Cranach's Crucifixion should be seen in light of Luther's ideas. The emphasis upon the recognition of Christ's sacrifice by witnesses to his death on the Cross is a clear reference to one of the central tenets of Lutheran theology: that sinful mankind can be reconciled to God only by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The scene is crowded with figures that are symbolically arrayed at the right and left hand of Christ. To his right, the Virgin collapses into the arms of John the Evangelist, while the grieving Magdalene embraces the Cross. The Good Thief and Longinus, the Roman spear bearer who converted at Christ's death, gaze directly at him. They are contrasted with the brutish soldiers on his left, who ignore him and cast lots for his garments at the foot of the Cross. Cranach positioned the contemporary figures of a monk, a cardinal, and a Turk behind the Cross, among the unenlightened.
[Indianapolis Museum of Art, revised 2012]