Serpent appears on the gospel side, not the law side, of both drawings. This iconographic shift suggests that these drawings are sketches for later versions of the subject, for instance in Weimar and Nuremberg.

If the beholder approaches the painting searching for illustrations of Lutheran orthodoxy, readings of the painting that seem inconsistent with Lutheran thought may seem simply wrong. But given the visual vocabulary, others seem plausible enough to give the lie to the claim that the picture is "transparent to its referent and purged of elements that either resist interpretation or sustain the picture's appeal once it has been deciphered for its content." (97) As we saw above, scholars cannot even all accept the same "referent"--Luther, Melanchthon, synthesis, or dichotomy--much less whether the picture is "transparent" to it. (98)

5. Rhetorical Strategies

... in the struggle for the reformation of the church, it grew clear to him that Jewish legalism now posed the identical threat to the evangelical church. Over the years, this view of the collision between the religion of law and gospel, between the record of salvation and the record of calamities, between God and the devil, Christ and the antichrist, remained a constant in Luther's thought. (99)

Heiko A. Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation

Though scholars have explored the Lutheran content of Law and Gospel, they have not paid as much attention to rhetorical strategies within the image. As in Lutheran thought, law is an inclusive concept, embracing Old Testament legalism (Moses) and Catholic good works (Christ in Judgment). We have also seen that for Luther, law is also the means by which the necessity of grace becomes apparent. Good works alone will never lead to salvation; it operates in Lutheran thought and Law and Gospel as part of a larger dynamic of salvation. However, at the same time Cranach's painting of Law and Gospel specifies the dynamics of salvation, it also indicates a dichotomy, but not--and this is crucial--between gospel and law. The painting draws a boundary between the dynamics of law and gospel (Lutheran theology) on the one hand, and law on its own (Catholicism or Judaism) on the other. The world is truly divided into two groups; those who properly understand gospel and law, and those who do not. Gospel and law work together to oppose Catholic misconceptions (from Luther's point of view) about the relationship between the Testaments, the theological meaning of good works, or the relationship of faith and grace. Proper understanding is within the image; misunderstanding resides outside the frame.

In a treatise attacking Anabaptism (the practice of adult baptism), Luther wrote, "And why the daily use of gold and goods which have been used by bad people, papists, Turks, and heretics?" (100) For Luther, all who reject Lutheran salvation, Anabaptist, Muslim ("Turk"), Jew, or Catholic ("Papist") were the same, existing outside the frame of Law and Gospel. Luther attacks Catholics and Muslims at the same time. All "bad people" are collective enemies of his theology of law and gospel. (101) A similar strategy appears consistently in the images, especially the prints, of Cranach the Elder and Younger, for instance in the print Christ defeating the Pope as Three-headed Beast, in which the monster has the head of the Pope, a Turk, and a woman, perhaps the whore of Babylon. (102)

By stating that adherents of other religions, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, are enemies, Luther asserts that his is the only true and legitimate faith. (103) A follower of Luther who understands gospel and law by definition will never be on the wrong side of the tree or on the wrong side of Christ on the day of judgment. In very clear contrast, traditional Catholic Last Judgments depict Catholics as both fallen and saved; bad Catholics populate hell, while good Catholics populate heaven. (104) Luther employed rhetorical antithesis, especially demonizing the pope, to the end of his life. His very last writing against the pope in 1545 was one of his fiercest attacks. Edwards calls the tract "the most violent and vulgar to issue from Luther's pen." (105)

These designations of "us and them" permeate Cranach's Reformation art from the early Passional Christi et Anti Christi to the work of Cranach the Younger, for example his print True and False Church of 1547. (106) In the Passional, contrast is paramount. Juxtapositions of Christ and the Anti-Christ run throughout, with the Pope himself starring in the role of anti-Christ. The vitriolic words and images on the subject of Papism scream the corruption of the Catholic establishment in contradistinction to Christ and Lutheran theology. For example, one pair of images juxtaposes Christ riding into Jerusalem with the Pope and his entourage processing into the flames of hell (fig. 7). (107) As early as 1520 Luther stated bluntly "I have almost no doubt that the Pope actually is the antichrist ...". (108) Viewing the Passional may also predispose the beholder to apply the concept of contrast to Law and Gospel, locating the contrast between the sides of the image rather than between the image and the world beyond the frame.

The rhetorical strategies of antithesis are manifest in Cranach's later Lutheran commissions. For example, a program of paintings dating from 1536 once adorned the walls of the castle in Torgau. (109) Along with numerous assistants, Cranach, was employed for several weeks to paint two panels for the Spiegelsaal or hall of mirrors. (110) The wall paintings in the Festsaal depicted a scene of the Ascension of Christ juxtaposed with the Damnation of the Popes. (111) These paintings reiterate the basic ideas and rhetorical strategies the Passional. (112) The common compositional devices of antithesis of the Passional and the Torgau murals collapse distinctions between expensive site-specific paintings accessible to a limited, aristocratic audience and a mass-produced propagandistic book. In 1545, Cranach's workshop provided illustrations for Luther's text Das Papstum. Luther was not pleased with the work Cranach did, complaining in a letter to Nikolaus v. Amsdorf in Zeitz, "Besides, he could have represented the Pope in a more appropriate, that is to say, more diabolical fashion, but you can judge for yourself." (113)

Whatever the audience or medium, certain rhetorical, antithetical strategies are consistent. Even though we cannot definitively conclude that the Law and Gospel is about antithesis merely because other images were, the parallel compositional strategies would understandably lead a viewer to expect similar content.


Luther's statement quoted at the beginning, that "... One has to instruct ordinary people simply and childishly, as much as one can." epitomizes the rhetorical strategies of Law and Gospel and evangelical art more broadly. Law and Gospel attempts to reduce complex theological issues into a (pictorial) slogan. Too much interpretive freedom was dangerous. Surely Luther's influence is undisputable, and in the context of his theology there is a "correct" interpretation. But the translation from word to image is an imperfect project. The visual cues, and the space between Luther's writings and the actual appearance of Law and Gospel, open the door to the variety of scenarios scholars have proposed, despite the best efforts of artist and theologian. Cranach did not take dictation from Luther, nor did he channel Luther's thinking through his brush. Rather, he initiated an interpretive process which began with Luther's ideas. The artist is neither an omniscient creator with utter autonomy over the meaning of the work of art, nor is he a neutral translator of words into pictures, as other scholars have oddly assumed. He is one of many influences in the circuitous journey from word to image.

