CDA ID / Inventory NumberDE_MHK_GK11b
Persistent Link
FR (1978) No.FR017
Portable Altarpiece belonging to Landgrave Wilhelm II. of Hesse and Anna of Mecklenburg: St Barbara [left wing][cda 2013]
A portable altarpiece[Friedländer, Rosenberg 1979, 70, no. 17]
Hide content...
Lucas Cranach the Elder [Exhib. Cat. Gotha 2015, No. 3] [Grimm 1998, 68][Cat. Kassel 1997, 53] [Friedländer, Rosenberg 1979, 70, no. 17]
about 1508 - 1509[Cat. Kassel 1997, 53]
about 1509 - 1510[Exhib. Cat. Frankfurt, London 2007/2008, No. 23]
about 1509[Grimm 1998, 68]
about 1503 - 1510[Exhib. Cat. Gotha 2015, No. 3]
Hide content...
Owner / Repository / Location:
OwnerMuseumslandschaft Hessen Kassel
RepositoryGemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel
Clear dimensions: 39 x 9.8/9.7 (bottom/top) x 0.7 cm
[Cat. Kassel 1997, 65-68]
Dimensions including frame: 45.4 x 16.2 cm
[cda 2013]
Painting on lime wood
[Exhib. Cat. Gotha, Kassel 2015, 98, No. 3]
Signature / Date:
St Barbara holds a tower with a third window symbolizing the Holy Trinity. This window with a rounded arch is positioned under the two rectangular windows. There is a chalice in the window - since the 15th century a common attribute of the saint. The chalice and the host with a cross bring to mind that the saint was invocated to intercede when receiving the last rites. At the same time she represents Christ's presence at the last communion. [...] St Barbara wears a sumptuous gold-brocaded dress with wide sleeves and a slightly flared skirt articulated by a few large pleats. She wears a bonnet on her head. Her attire recalls southern Netherlandish festive costume as Cranach as may have encountered it, an impression he may have brought back to Wittenberg.

[Cat. Kassel 1997, 55-56]

The coat-of-arms of Hesse, a shield divided into four fields with a central heart-shaped shield:
1. on gold a lion with a gold crown and black paws
2. divided into black and gold, at the top a white six-pointed star
3. divided into black and gold, at the top two white six-pointed stars
4. on red two striding golden lions
Heart-shaped shield: on silver painted metal leaf two black striped striding lions

[Cat. Kassel 1997, 54]
- it is not known how long the altarpiece remained the property of the landgrave from Hessen
- 1903 the property of Wilhelm Schmidt, Munich
- 1904 bought by Ludwig Mond (1839-1909)
- 1905 bequest from Ludwig Mond to the Gemäldegalerie

