Cranach’s Law & Grace

I saw a reproduction of this print a long time ago in a church basement, and I was happy to stumble upon it in the Wikipedia Commons. (It’s in the public domain, so you could make big posters of this.) It’s Lucas Cranach’s “Law & Grace”:

Look closely at the details. (Go here for a larger version.) What is Cranach showing artistically about both the Law and the Gospel?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    Woodcut version.


    An article about the Luther-Cranach collaborations
    .

    See page 4 of this 18-page article, The Allegory of Salvation and Sin, for an analysis of the Gotha panel (shown in Dr. Veith’s post). See page 5 for the similar Prague panel.

  • Tom Hering

    Woodcut version.


    An article about the Luther-Cranach collaborations
    .

    See page 4 of this 18-page article, The Allegory of Salvation and Sin, for an analysis of the Gotha panel (shown in Dr. Veith’s post). See page 5 for the similar Prague panel.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Law kills, Grace saves. Jesus is the judge for both.
    There is almost too much in this painting to analyze in complete detail.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Law kills, Grace saves. Jesus is the judge for both.
    There is almost too much in this painting to analyze in complete detail.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    On the Law side of the painting we have the Devil egging on Death to torture our poor subject, while lawyers stand by pointing to the law and saying, “See! You’re guilty! You deserve it!”

    On the Grace side, we see the Lamb standing victoriously over the foes, Death and the Devil, while an evangelist points out the Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and Christ above beckoning, as if to say, ” Take comfort, you’ve been justified.”

    As Pastor Erickson writes, it’s a pretty busy painting…

    I would be fascinated to see a translation of the German writing, but I couldn’t find any in a cursory googling…

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    On the Law side of the painting we have the Devil egging on Death to torture our poor subject, while lawyers stand by pointing to the law and saying, “See! You’re guilty! You deserve it!”

    On the Grace side, we see the Lamb standing victoriously over the foes, Death and the Devil, while an evangelist points out the Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and Christ above beckoning, as if to say, ” Take comfort, you’ve been justified.”

    As Pastor Erickson writes, it’s a pretty busy painting…

    I would be fascinated to see a translation of the German writing, but I couldn’t find any in a cursory googling…

  • Porcell

    The hands of the naked man are revealing. On the left they are frenetic, fearful, and hopeless; on the right they are gentle, prayerful, and hopeful. Altogether a marvelous work of art.

    The full resolution is stunning for a computer image.

  • Porcell

    The hands of the naked man are revealing. On the left they are frenetic, fearful, and hopeless; on the right they are gentle, prayerful, and hopeful. Altogether a marvelous work of art.

    The full resolution is stunning for a computer image.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Notice how the Tree “distinguishes” the Gospel from the Law in separating the painting into its two halves. On the law side, the branches are dead. On the gospel side, the branches are full of life. (Trees, of course, have lots of meanings: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; the Tree of Life; the Cross, etc.)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Notice how the Tree “distinguishes” the Gospel from the Law in separating the painting into its two halves. On the law side, the branches are dead. On the gospel side, the branches are full of life. (Trees, of course, have lots of meanings: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; the Tree of Life; the Cross, etc.)

  • Jerry Roseleip

    Definitely a sermon in this painting! The law and sin being a constant among the destruction always present on the earth covered and beaten down by the grace provided by the Lamb. All the while we see the Saints; the faithful who have gone before us worshiping God. Note the difference in the earthly view of the Law versus the Gospel sides. Violence v. peace.

  • Jerry Roseleip

    Definitely a sermon in this painting! The law and sin being a constant among the destruction always present on the earth covered and beaten down by the grace provided by the Lamb. All the while we see the Saints; the faithful who have gone before us worshiping God. Note the difference in the earthly view of the Law versus the Gospel sides. Violence v. peace.

  • ptl

    Also on the law side, it looks like an army encampment…to make sure no one gets out? or just to represent the misery of war and pain and suffering….notice what seem to be bodies or trash strewn about the ground? on the gospel side, the city looks happy and peaceful and the valley below is green and pleasant…..there’s got to be something about this in a psalm? something, somewhere about milk and honey?

    yes, did notice the tree right away and thought at first it was the tree of life, the tree on which the act that began our separation had it’s origination….but then saw the tree with adam and eve, in their fig leaf uniform way inside the law scene. wish i knew more about bible facts, but perhaps it is the tree that grew from the stump of jesse, or something along those lines.

    in any case, this is great….reminds me of hieronymus bosch, who can also do paint that will make you repaint….er, repent :)

  • ptl

    Also on the law side, it looks like an army encampment…to make sure no one gets out? or just to represent the misery of war and pain and suffering….notice what seem to be bodies or trash strewn about the ground? on the gospel side, the city looks happy and peaceful and the valley below is green and pleasant…..there’s got to be something about this in a psalm? something, somewhere about milk and honey?

    yes, did notice the tree right away and thought at first it was the tree of life, the tree on which the act that began our separation had it’s origination….but then saw the tree with adam and eve, in their fig leaf uniform way inside the law scene. wish i knew more about bible facts, but perhaps it is the tree that grew from the stump of jesse, or something along those lines.

    in any case, this is great….reminds me of hieronymus bosch, who can also do paint that will make you repaint….er, repent :)

  • ignorant fisherman

    On the law side, what do you suppose is the image on the devil’s stomach?
    It would be interesting to read the translation from German.

  • ignorant fisherman

    On the law side, what do you suppose is the image on the devil’s stomach?
    It would be interesting to read the translation from German.