Painting before the Reformation rendered a variety of services: it bestowed blessings on the viewer or patron (dead or alive); it represented or stimulated a holy vision; or it became itself an object of veneration. Instead, the didactic Law and Gospel panels were constructed to remind the believer of scripture or fundamental Lutheran principles. Unlike much Italian Renaissance art, Law and Gospel actively denies the illusion of the three-dimensional world contiguous with the viewer's space, and in so doing reaches out to the viewer conceptually rather than spatially. (114) Law and Gospel became the signifier of evangelical art, asserting confessional identity when it came into contact with other subjects, for example when it took its place among other, more traditional subjects in the program of later polyptychs. Later retable altarpieces have the benefit of physical context to insist on a singular, evangelical reading more effectively than their ancestor, Law and Gospel.

According to one scholar, the Bible citations accompanying Law and Gospel were appended to eliminate ambiguity, (115) though the words themselves are of course fraught with ambiguity, despite Luther's claims of the transparency of scripture. More plausibly, the picture was to clarify the text; the text does not clarify the picture. The idea of including scripture to elucidate meaning is compatible with Luther's conviction that the pure meaning of scripture was clear. In fact, the citations included in the images, like all passages from the Bible, are fraught with ambiguity, even if Luther contended or Cranach assumed they were clear. Far from resolving ambiguity, the complex language of scripture gives rise to the necessity for explication and interpretation. Add visual interpretation to the intricacies of scripture and to the polemics of theology, and the result is an image which is complex despite its professed simplicity.

(1.) In Answer to the Hyperchristian, Hyperspiritual, and Hyperlearned Book by Goat Emser in Leipzig-Including Some Thoughts Regarding His Companion, the Fool Murner LW 39, 179. In the interest of English-speaking readers, I have referenced the English edition of Luther's works (Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis, 1955-1977) wherever possible, rather than the German, WA (Martin Luther, Werke. Kritische Gesammtausgabe (Weimar 1883-). Translations of the German are my own unless otherwise stated.

(2.) WA 37, 64 , 32-35: "Man mus doch dem groben volk kindlich und einfeltiglich furbilden, als man immer kan, Sonst folget der zweyer eines, das sie entweder nichts da von lernen noch verstehen, odder wo sie auch wollen klug sein und mit vernunfft inn die hohen gedanken greaten, das sie gar vom glauben komen."

(3.) The following is a selection of important work on Law and Gospel: Ernst Meier, "Das Fortleben der religios-dogmatischer Kompositionen Cranachs in der Kunst des Protestantismus," Reportorium fur Kunstwissenschaft XXXII (1909) 415-435; Ernst Grohne, "Die bremischen Truhen mit reformatorischen Darstellung und der Ursprung ihrer Motive," Abhandlungen und Vortrage der Bremer Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft. 10/2 1936: 1-70. Carl Christensen, Art and the Reformation in Germany (Athens : Ohio University Press, 1979) and Princes and Propaganda: Electoral Saxon Art of the Reformation (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992). Jean Wirth, "Le dogme en image: Luther et l'iconographie," Revue de l'art 52 (1981): 9-23. Friedrich Ohly, Gesetz und Evangelium. Zur Typologie bei Luther und Lucas Cranach zum Blutstrahl der Gnade in der Kunst, Schriftenreihe der West Falischen Wilhelms-Universitat Munster, new series vol. 1 (Munster, Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung GmBH and Co., 1985). Suzanne Urbach, "Eine unbekannte Darstellung von 'Sundenfall und Erlosung' in Budapest und das Weiterleben des Cranachschen Rechtfertigungsbildes," Niederdeutsche Beitrage zur Kunstgeschichte Bd. 28 (Deutscher Kunstverlag Munchen Berlin 1989), 33-63. Carsten Bach-Nielsen, "Cranach, Luther und servum arbitrium," Analecta Romana 19 (1990): 145-184. Frank Buttner, "'Argumentio' in Bildern der Reformationszeit. Ein Beitrag zur Bestimmung argumentiven Strukturen in der Bild-Kunst," Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte. I (1994): 23-44. Joseph Leo Koerner, The Moment of Self-portraiture in German Renaissance Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) 363-410; Reformation of the Image (University of Chicago Press, 2004) 30; 246-7. Christoph Weimer, Luther, Cranach und die Bilder: Gesetz und Evangelium--Schlussel zum reformatorischen Bildgebrauch (Calwer Verlag Stuttgart 1999).

(4.) Wilhelm Worringer, Lukas Cranach (Munich 1908) 118.

(5.) Christensen, Art and the Reformation, 127.

(6.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 379.

(7.) Paolo Berdini, The Religious Art of Jacopo Bassano (Cambridge University Press, 1994) 10.

(8.) Though the bibliography on this subject is vast, two key sources include Berdini, esp. introduction, 1-35, and Oskar Batschmann, "Text and Image: Some General Problems." Word and Image vol. 4 No. 1 1988, 11-23.

(9.) Berdini 9.

(10.) Berdini 8, 12.

(11.) "Was Art Really the 'Book of the Illiterate?'" Word and Image, vol. 5 (1989) 227-228.

(12.) An exception is Frank Buttner, " 'Argumentatio' in Bildern der Reformationszeit," 23-44, especially 27; 31-35; 39-44, who applies the term argumentatio, the part of an argument where a point is proven, to the pictorial strategies of Law and Gospel. The argumentatio, follows the narratio, the exposition of the facts of the argument.

(13.) In Erasmus-Luther, Discourse on Free Will. trans. and ed. Ernst F. Winter (New York: Continuum 1961) 106.