[Cat. Kassel 1997, 53]
[Exhib. Cat. Gotha, Kassel 2015, 98, No. 3]
Marburg/Lahn 1928, No. 150
Berlin 1937, No. 12
Basel 1974, No. 294
Kronach 1994, No. 134
Eisenach 1998, No. 17.4
Tokyo 1998
Frankfurt/London 2007/2008, No. 23
Coburg 2010
Gotha/Kassel 2015, No. 3
Düsseldorf 2017, No. 23
Sources / Publications:
Reference on PageCatalogue NumberFigure/Plate
Cat. Coburg 201856, fn. 7under no. 7
Exhib. Cat. Düsseldorf 2017120No. 23
Exhib. Cat. Gotha, Kassel 201598, 993Pl. p. 99; Fig. 1
Lange 201531-33Figs. 4, 5
Exhib. Cat. Coburg 2010181-182No. 1.2.13Fig. 1.2.13
Heydenreich 2007 A63, 77, 119, 120, 122, 124, 140, 187, 219, 291, 39498, 108, 109
Exhib. Cat. Frankfurt 2007164-16523p. 165
Grimm 199868
Exhib. Cat. Eisenach 1998158No. 17.4Fig. 17.4
Heydenreich 1998 A188
Cat. Kassel 199753-58
Cat. Kassel 199687p. 96
Exhib. Cat. Kronach 1994315, 317134Fig. 134
Erichsen 1994 A151, 156
Cat. Kassel 198215, 61, 62p. 82
Friedländer, Rosenberg 1979017
Schade 197485
Koepplin 1974 A25, 26I
Exhib. Cat. Basel 1974409, 452-453, 552, 555, 683No. 294Pl. 25
Cat. Kassel 196911
Koepplin 196683
Cat. Kassel 19584711
Exhib. Cat. Berlin 193716012Pl. 19
Exhib. Cat. Marburg 1932130-131150
Friedländer, Rosenberg 1932017
Cat. Kassel 192918, 9911
Glaser 192375-76
Cat. Kassel 1913
Swarzenski 190750
Schmidt 1904454-456
Eisenmann 1904306
Interpretation / History / Discussion:
Landgrave Wilhelm II. von Hessen (1468-1509), who was brought up in the court of Duke Eberhards von Württemberg and later became a follower and faithful ally of Emperor Maximilian, was temporarily one of the most powerful rulers in the empire: after the death of his cousin, Wilhelm III (1500), he united Upper Hessen, including the county (Grafschaft) of Katzenelnbogen, with Lower Hessen, the counties Ziegenhain, Nidda, Umstadt; Otzberg and Homburg were also under his rule. As far as domestic policy was concerned he was one of the last landgraves from Hessen to strive for a monastic reform. From his marriage in1500 with Anna von Mecklenburg he had two children: Elizabeth, later the wife of Elector Johann of Saxony, and Philipp (I., Magnanimous). In 1506 the landgrave became ill with syphilis and died on the 11th of July 1509 in his palace in Kassel. During his last three years he conducted an ongoing correspondence with Elector Friedrich the Wise from Saxony. It is probably through him that the contact to Lucas Cranach came about. Wilhelm II. may have commissioned the altarpiece while still alive as he anticipated death from the outbreak of the disease. However according to Bernhard Schneckenburg it was probably not created until after his death and can therefore be viewed as a epitaph-altar. In this case it would have been commissioned by Anna von Mecklenburg, who reinforced her alliance to the Hessen House with the altarpiece. It represents the first verifiable commission for the court painter from another dynasty.
According to the Gospels of Mark (16, 1-6) and Luke (24, 1-6) Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome went early on Sunday morning to Christ’s tomb with spices and ointments. However when they arrived there the tomb was empty and they learnt that Christ had risen.
[Cat. Kassel 1997, 54]
The style of the triptych in Kassel is close to that of the so-called Torgau Princes Altar (also known as the Altarpiece of the Holy Kindred or Anna Altar) (Frankfurt a. M., Städelsches Kunstinstitut; dated 1509), which according to [Friedländer, Rosenberg 1932] was commissioned in 1505. Both altarpieces are characterized by a clear and simple composition that is orientated around the middle axis but apparently avoids symmetry. Just as the figure of Christ opposite Sts Barbara and Catharine is positioned slightly further within the pictorial space, the same is true of the group with Mary and Anna opposite Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome on the wing panels. The spatial rhythm of the central panels can also be compared with regards the opening of the pictorial space into the background – also the landscape on the painting in Kassel and the back wall of the chamber of the painting in Frankfurt can be compared. The posture of the watchman sleeping in the foreground on the left, who supports his head in his hands, is similar to the sleeping Joseph to the left of the central group. In addition the landscape on the Resurrection Altar is similar to that on the right wing of the Anna Altar with respect to the wafting wisps of cloud and bare branches stretching into the sky.
The balanced composition of the Resurrection Altar suggests points of contact with the Italian Renaissance, which were indirectly conveyed to Cranach through netherlandish painting (Quentin Massys). Furthermore he used an engraving by Jacopo de Barbari as a prototype for the figure of the risen Christ. The motif of the closed rock tomb is a feature of netherlandish painting, for example already in works by Gerard David. The Resurrection Altar is attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder. [Friedländer, Rosenberg 1932] summed it up as 'the stiff folds in Christ’s robe, the weak hands among others give rise to doubts on the authorship. However due to its early date of production they neither attributed it to the workshop nor did they consider its participation. But according to records Cranach employed assistants as early as 1507. The involvement of assistants in the production of the domestic altar in Kassel can therefore not be excluded. On the one hand the infrared reflectogram of the central panel reveals a lively underdrawing, showing an in part dotted, in part curvy ductus, which appears to be autograph and is for example very similar to the 'Crowning of Thorns' (Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar, about 1515/20). Glaser highlighted the resonance of 'leonardesque' design in the figure of the risen Christ. The hand raised in an attitude of blessing is accurately outlined, and the modelling of the torso is particularly subtle. The landscape also distinguishes itself in the upper layers with a richly nuanced painterly quality and a subtle representation of light and movement. On the other hand a comparison with the so-called Torgau Princes Altar confirms the weaknesses observed by Friedländer/Rosenberg. The hands of St Barbara, the watchman in the foreground on the left or the left hand of Christ lack articulation. They remain stiff and flat with fingers that only bend in parallel instead of gripping. In contrast on the so-called Torgau Princes Altar particular attention is paid to the hands and the shape of the fingers. The arrangement of the folds in St Barbara’s dress lack both volume and comprehensive sweeping lines in comparison with the cloak of St Alphaeus on the left wing panel of the Anna Altar. It is therefore conceivable that an assistant was involved in the execution of these details, more so if the triptych was produced about 1509. It was precisely in the year 1509 that work in the Cranach workshop increased. In addition to the large Princes Altar, the Venus and Cupid (Leningrad, Staatliche Eremitage), the Portrait of Dr. Christoph Scheurl (Private collection) and Georg Spalatin (1933, Berlin, Smlg. Baronin v. Lipperheide) were produced. As well as these a plethora of large woodcuts were executed in the year 1509, among others three tournament representations with many figures, fourteen sheets illustrating the Passion of Christ, and the woodcut illustrations for the Wittenberg Heiligtumsbuch - a labour-intensive climax within Cranach’s graphic work. Nevertheless the characteristic quality of an autographed execution prevails in the Kassel Resurrection Altar.
[Cat. Kassel 1997, 56-58]