  • ptl

    dear ignorant…..if you do a ctrl + then that will magnify the image. did that and it look more and more like a face to me…hate to say it, since it’s a bit strange, but the eyes are right at the nipples of satan, yikes! one of my favorite artist of this kind, hieronymus bosch, does all sorts of even stranger compositions….try the link at wikipedia and check out “temptation of st. anthony” to see it yourself:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hieronymus_Bosch

    The only thing I can think of (although it doesn’t add up with my eyes interpretation) is something to do with vicissitude, which was a form of extreme torture, of which will spare you the gory details. If so, the satan has endured the torture and still thrives….makes sense to me, as he would be hard to eliminate once and for all, unfortunately :(

    Cheers anyway :)

  • ptl

    dear ignorant…..if you do a ctrl + then that will magnify the image. did that and it look more and more like a face to me…hate to say it, since it’s a bit strange, but the eyes are right at the nipples of satan, yikes! one of my favorite artist of this kind, hieronymus bosch, does all sorts of even stranger compositions….try the link at wikipedia and check out “temptation of st. anthony” to see it yourself:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hieronymus_Bosch

    The only thing I can think of (although it doesn’t add up with my eyes interpretation) is something to do with vicissitude, which was a form of extreme torture, of which will spare you the gory details. If so, the satan has endured the torture and still thrives….makes sense to me, as he would be hard to eliminate once and for all, unfortunately :(

    Cheers anyway :)

  • http://www.beckypliego.com Becky@Daily On My Way To Heaven

    The articles you point to are very intersting, thank you. (My response is in my blog today. I am linking to your post.)

  • http://www.beckypliego.com Becky@Daily On My Way To Heaven

    The articles you point to are very intersting, thank you. (My response is in my blog today. I am linking to your post.)

  • Dan Kempin

    Slightly off topic, but regarding the tree discussion . . .

    Is anyone aware of an artistic depiction of a combined tree and cross? I have been ruminating on this concept, having come across the ancient metaphor of the cross as the “queen of trees” that “bore the fruit Jesus, medicine of the soul.” I wonder if they have ever been stylistically combined. Art experts? Anyone?

  • Dan Kempin

    Slightly off topic, but regarding the tree discussion . . .

    Is anyone aware of an artistic depiction of a combined tree and cross? I have been ruminating on this concept, having come across the ancient metaphor of the cross as the “queen of trees” that “bore the fruit Jesus, medicine of the soul.” I wonder if they have ever been stylistically combined. Art experts? Anyone?

  • Tom Hering

    Dan, Google Image searches turned up nothing by a major artist – just a couple of pieces by minor contemporary artists. Strangely, not even an icon turned up. The Tree of Life as a prefiguration of the Cross is a traditional interpretation in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

  • Tom Hering

    Dan, Google Image searches turned up nothing by a major artist – just a couple of pieces by minor contemporary artists. Strangely, not even an icon turned up. The Tree of Life as a prefiguration of the Cross is a traditional interpretation in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

  • helen

    The wood cut is clearer in its depiction. For one thing, the encampment has the bronze snake on a pole in the foreground and all that is on the right (saving grace) side of the woodcut.
    The Christ coming in judgement has the sword and the lilies more clearly depicted on the Law side.
    On the Gospel side, it is more obvious that the man is being washed in the blood from the cross and the Dove is in the middle of the stream.
    (True, also in the painting but a little harder to see; it looks like the blood from Christ’s side is hitting John the Baptist there.)

    If you enlarge the writing you may still not be able to read all the lettering but you can pick out the Scripture passages listed to each box, which refers to an action in the painting.

  • helen

    The wood cut is clearer in its depiction. For one thing, the encampment has the bronze snake on a pole in the foreground and all that is on the right (saving grace) side of the woodcut.
    The Christ coming in judgement has the sword and the lilies more clearly depicted on the Law side.
    On the Gospel side, it is more obvious that the man is being washed in the blood from the cross and the Dove is in the middle of the stream.
    (True, also in the painting but a little harder to see; it looks like the blood from Christ’s side is hitting John the Baptist there.)

    If you enlarge the writing you may still not be able to read all the lettering but you can pick out the Scripture passages listed to each box, which refers to an action in the painting.

  • larry

    This is probably my favorite Lutheran art works. Are there any at length articles/books on this, not the history but akin to what’s being discussed here, what’s in it. Bror’s right there is tons here.

  • larry

    This is probably my favorite Lutheran art works. Are there any at length articles/books on this, not the history but akin to what’s being discussed here, what’s in it. Bror’s right there is tons here.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    The Gospel brings great blessings and peace (including hair on the face and the chest)! I like it!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    The Gospel brings great blessings and peace (including hair on the face and the chest)! I like it!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bryan (@15), I hadn’t noticed that before. Since it’s not clear it’s the same guy, it may be, well, just a different guy. But I wonder if the man under Grace is supposed to be depicted as more mature (and not merely older or whatever physiological spin you want to put on it).

    I like the connections between the serpent in the Garden and the serpents in the wilderness, on the Law side. The only serpentine looking thing on the Gospel side is getting stomped by the Lamb.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bryan (@15), I hadn’t noticed that before. Since it’s not clear it’s the same guy, it may be, well, just a different guy. But I wonder if the man under Grace is supposed to be depicted as more mature (and not merely older or whatever physiological spin you want to put on it).

    I like the connections between the serpent in the Garden and the serpents in the wilderness, on the Law side. The only serpentine looking thing on the Gospel side is getting stomped by the Lamb.


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