(14.) Oskar Thulin, Cranach-Altare der Reformation (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1955), 126. Other events around 1529 are compatible with the appearance of a picture that clarifies Lutheran doctrine. Luther's Small Catechism appeared in 1529, Cf. Friedrich Buchholz, Protestantismus und Kunst, Studien uber Christliche Denkmaler, Hrsg. Johannes Ficker, Neue Folge der Archaeologischen Studien zum christlichen Altertum und Mittelalter, 17 Heft (Leipzig: Dieterich'che Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1928) 5. Luther's Sermon on the Fifth Book of Moses on the pedagogical uses of images, LW 1, 332-59 (WA 28:677 ff.) also appeared in 1529. See also Karin Groll, Das Passional Christi und Antichristi von Lucas Cranach der Altere, Europaische Hochschulschriften, series 28, vol. 118 (Frankfurt a/M: Peter Lang, 1990), 14. On 29 June 1529, Pope Clement VII accepted peace at Barcelona, and Francois I made peace with Charles V on August 3. The resolution of these conflicts freed the papacy to take action against the Reformers, who now faced a powerful and undistracted enemy; see Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 129.

(15.) See Thulin, Altare, 134. Ehresmann calls the picture Law and Grace. Werner Hofmann, ed., Luther und die Folgen fur die Kunst (Munchen Prestel Verlag, 1983), Cat. 84-89, discusses the Law and Gospel images in a section called "Gesetz und Gnade" or "Law and Grace", 210-216.

(16.) Versions appear in retable altarpieces, epitaphs, wall paintings, monumental panels, broadsheets, illuminated miniatures, title page woodcuts, stained glass pulpit decorations, iron stove tops, and book bindings, and marriage chests. Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 366 and n. 14. See also Meier, 421-422. According to Grohne, 8, by 1936, thirty domestic chests from 1550-1650, all with the Prague version of Law and Gospel, remained in the Focke Museum. Richard Foerster, "Die Bildnisse von Johann Hess und Cranachs Gesetz und Gnade'" Jahrbuch des Schlessischen Museums fur Kunstgewerbe und Altertumer 5 (1909) 117145 also mentions a sixteenth-century Law and Gospel chest with Low German origins, probably intended for a wedding.

(17.) Donald Ehresmann, "The Brazen Serpent, a Reformation Motif in the Works of Lucas Cranach the Elder and His Workshop," Marsyas 13 (1967) 36 n. 15 reproduces the full text of Gotha panel, as do Werner Schade and Allmuth Schuttwolf in the section "Malerei und Plastik" in Gotteswort und Menschenbild. Werke von Cranach und seinen Zeitgenossen (Kunstverlag Gotha Wechmar 1994), 20:

Vom Regenbogen und gericht, Ess wird Gottes zorn offenbart vom himmel uber aller / menschen Gotloss leben und vnrecht. Roman 1 [:18] / Wer seind allzumal sunder unndt mangelnn des preises/das sie sich Gottes nicht ruhmen mugen Roman. 1. [3:23];

Vom Teufel und Todt, Die Sunde ist des Todes spiess aber das gesetz ist der sunden/ krafft. Corinth. 15 [:56] / Das gesetz richtet zornn ahn. Roman 4. [:15];

Vom Mose und den Propheten, Durch das gesetz komet erkentnus der sunden Roman. 3. [:20] / Matthei. 11. [:13] / Das gesetz undt propheten gehen bis auff Johannes zeitt.;

Vom Menschen, Der gerechte lebett seines glaubens Roman. 1. [:17] / wier halten das einmensch gerecht werde den glauwen / on werch des gesetzes Roman. 3. [:28];

Vom Teuffer, Sihe das ist gottes Lamb das der welt sundetregt / Sant johannes baptist. Johannis. 2 [:2];

Vom Tode und Lamb, Der Tod ist verschlungen ym sieg Tod wo ist dein spiss / Helle wo ist dein sieg; danck hab Gott der uns den siegk gegeben / Hat durch Jesum christum unsern herren. 1. Corinth. 15 [: 57].

(18.) Versions based on the Prague model produced outside of Germany include: Hans Holbein the Younger's painted version currently in Scotland and a print by Geoffroy Tory, see Thulin, Altare, 178. On Tory's relationship to the Prague painting, see Karl Ernst Meier, "Das Fortleben der religios-dogmatischer Kompositionen Cranachs in der Kunst des Protestantismus," Reportorium fur Kunstwissenschaft XXXII (1909): 415-435, 420 f. Cf Ohly, n. 52; Busch, 116; Gotteswort und Menschenbild Cat. 1.3, p. 21; Bach-Nielsen, 158.

(19.) On the Brazen Serpent in Law and Gospel, see Ehresmann, 32-47. Ehresmann, 36, observes that the scene of the Brazen Serpent stands out against the dark landscape around it. See also Craig Harbison The Last Judgment in sixteenth- century Northern Europe, diss., Princeton University, 1971, Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1976) 98.

(20.) The inscriptions on the Prague panel are now lost, due to a cleaning earlier this century. They are, however, preserved in a copy, probably from the seventeenth century, held in the restoration studio for the National Gallery in Prague. My thanks to Pavel Kryml and Professor Kotkova, who allowed me to see both paintings in the restoration studio of the Prague National Gallery, and who also provided me with reproductions. Foerster, 1909, 126 suggests that the copy may be from Cranach's hand. Cf. Bach-Nielsen p. 151 and n. 8; and Thulin Altare 128. The Prague inscriptions state:

Roma. 6. Der Todt ist der sunden sold. 1. Kor. 15 / Die Sund ist des Todes spies. Aber das gesetz Ist der/ sunden krafft. Roma. 4. Das Gesetz richtet zorn ahn.

Roma. 1. Es wirdt offenbart gottes zorn von himel uber / aller menschen gotlos leben und unrecht.

Roma. 3. / Die seindt alezumal sunder und mangeln des preises das sie / sich gottes nicht rumen mogen.

Roma. 3. Durch das gesetz komet erkenntnis der Sunden. / Matthei. 11. Das gesetz und Propheten gehen bis auff Jo/hannis zeitt.