The depiction of the figure of Christ shows that Cranach had studied works by Jacopo de’Barbari, who from 1503 to 1505 had been his predecessor as court painter in Wittenberg. In particular an engraving of the Risen Christ created in 1503/1504 can be cited within this context. [1] In comparison with the work by de’Barbari Cranach’s figure appears somewhat squat and the victory banner is held closer to the body. However the infrared reflectogram shows that the appearance and position of the staff were initially closer to that depicted by de’ Barbari. Later Cranach chose to decorate the glass staff with rings and to position it closer to Christ’s body. A drawing in Erlangen created for the Wittenberg Book of relics (Heiltumsbuch) might record an intermediate stage. [2]
These observations show how closely linked Cranach’s altar for Kassel was with his production for Friedrich the Wise of Saxony in Wittenberg and begs the question whether the work could have been a gift from the elector to his ailing friend, the landgrave Wilhelm II, intended to offer solace and hope of resurrection. [3] It is also conceivable that it was a gift from the Wittenberg court to his widow Anna of Mecklenburg. However when one considers the dispute between Friedrich the Wise of Saxony and landgravine Anna immediately following Wilhelm’s death with regards the guardianship of the five year old Philipp it does not seem very likely. Nor is a commission from the Hessian court likely as since the outbreak of his illness Wilhelm had lived in almost complete isolation. [4] Besides the Hessian coat-of-arms has been inverted. This could be due to a desired symmetrical arrangement; however the Mecklenburg coat-of-arms is shown the right way around. The difficultly of reproducing it correctly is illustrated by the coat-of-arms of the landgrave Philipp the Magnanimous of Hessen from 1546, which was created within the context of the Schmalkaldic War and commissioned by Elector Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous of Saxony (Cat. No.109).
[1] Engraving, 182 x 91 mm, Albertina Museum Vienna, Inv. No. DG1952/434, Exhib. Cat. Coburg 2010, No. 1.2.12
[2] Lucas Cranach the Elder, Monstrance with Christ and the victory Banner, after 1505, blackish-brown ink, in part with washes, 303 x 143 mm, Erlangen, Grafische Sammlung der Universität, Inv. No. B.1319, Exhib. Cat. Coburg 2010, No. 1.2.12
[3] the degree of familiarity between the two is documented by the piquant humour in a letter written by Friedrich to Wilhelm in the year 1508. Ludolphy 2006, 37
[4] Glagau 1899, 7-9
[Lange, Exhib. Cat. Gotha, Kassel 2015, 98, 99, No. 3]
[see also MHK online database, accessed 07.12.2020](
Material / Technique:
  • Date: 1997
  • Technical examination / Scientific analysis
  • Infrared reflectography
  • 8.01 Support
  • probably a single plank with the grain running vertically
  • 8.03 Underdrawing
  • No underdrawing was detected on the wing panels.
  • 8.05 Framing
  • - the frame is original and was pobably re-gilded in the 19th century
    - in accordance with the results of a technichal examination in 1971 the fame was painted black with the exception of the inner profile
    [Cat. Kassel 1997, 53-54]
    [Letter F. Lahusen to D. Koepplin dated 19 July 1973]
  • 8.04 Paint Layers and Gilding
  • Recto: The haloes of Christ and the angels were executed with a matt application of gold leaf and the contours of the rays were outlined in black paint. A matt application of gold leaf was also used for the chalice held by St Barbara and for the saints garments. The pattern on the robes was painted over this.
    • examined by: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel
    Condition Reports:
    • Date: 1997
    • Fading in the paint layers and blanching of the medium has caused the shadows in the red areas of the drapery to appear lighter than they would have been originally. There is slight abrasion in Christ's hair. Otherwise the condition of the central and wing panels is vey good.

      Verso: both versos are excepting minimal retouching or overpaint in very good condition.

      [Cat. Kassel 1997, 53-54]
      History of Restoration:
      • Date: 1971
      • Frame: original; reworked in the 19th century; hinges are original
      • - the frame was restored in 1971 (cf. letter from F. Lahusen to D. Koepplin dated 19 July 1973)
        - the hinges were returned to their original position