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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Johann the Steadfast

Key facts
Full title Portrait of Johann the Steadfast
Artist Lucas Cranach the Elder
Artist dates 1472 - 1553
Group Diptych: Two Electors of Saxony
Date made 1509
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 41.3 × 31 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1991
Inventory number NG6538
Location Room 25
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of Johann the Steadfast
Lucas Cranach the Elder

Johann the Steadfast, Elector of Saxony from 1525 to 1532, would have been about 38 when this portrait was made. He wears a sumptuous black hat and coat, both decorated with gold thread and seed pearls.

This panel is part of a diptych (a painting made of two parts) – the conjoining panel depicts Johann’s son, Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous. Traditionally, portrait diptychs would show a man and his wife, or a recently engaged couple, but Johann’s wife, Sophie of Mecklenburg, had died in childbirth.

Cranach painted Johann the Steadfast’s portrait many times throughout the Elector’s life, but this is one of few surviving individual portraits of Johann the Steadfast from before his reign as elector; the other representations are of Johann with his brother, Friedrich the Wise.

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Diptych: Two Electors of Saxony


These joined portraits depict two future electors of Saxony, Johann the Steadfast and his son, Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous – Cranach worked as court painter to successive electors from 1505 until his death in 1553. The coats of arms on the back of the right panel help to confirm their identities.

The portraits have complementary colour schemes: the green of the background in the father’s portrait is echoed by the green of his son’s clothing, while the black background in the son’s portrait matches his father’s clothing. Johann Friedrich dominates more of the composition than his father and he faces towards the viewer, even though the convention was to place each sitter at a three-quarter turn toward the other.

The frame is original: paint has been detected on the inner edges of the frame, which suggests that the paintings were made after the wooden panels had been fitted into it.