Roma. 7. Ich Elender Mensch wer wirdt mich erlOsen / aus dem Leibe des Todes. Roma 1. Der gerechte lebet gerns ge/lawbens. Roma 3. Wir halten das ein Mensch ge/recht werde durch den geglauben on werck des gesetzes.

Marci 1. es Wirdt ein stercker komen nach mir S. / Johannis Baptist. Joan. 2. Sihe das ist Gottes lamb / das der weltt sunde treget. 1 Petri 1. In der heilil-/gung des geistes zum gehorsam und besprengung des blu-/tes Jesu Christi. Amen.

Essaie 26. Send das lamb den herscher der Erdenn / Exodi 12. Es wirdt sein ein Lamb on mackel.

Der Todt is verschlungen Im sieg. Todt wo ist dein / spiess? Helle wo ist dein sieg? Danck hab gott / der unns den sieg geben hatt durch Jesum Christum / Unsern Herren. 1. Korin. 15.

Matthei 4. Die Engel haben sich genehet unnd dienten yhm. Wenn seinen Engeln ist gepoten von dir auff das sie dich behutten yn allen deinen wegen. Psal. 90.

(21.) For example the title page for the Low German Luther Bible in Lubeck, designed by Erhard Altdorfer, Ludowich Dietz, publisher, 1553, see Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 394

(22.) McGrath, Reformation Thought, 1988, 95-116.

(23.) LW 39, 178 Berdini 9, explains that Luther believed in literal meaning of scripture, not the allegorical or anagogical, which enabled too much hermeneutic possibility.

(24.) See Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 381 on Merckbilder and Tappolet 147. Luther explains this idea on October 31, 1529. See WA 28:677, 21-678, 28.

(25.) See Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 369, 379, on Law and Gospel's limited interpretation and Berdini, n. 7 above. Some of the most trenchant work within the vast literature on pictorial function of late medieval art includes Craig Harbison, "Visions and Meditations in early Flemish Painting," Simiolus 15. 2 (1985); James Marrow, "Symbol and Meaning in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance," Simiolus 16 (1986) 2/3 150-169; and Jeffrey Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (New York: Zone Books, 1998).

(26.) Christiane D. Andersson, "Religiose Bilder Cranachs im Dienst der Reformation," Humanismus und Reformation als kulturelle Krafte in der deutschen Geschichte (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1981) 43. On Luther's opinions about art compared to other reformers, see See Sergiusz Michalski, Reformation and the Visual Arts: The Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe, trans. Chester Kisiel (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), ch. 2. "The iconophobes: Karlstadt, Zwingli, and Calvin" 43-74. Secondary sources analyzing Luther's general position on images, include Margarete Stirn, Die Bilderfrage in der Reformation, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte, Bd. XLV (Gotersloh: Goterloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1977); Christensen, Reformation Art, 42-65; Luther und die Folgen fur die Kunst, 46; Hans Preuss, Martin Luther der Kunstler (Gutersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1931); Paul Lehfeldt, Luthers Verhaltniss zu Kunst und Kunstlern (Berlin: Wilhelm Hertz, 1892); Christian Rogge, Luther und die Kirchenbilder seiner Zeit, Leipzig Verein fur Reformationsgeschichte, 108. 4 (1912), 1-29; Gunther Wartenberg, "Bilder in den Kirchen der Wittenberger Reformation" in Johann Michael Fritz, Die bewahrende Kraft des Luthertums. Mittelalterliche Kunstwerke in evangelischen Kirchen (Regensburg: Schell & Steiner, 1997) 19-33, esp. 24-30 reviews Luther's opinions on images; Wartenberg, 23-24 also nicely summarizes the functions of late medieval art.

(27.) Three important overviews of Cranach's work as a Reformation artist include Luther und die Folgen fur die Kunst, Hamburger Kunsthalle, (Prestel Verlag, 1983) and Kunst der Reformationszeit, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ausstellung im Alten Museum, Berlin-Ost, 1983, (Linzenzausgabe Berlin West 1983); and Christensen, Art and the Reformation. See also the more recent Hans Georg Thummel, "Lucas Cranach d. A., die Reformation und die Altglaubigen," Kunst und Kirche. Hrsg. Uta Schedler u. Susanne Tauss. Bd. 19 Beitrage der Tagung Kunst und Kirche 20-22 September 2000. Osnabruck: Universitatsverlag Rasch. (hrsg. von Landschaftverband Osnabrucken Land e.V.).

(28.) Cranach and Luther's friendship and collaboration are documented in a letter Luther wrote Luther during his hiding at the Wartburg (LW 48, 200-203). Two guests at Luther's wedding and engagement celebrations record Cranach's attendance in their written descriptions, see Johannes Jahn, ed. Lucas Cranach der Altere Das gesamte graphische Werk. (Munchen: Rogner and Bernhard GMBH, 1972) 613. In the same year that Cranach painted his first portraits of the Reformer, Luther became godfather to Cranach's daughter, Anna and in 1526 Cranach became godfather to Luther's first born son, see Andersson 44. According to the Table Talk (Tischreden), the collection of recollections of Luther's conversations with friends and students, Luther's likely condolence visit to Cranach on the occasion of his son Hans' death exemplifies the warmth of their friendship, TR. 4, 505-508 and Schade, Family, Document 308.

(29.) Andersson, 44. Despite later differences between Luther and Melanchton, the two men seemed to be in general agreement in the 1520's and early 1530's. On Melanchthon and Luther vis a vis their influence on Reformation art, particularly the use of the Brazen Serpent, see Ehresmann 34, who asserts that the specific influence of Luther or Melanchthon matters less than the role of the Brazen Serpent as an unmistakable symbol of the early Reformation.

(30.) der Ehrwirdige Herr Doktor hat die Figuren zum Teil selber angegeben, wie man sie hat sollen reissen oder malen, dass man auffs eingeltigst den inhalt soll abmalen [...] und wolt nicht leiden, dass man uberley und unnutze ding, das zum text nicht dienet, solt dazu schmieren. WA 18, 83, 1525. See also Andersson, 44.

(31.) John Dillenberger, Images and Relics: Theological Perceptions and Visual Images in Sixteenth Century Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) introduction, xxv.

