Cranach - An Unknown Lady, Formerly Called Sybille of Cleves, Wife of John Frederick of Saxony
An Unknown Lady, Formerly Called Sybille of Cleves, Wife of John Frederick of Saxony
Lucas Cranach the Elder
The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
17.06.2019 - 02:43
Choose objects with for comparison
CDA ID / Inventory NumberUK_WM_138-1996
Persistent Link
FR (1978) No.FR-none
An Unknown Lady, Formerly Called Sybille of Cleves, Wife of John Frederick of Saxony[The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Lucas Cranach the Elder [The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Owner / Repository / Location:
OwnerWaddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)
RepositoryThe National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Dimensions of support (sight size): 55.3 x 37.4 cm [The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Painting on wood [The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Signature / Date:
Arist's insignia at the lower left: wing serpent and dated '1515' [The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Inscriptions, Marks, Labels, Seals:
Original Inscriptions:
- on the bonnet: 'H' as repeat pattern (x3) [cda, 2015]
Inscriptions, Marks, Labels, Seals:
On the frame: - lower centre: Label: 'Luc Cranach' [The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Richly dressed in pearls and necklaces, this unknown noblewoman was no doubt a member of the court of Duke Frederick III of Saxony where Cranach worked as court painter. Formerly identified as Frederic's neice, this little-known painting is dated 1515 when Sybille was only three. Sybille did not marry Frederic's nephew, John Frederick I (1502-1556), until 1526. The sitter's heavy necklaces were the height of fashion for Flemish and German ladies in the early years of the sixteenth century. [The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
- acquired by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922)
- inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957)
- inherited by his wife Dorothy de Rothschild (b.1895, d.1988)
- then to a Rothschild Family Trust. Collection: Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)
- on loan since 1996, The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

[The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, revised 2015]
Sources / Publications:
Reference on PageCatalogue NumberFigure/Plate
Lange 201534Fig. 6
Interpretation / History / Discussion:
[...] A letter to Elector Johann Friedrich on the 27 February 1534 from Anna’s daughter Elizabeth (1502-1557), who was married to Duke Johann the Steadfast (1498 -1537), reveals that the elector's court painter (‘mester Luckes’) executed two portraits of Elizabeth – for herself and for Elector Johann Friedrich – as well as a portrait of her mother (‘m. fraw mutter selgen kounterfett’). [1] It may be assumed that the portrait was completed before Anna’s death in 1525. Neither the portraits of Elisabeth nor that of her mother have yet surfaced or been identified. [2] In this regard a restricted view within the research on Cranach can be observed as in attempts to identify sitters generally only members of the Saxon electoral circle are taken into account and as a result female portraits are usually considered to be depictions of Saxon princesses. The Portrait of a Lady, which is signed with Cranach’s insignia and bears the date ‘1515’ is presented in this context as an example. [3] On the basis of the date alone the sitter cannot be - as had been suggested in the past - Saxon Duchess Sybille of Cleve, as she at this time would only have been three years of age. [4] Nevertheless it was assumed that a different Saxon Lady was depicted here. However it could equally be a woman from different ducal house. It is tempting – even though conclusive evidence is lacking – to identify the sitter as landgravine Anna. She would have been 30 years old when the painting was created and was generally considered very pretty, earning her the title ‘Frau Venus’ at the imperial court. Her penchant for precious jewelry, which led to friction with her son, is documented and matches well with the portrait. [5] After all the bonnet is decorated with the initial ‘H’ embroidered with pearls, which could refer to the Landgraviate of Hesse. The historical situation was also favorable, making the portraiture of the landgravine particular plausible at this time. In1514 after an almost five year dispute with the hessian baronetage Anna was finally recognized as regent at the Landtag in Homberg, as had been designated in her husband’s second testament from 1508. [6] In the winter of 1514/15 she resided at the imperial court in Innsbruck where she promised Maximilian I. that she would transfer the government of the Landgraviate to her son on his 14th birthday. [7] A portrait of the now acknowledged regent would appear conceivable at this time or shortly after. [8] Furthermore in 1515 the marriage of Anna’s daughter Elizabeth to Duke Johann the Steadfast was arranged. [9] Even if it must remain conjecture whether or not the portrait presented here depicts the landgravine, according to the letter from her daughter one must have existed.
[1] "Auf E. L. beger hatt mich mester Lukes gestern ab gemallet. E. L. wert aber wenck schonest an mir sen. Ich byt, E. L. wol mir E. L. angesych gemallet auch scheycken sammt E. L. gemal, schwestern und keynttern, und E. L. wol mester Luckest schreiben, das er mir m. fraw mutter selgen kounterfett auch scheycken will, dan mester Luckest hatt es noch, und meyn schoune gestal auch.", Werl 1965, 23-37, here 27.
[2] The identity of the two almost identical portraits of courtly ladies in Darmstadt and Lyon suggested by Werl – as tempting as it may be – is not accurate as the sitters are both wearing a bride’s garland. See Exhib. Cat. Basel 1974, No. 627.
[3] 53.3 x 37.4 cm, wooden panel, Waddesdon Manor, The Rothschild Collection (on permanent loan from the Rotheschild Family Trust), Inv. No. 138.1996. I would like to thank Rachel Jacobs, Waddesdon Manor for providing information and a photographic image.
[4] See the entry by Philippa Plock in the collection database
[5] Puppel 2004; Köttelwesch 2013, 15.
[6] Puppel 2004, 50f.
[7] Puppel 2005, 60.
[8] In addition in 1514Cranach created a large format portrait of Anna’s younger sister Catharine and her husband Duke Heinrich of Saxony, Exhib. Cat. Chemnitz 2005, 424-431.
[9] Exhib. Cat. Marburg 2004, 192; Tieme 2010, 14-16.

[Lange 2015, 33-35]
Lucas Cranach the elder was appointed as Frederick III's court painter at Wittenberg in 1505 at the age of 33. He made a brief trip to the Netherlands in 1508-1509, but most of his time was spent producing numerous portraits of courtiers as well as religious and mythological panels, mural painting designs and prints. He often replicated or reworked portraits with his workshop to meet demand, however this portrait is not known in any other versions. It bears his signature of a winged serpent, the coat of arms conferred on him by the Duke in 1508. After the Duke's death in 1525, Cranach continued to work for his successors even when John Frederick was deposed from power as a result of his Protestant policies.
The portrait demonstrates Cranach's development of a slightly elongated depiction of the sitter, either in full or half-length pose, combined with a passive facial expression. These techniques draw out and focus attention on the body's frame, allowing each detail of the sitter's costume to be meticulously rendered and appreciated. Tiny seed pearls decorate much of this lady's cap and dress. The elaborate heavy gold necklaces were a common feature of Cranach's female portraits. While in England and France such chains were worn exclusively by men, in Flanders and Germany they were women's accessories. The heavier the necklace, the greater the status and wealth of the sitter's family. The four intricately interlinked necklaces worn by this sitter must have been considerably weighty. In appearance, the portrait is somewhat similar to Cranach's portrait probably showing Princess Emilia of Saxony of 1537 (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), indicating that the Waddesdon sitter was from the highest ranks of the nobility.
Phillippa Plock, 2012
[;jsessionid=a2-0PE+DSIgX3fvZG9NzkpKi?id=41237&db=object&page=1&view=detail] (accessed 22.06.2014)