|On the basis of other portraits by Lucas Cranach the Younger it was possible to identify the male figure clothed in black on the left side of the painting as Dr. Caspar Cruciger the Elder (1504-1548), a theologian from Wittenberg and a companion of both Luther and Melanchtons.|
Cruciger was first married to Elizabeth of Meseritz, who died in 1535. In 1536 he married Apollonia Günterode, who died in 1557. The women clothed in black with portrait-like features could be identified as the two wives. The one on the left, shown in profile, was probably added to the composition later, which explains her rather cramped position. Accordingly this could be Apollonia, who died in 1557, the year when the painting was created. The young boy in the foreground and the infant presented to Jesus on a black cloth could be Cruciger’s deceased sons.
Cruciger had two sons and one daughter from his first marriage and one son and three daughters from his second. Drees presumes that the four young women depicted with infants represent his daughters and that the youngest boy at top left is his third son Caspar Cruciger the Younger.
The panel may originally have been intended for the parish church of Wittenberg where Cruciger was buried in 1548.
The subject of 'Christ Blessing the Children' was not known before the Reformation. It can be interpreted as a reaction to the Anabaptists' rejection of the baptism of children. Luther invoked the quoted biblical text Mk 10 as justification.
In the Cranach workshop numerous paintings were created illustrating this subject, whereby no two are identical. One of these paintings was once also in the ducal collection in Gottorf palace (now in Copenhagen, FR362F): it arrived there as part of a dowery from the Saxon Princess Maria Elizabeth who married Duke Friedrich III of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf in 1630.
The present panel can be distinguished from other depictions of the same subject by on the one hand the addition of the donors and on the other hand the material of the support, which is copper. It is one of the earliest known examples of painting on copper in Germany.
[Daria Dittmeyer, Schloss Gottorf 2013]