(32.) Dillenberger, introduction, xix. Cf. McGrath, 1988, 67-71.

(33.) Dillenberger, introduction, xxv.

(34.) The Small Catechism in Timothy Lull, Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989) 471-496; The Book of Concord 338-56. See also A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels LW 35, 113--124; WA 10 I, 1, 8-18. The Small Catechism explains the meaning of the Ten Commandments, but omits any mention of idols and idolatry in the first or second commandments, Lull 476, thereby avoiding the tricky issue completely.

(35.) The first commandment: "You shall have no other gods." The second commandment: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Small Catechism, Lull, 476.

(36.) On the various dates of Luther's reforming breakthrough, see Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work, trans. Robert Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986) 149-150. The defining and interlocking Lutheran notions of sola gratia, sola scriptura, and sola fides, as Luther defines them in the groundbreaking treatises of 1520, form this notion of Law and Gospel. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, attacked the Catholic sacraments, especially the Mass, LW 36, 11-57. The Freedom of a Christian, explains and defines Christian faith, LW 31, 333-77. To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation calls upon the German rulers to reform the church, LW 44, 115-217; Cf. Dillenberger, introduction, xiii.

(37.) See for example Michalski's collection of sources pertinent to Luther's views on art, cited above n. 26.

(38.) Lohse 157, succinctly explains:

The Word of God encounters people as law and as gospel, as a word of judgment and as a word of grace.... It is certainly true that there is more law than gospel in the Old Testament and more gospel than law in the New Testament. Luther's distinction between law and gospel, however, referred to something other than the division of biblical statements into the two parts of the biblical canon. This distinction rather describes the fact that God both judges and is merciful.

(39.) See Harbison, 1976, 98-99.

(40.) See Ohly, cited above, n. 3.

(41.) "Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are [implanted in everyone] by nature [and written in everyone's heart]." LW 35, 168.

(42.) LW 35, 168-169.

(43.) LW 35, 173.

(44.) LW 35, 173.

(45.) "Thus I abandon myself from all active righteousness, both of mine own and of God's law, and embrace only that passive righteousness, which is the righteousness of grace, mercy and forgiveness of sins." Letter to the Galatians in Dillenberger 102.

(46.) Harbison, Last Judgment, 98-99, observes this mixing of the Old Testament and Christian motifs.

(47.) For Luther, the idea of a covenant between humanity and God that allows Christians an active role in securing salvation parallels the covenant of the Old Testament. Ehresmann, 42, contends that Christ in Judgment in proximity to the Old Testament motifs suggests a basic similarity of Catholicism and Judaism, both contractual theologies.

(48.) Luther und die Folgen fur die Kunst, Cat. 84-89 "Gesetz und Gnade", 210-216. For a reading of Law and Gospel in a painting by Holbein, see F. Grossmann, "A Religious Allegory by Hans Holbein the Younger," Burlington Magazine 103 (1961): 491-494. Grossmann sees the Catholic influence on the Law side of Law and Gospel, but still asserts that Holbein's Weltbild is about a contrast between the Testaments.

(49.) Dillenberger, introduction, xix, Cf. McGrath, Reformation Thought, 67-71.

(50.) In a drawing in Dresden, the Brazen Serpent appears on the Gospel side, Ehresmann, 37. This might suggest that the Dresden drawing appears later than the Gotha and Prague panels and functioned as a preparatory drawing for subsequent paintings of Law and Gospel.

(51.) I am indebted to Grohne, who is the first, and to my knowledge the only, scholar who compares the Dying man and Law and Gospel. In 1848, The Dying Man was removed from the Nikolaikirche to the City Library in Leipzig to its place in the Leipzig Museum der bildenden Kunste; inv. Nr. 1924-40. See also Katharina Flugel, in Cat. A5, Kunst der Reformationszeit 42-43; and Susanne Heiland, "Der Sterbende" Vergessene Gemalde 54-56.

(52.) Flugel, 42.

(53.) Grohne, 24; 25.

(54.) Grohne, 23.

(55.) Grohne, 23 supplies this factual information as well as the idea that the naked soul refers back to a medieval tympanum and looks forward to the naked figure of Law and Gospel.

(56.) Heiland, Vergessene Gemalde, 54. At the very top of the panel is the following text:

PATRI. OP. HENRICVS. SCHMITBVRG. LIPZESIS. IVRIVM. DOCTOR. FIERI. FECIT. AN. AB. INCAR. DO.M.D. XVIII / MISERACIONES. EIVS. OMNITA. OPERA. EIVS. PSALMO 144. Flugel 42, translates this text into German, "Dem besten Vater lieb Heinrich Schmitburg aus Leipzig dies fertigen im Jahre 1518 nach der Geburt des Herren." Heiland, Vergessene Gemalde, 54 whose translation is identical to Flugel's, fills in some of the abbreviations: Patri op(timo) Henricus Schmitburg Lips(i)e(n)sis iurium doctor fieri fecit an(no) ab incar(natione) do(mini) MDXVIII. Translated into English, the text reads: "Our great Father allowed Heinrich Schmitburg of Leipzig to have this panel made in the year 1518 after the birth of Christ." My thanks to John Kirkpatrick for his generous assistance with translating this Latin inscription. Heiland, 54, n. 6, mistakenly claims the son commissioned the picture for his father; she misunderstands the word Father, which refers to God and not the father of the patron. The remaining texts give voice to some of the other figures. The following translations from Latin and Greek into German are from Heiland, Vergessene Gemalde, 54. English translations of German are my own or from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. John Kirkpatrick corrected my translation from the German against his own translation from the original Latin.

At the top of the image:

Miseraciones eium super omnia opera eius Psalmo 144 (144, 9 in the Vulgate, 145,9 in the Luther Bible)

Der Herr is allen gutig und erbarmt sich aller seiner Werke

The Lord is good to all, / and his compassion is over all that / he has made. (from the RSV)

On top of the Mandorla, upside down

Sanctus Dominus Deus Saboath

Heiliger Herr Gott Saboath

Holy Lord, God of the Sabbath

The Greek text over the Madonna states in German

Das Heil is bei unserem Gott (from Revelations 7, 10)

Salvation belongs to our God (The whole verse is: and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!')

