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Portrait of Katharina Von Bora

bottega di Lucas Cranach il Vecchio , ca. 1529

Ritratto di Katharina von Bora

The diptych with the portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora is in a good state of conservation; a layer of paint laid on the back indicates that it could be closed and transported, almost as though it were a portable altar. The great German religious reformer, father of Protestantism, is depicted half-bust against a blue background. He is wearing a black cap that lets slip locks of curly hair. The black mass of his clothes concentrates attention on his face, with its thin lips, prominent nose, and lines marking the eyes. He has a lively, almost ironical gaze, unlike his wife who appears distant and austere. Katharina is wearing a black-edged white shirt, a laced bodice and an overdress with a fur collar. The artist has caught every detail, from her hairnet to the fur, so realistic as to seem real.
The precision of the drawing is typical of German Renaissance art. Cranach, in particular, was an esteemed engraver and his drawing ability is clearly visible also in his painting. Using brushes with fine points, he outlined the smallest detail, as can also be seen in the Diptych with the Virgin, the Child and Saint John the Baptist, also in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum. The date 1529 is visible to the left of the reformer, together with a winged dragon, which the artist, followed by his sons Hans and Lucas the Younger (both painters), used as his symbol.
The portraits are accompanied by two quotations from the bible: on Luther’s, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” from Isaiah (30:15); on his wife’s, “She shall be saved in childbearing” from the first Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy (2:15). Cranach adhered to the Protestant reforms and his image of Luther was spread far and wide through numerous copies – among which this painting – produced in series by his extremely active workshop.

Data Sheet


Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder


ca. 1529

Material and technique

Oil on panel


38.2 cm x 24.7 cm


Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli bequest, 1879

Inventory number

Foreign Artists Room

The room, originally part of the antechamber, houses works by foreign masters from the Poldi Pezzoli collection. Among the paintings on display is the famous diptych with portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora, painted by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder. The original ceiling decorations and furnishings, the work of carver Giuseppe Ripamonti, have unfortunately been lost.


The Museum hosts over 300 paintings. Among them, many Italian works from the Renaissance: masterpieces from Tuscany (Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Pollaiuolo), Lombardy (Luini, Boltraffio, Solario) and Veneto (Bellini, Mantegna). Important is also the group of 18th century Italian painting (Guardi, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Fra Galgario). In the collection, there are mainly portraits and small size paintings.

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