Above John the Baptist

Salvatio ex agno

Erlosung durch das Lamm

Salvation through the Lamb

Next to the soul of the dying man

Et si peccavi tamen te Deus meus nunq(uam) nevavi

Obschon ich gesundigt habe, so habe ich doch dich, mein Gott, niemals verleugnet

Although I have sinned, still I have never denied you, my God

To the right above the dying man's head

Peniteat te peccati veniam pete: et spera misericordiam

Bereue deine Sunde, bitte um Vergebung und hoffe auf Barmberzigkeit

Atone for your sins, pray for forgiveness, and hope for mercy.

On the foot of the bed

Desperandu(m) tibi prorsus cu(m) o(mn)ia Dei mandata negligenter mea vero auxiliante femina strenue s(em)p(er) peregisti

Du musst ganzlich verzweifeln, weil du alle Gebote Gottes nachlassig, die meinigen (d.h. des Teufels) aber mit der Hilfe des Weibes (d.i. Eva) immer eifrig erfullt hast

You must despair, because you neglected God's commandments, and fervently fulfilled mine (the devil's) with the help of the woman (i.e. Eve).

The notary writes

Testator offert anima(m) Deo corpus terrae bona proximis

Der Erblasser ubergibt seine Seele Gott, seinen Leib der Erde, seine Guter den Verwandten.

The deceased gives his soul to God, his body to the earth, and his possessions to his relatives.

The inscription on the chest

Desperandum tibi prorsus cum quia dei mandata negligenter mea vero auxiliante femina strenue sp. Peregisti

Der Sterbende fulfilled his good works carelessly. Grohne 25

The angels cartelino

"Opera Bona" means that this man taking leave of the world followed God's demands carelessly, and must fear for his soul. The implications of this proclamation is that the angel functions as an intercessor.

(57.) Cat. 1.3, p. 21 in Gotteswort und Menschenbild. See also Christian Schuchardt, Lucas Cranach des Aeltern Leben und Werke, 3 vols. (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1851-71) vol. 1 81 and Max Friedlander and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, trans. Heinz Norden (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978) Cat. 221.

(58.) On the influence of Melanchthon and Luther especially on the Brazen Serpent as a Lutheran subject, see Ehresmann, 34.

(59.) The Augsburg Confession of 1530 was signed by, among others, John the Constant and John Frederick the Magnanimous of Saxony, Melanchthon, 1988, 125. The text appears in Melanchthon, 1988, 95-125. Albrecht Steinwachs and Jurgen M. Pietsch, Der Reformationsaltar von Lucas Cranach d.A in der Stadtkirche St. Marien Lutherstadt Wittenberg (Sproda: Pietsch, ed. Akanthus, 1998) 5 note a parallel between the four panels in the Wittenberg Altarpiece and the seventh article in the Augsburg Confession. See also Thulin, 1955, 10 and Dillenberger, Images, 102-103. The Augsburg Confession of 1530 declared Lutheranism a church, rather than a breakaway sect. See Koerner, Reformation, 21.

(60.) Lohse, 82 and McGrath, 1988, 131.

(61.) Wirth, 20, argues that the Prague version is based on Melanchthon, while the Gotha version is based on Luther, cf. Ohly note 52 and Bach-Nielsen, 158. Gotteswort und Menschenbild Cat. 1.3, 20-21, makes no distinction between Prague and Gotha regarding Luther's or Melanchthon's influence.

(62.) The Passional Christi et Anti-Christi of 1521 juxtaposes images throughout. On the Passional see Groll; Hildegard von Schnabel, ed. Lucas Cranach der Altere Passional Christ und Anti--Christi (Union Verlag Berlin 1972); and Bob Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk, Cambridge Studies in Oral and Literate Culture 2 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 148-158. Urbach, 39 and Ehresmann interpret Law and Gospel as antithesis.

(63.) Ehresmann, 41. See also Craig Harbison The Last Judgment in sixteenth-century Northern Europe, diss., Princeton University, 1971, Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1976), 98.

(64.) Ehresmann, 43. Meier, 418 also interprets Law and Gospel as a contrast. Cf. Urbach, 39.

(65.) Reindert L. Falkenburg, "Calvinism and the Emergence of Dutch Seventeenth-Century Landscape Art--A Critical Evaluation" in Paul Corby Finney, ed., Seeing Beyond the Word: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1999) 353. And of course Michael Baxandall famously isolates the role of the beholder in the reconstitution of meaning. See especially chapter 2, "The Period Eye" in Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy. 2nd ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

(66.) Mark U. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles. Politics and Polemics, 1531-46 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983) 5. Edwards, Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) 6 approaches Luther's early theology within various "communities of discourse"; the reformers message was varied as the communities of people who received an interpreted it.

(67.) Edwards, Printing, 5.

(68.) On the multivalence of the tree in Law and Gospel as a multivalent symbol, see Grohne 23. Some of the antecedents for the dividing tree include:

1. a single leaf woodcut from 1470, in the Vienna Hofbibliothek, depicting a youth on a low tree choosing between an angel on one side, and death and the devil on the other. Over the young man's head is a banderole stating "Freiwille" or "free will", Grohne 30-31; Cf. Groll 1990, 127 ff.

2. Berthold Furtmeyr, Tree of Death and Life, from Missal of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Bernard von Rohr c. 1480 (Stadtsbibliothek Munich. fol. 60 verso). This image also appears in Koerner, Self-Portraiture fig. 176.

3. A print by Schaufelein of the Fall and Eucharist, 1516, where two different types of leaves divide a tree in half. The Schaufelein print, in turn, may derive from medieval Juxtaposition of Ecclesia und Synagoga, See Grohne 54. See also Ruth Melinkoff, Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages (Berleley, Los Angeles, and Oxford, England: University of California Press, 1993) on Synagoga and Ecclesia, 48-51; 64-65; and 217-220; and 232.

4. See Grohne, 55-56, for discussion of Eve and Mary, Salvation and the Fall, in a Burgundian miniature of 1477, fig. 28, reproduced on p. 81. Mary, the Pope, and cardinals are on one side, and Adam and Eve, along with a king are on the other. This split image resembles a division between cities of God and of Humanity, rather than simply between virtue and vice, damnation and salvation. Grohne 42 asserts an essential continuity of the use of the living and dead tree in the Middle Ages into the Reformation; on 60-64, he speculates further about the relationship between Law and Gospel and Biblia Paupernum, especially the source of the dividing tree. For further discussion of trees in northern art, see Werner Busch, "Lucas van Leyden's Grobe Hagar und die augustinische Typologieauffassung der Vorreformation" Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte 45 (1982) 100 ff.

(69.) Ernst Badstubner "Gesetz und Gnade in der Ikonographie Protestantischer Bildkunst" 33-40 in Gesetz und Gnade: Cranach, Luther und die Bilder Ausstellung im Cranach-Jahr 1994 Eisenach Museum der Wartburg 4 Mai-31 Juli; Torgau Schloss Hartenfels 25 August-6 November, observes the tension between unity and antithesis in Law and Gospel. See especially p. 35 where he Badstubner, explains that the Gotha type presents the biggest problem of antithetical content, not just as a "compositional problem" but even as a "dilemma", which the Prague type tries to avoid.

(70.) My thanks to Professor Dale Grote at UNC Charlotte for helping me refine this translation. On simul justus et peccator, see Heiko Oberman, The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications, trans. Andrew Colin Gow (Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Edinburgh, Scotland: T. and T. Clark Ltd., 1994) 60-61.

(71.) Lohse 157.

(72.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 366, observes that Law and Gospel resembles an open book, where the figures read like words on a page because they relate conceptually rather than spatially. Bach-Nielsen, 150-151, contends that the nude figure in the Prague panel makes no decision and is simply caught in a dilemma, whereas the Gotha picture, without this ambiguity, may be more of an exemplar.

(73.) Schuster in Luther und die Folgen fur die Kunst, 118; Ohly 21; Grohne, 30-31; Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 385-391. See also FR Cat. 408. On the Biblia Paupernum as a source for a human figure deliberating at the juncture of two paths divided by a tree, see Grohne 60-64 .

(74.) According to Wirth, 19, the figure in the Prague panel makes a choice between two paths, a theme that refers back to Hercules, a theme Luther hated.

(75.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 391

(76.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 396

(77.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 397

(78.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 383, n. 62, on Worringer.

(79.) Edwards, Printing, 4 notes the dangers of using hindsight to speculate on what people in the midst of a complex situation understood.

(80.) Michalski 14, 17, 29.

(81.) Nina Rowe,"Monumental Fictions: Personifications of Synagogue and Church on the Thirteenth-Century Cathedral Facade" (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 2002).

(82.) Oskar Thulin, p. 126, the preeminent scholar of Cranach's Lutheran paintings subtitles his chapter Law and Gospel "Der Mensch in der Entscheidung vor Gott: Sundenfall-Erlosung; Gesetz--Evangelium". The Man/Person Deciding Before God: Fall and Salvation--Law and Gospel".

(83.) Berdini, 10, avers that German Reformation art was meant to limit the beholder's interpretive freedom, whereas Italian art was meant to open up the possibility of expansive visual interpretation.

(84.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 366 and n. 15.

(85.) Susan Boettcher , "Are the Cranach Luther Altarpieces Philippist? Memory of Luther and Knowledge of the Past in the late Reformation," in Mary Lindemann, ed. Ways of Knowing: Ten Interdisciplinary Essays. Studies in Central European Histories (Brill, 2004) 85-86, describes the way followers of Luther, right after his death, sought to assign themselves Lutheran identity by canonizing Luther's writing and setting forth a particular reading of his theology as both normative and authoritative.

(86.) For Ohly 24-25, it is "unthinkable" (undenkbar) that Law and Gospel, after such a short time, could spread from Cranach's workshop in so many varied forms with out Luther's approval (Billigung). Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 365-366, dates Cranach and Luther's collaboration resulting in Law and Gospel to 1529-1530. Harbison, 97; 101, insists that Luther is the theological origin of Law and Gospel.

(87.) Thummel 55 and 56.

(88.) Ohly 82ff n. 3-4 Cf. Buttner 30 n.22.

(89.) "eine eindeutige typologische Gegenuberstellung der beiden Testamente" Busch, 116; see also 117-118. Wirth, 19, claims the Gotha and Prague panels are more like separate subjects than variations on a theme.

(90.) Bach-Nielsen 145; 154.

(91.) Bach Nielsen 149; 152-154.

(92.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 365-366, contends that all other examples of Law and Gospel are copies after Cranach, for instance versions by Holbein, Peter Gottlandt, Franz Timmerman, Erhard Altdorfer, Georg Lenberger. See also catalog entries 84-89, 210-216 in Luther und die Folgen fur die Kunst. E. Flechsig Cranachstudienien (Leipzig, 1900) 249272, attributes the Gotha version to Hans Cranach and Grohne 17, cautiously suggests that the Prague version is by the younger Cranach.

(93.) Bach-Nielsen 149; 154-156 argues that Cranach did not invent the Prague picture and was indebted to Holbein's Weltbild in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Busch, 116, and Cat. 1.3 in Gotteswort und Menschenbild, p. 21 state that Tory's woodcut was the source for Cranach's Prague panel. Cf. Ohly n. 52.

(94.) Meier 420-421, proposes that the Tory picture follows Cranach's Prague type, though probably through an intermediary print such as a title page from a Bible. Grohne, 15-18; 21 proposes that the Prague version became Tory's source.

(95.) Grohne 13-14.

(96.) According to Grohne, 15, the Dresden drawing is the "original sketch" (Urskizze). Because the Dresden drawing has two nude figures, Grohne, 43, assumes that the Gotha version is older than the Prague version, even if only by a little bit. This does not account for the possibility that other drawings for the Prague version have since disappeared. According to Ernst Badstubner in Kunst der Reformationszeit, Cat. E 52.3, 357-360, esp. 358, the Dresden drawing testifies to Cranach's authorship of the Gotha picture.

A text in Cranach's hand on the reverse of the Dresden drawing dedicates the picture to Duchess Katharina. Katharina, nee Mecklenburg, 1477-1561, married Duke Henry of Saxony in 1512. The duke and duchess employed a court preacher with Lutheran sympathies, and in 1524 had mass said in German at the castle in Freiburg, in opposition to the Albertine Duke George. FR cat. 61.

(97.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 379.

(98.) Berdini, 12, explains that pictures do not refer directly to a text, but rather to readings of the text. "Simply put, an image visualizes a reading and not a text." Berdini, 15, rightly points out that viewing does not replace reading. Pictures interpret the text or return the viewer to revisit the text: "What visual exegesis describes is the new encounter with the text made possible by the image, not its substitution, much in the same way as the painter's reading of the text should not be taken as a substitution for ours."

(99.) trans. Jamies I. Porter (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984) 102.

(100.) Concerning Rebaptism LW 40, 229-262 and Lull 343. A similar strategy appears in the print, Christ defeating the Pope as Three-headed Beast, in which the monster has the head of the Pope, a Turk, and a woman. Scribner 175-177. For further discussion of the association of the Pope and the Turk, 181-183

(101.) In the sermon How Law and Grace may be thoroughly Distinguished from One Another, (Wie das Gesetz und Evangelium recht grundlich zu unterscheiden sind) of 1532, WA 36, 8-23, Luther writes:
 In Papism, the Pope, with all his advisors, Cardinals,
 (and) Bishops ... never knew ... how to tell Law from Grace
 or Grace from Law. Their religion is nothing more than
 Turkish religion of Law, ...

 (Unter dem Papstumb hat der Papst mit alle (sic)
 seinen gelerten, Cardineln, Bisschoffen ... noch nie gewust, ...,
 was das Evangelion gegen dem gesetz oder was das
 gesetz gegen dem Evangelion unterschiedlich sey, Darumb
 ist ir glaube ein lauter Turken glauben von den gesetzen,..).

(102.) Scribner, Simple Folk, 175-177; on the Pope and the Turk, see also 181-183.

(103.) Scribner, Simple Folk, 205.

(104.) My thanks to Nina Rowe for clarifying this point in reference to the Last Judgment tympanum at the Cathedral at Bamberg.

(105.) Edwards, Last Battles, 185. See Edwards, Last Battles, 182-200.

"By the 1530's, the differences between Catholics and Protestants were irreconcilable. Each side claimed to be of the true church. Each believed that its opponent was in league with the devil. Each felt that justice was on its side. Each had a long list of grievances against the other. Such convictions left little to be discussed." Edwards, Last Battles, 38.

(106.) Groll 2; 286. The adamant insistence on the difference between Lutheran salvation and Catholicism is even more pronounced in later prints by Cranach the Younger, for instance: The True and False Church, 1546/47, and the 1547 print of the Old and the New Church. See Groll 36 fig 37. See also Jahn 1972, 672-673, and a colored version of this print is in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin. Cf. Scribner 199-205. Scribner discusses the way opposition to the anti-Christ is part of Lutheran self definition in "popular" prints.

(107.) See Groll's study of the Passional, cited above. See also the facsimile by Hildegard von Schnabel, ed. Lucas Cranach der Altere Passional Christ und Anti-Christi (Berlin: Union Verlag, 1972). Schnabel's book is a facsimile. According to Groll, 18; 283 Philip Melanchthon and Johann Schwertfeger also participated in the planning of the Passional. Melanchthon and Schwertfeger chose the texts. See also, Scribner, 148-158.

(108.) "Beinahe habe ich keinen Zweifel mehr, dab der Papst im eigentlichen Sinne jener Antichrist sei ..." Luther wrote these lines on February 24, 1520 to Spalatin, the Hofpredigter. Quoted in Schnabel 48. Scribner, 163165, describes in detail the role of the anti-Christ in printed Protestant propaganda. The corrupt pope personifies the evil inversion of religion, the world turned upside down (verkehrte Welt). 164.

(109.) On Torgau, see Jeffrey Chipps Smith, German Sculpture of the Later Renaissance, c. 1520-1580 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994) 87-94 and Wirth 15. Records of Cranach and his assistants working at Torgau are reproduced in Walter Scheidig, "Urkunden zu Cranachs Leben und Schaffen" in H. Ludecke, ed, Lucas Cranach der Altere: Der Kunstler und seine Zeit (Berlin: Herschelverlag, 1953) Document 52. These records, stored in the Landeshauptarchiv Weimar, are also recorded in Schuchardt vol. 3, 265 ff.

(110.) Groll, 103.

(111.) Schade, Family, Document 314 of 1538, records payment Cranach received for his Ascension of Christ and Pope's Descent into Hell in Torgau. See also Buchholz, 38. In 1566, Earl (Graf) Froben Christof von Zimmern and Earl Wilhelm Wernher von Zimmern refer to these images in the Zimmer Chronik, see Groll 103. The writers of the Zimmerische Chronik also notes the similarities with the Passional. See Groll 103-104 and n. 36-37.

(112.) According to Groll, the paintings in Torgau also share features with the Passional Christi et Anti-Christi, of 1521. For Groll, the paintings for the castle church indicate the transformation of the folksy (volkstumlich) woodcuts of the Passional into a more sophisticated and enduring form. Groll 104.

(113.) "Daneben hatte er den Papst in wurdigerer, ich meine teuflischererGestalt malen konnen, doch magst du selbst urteilen." This letter is reproduced in Scheidig in Ludecke, Kunstler und seine Zeit, Document 57; Cf. WA 11, 1948, No. 4123 and Schuchardt vol. 2, 53.

(114.) Koerner, Self-Portraiture, 370. Of course all art relates to the viewer conceptually, but much of Italian Renaissance art explicitly creates the illusion of space continuous with the viewer's own.

(115.) "The ambiguity inherent in the visual image could, of course, be resolved by the use of image plus text, with the latter supplying an unambiguous reading." Scribner, Simple Folk 244.
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Author:Noble, Bonnie
Publication:Southeastern College Art Conference Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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