Christ the Center
The Predella of the
Cranach Altar Triptych
This painting is the bottom panel of the Cranach altar in Wittenberg’s Town Church. It is the best known among the altar’s paintings and shows Luther in the pulpit preaching the “Word of the Cross.” One hand is on the open Bible; the other points toward the crucifix as the incarnation of the Word of God. The cross, in central position, symbolizes the foundations on which religious life is built, and there is a wave in the loincloth revealing that Christ crucified is alive and present among us.
On the left, the congregation is gathered – Luther’s family with Katharina von Bora holding their son Hans by the hand. The girl with the round face behind them might be Magdalena, a daughter who died at a young age. The man with the full long beard in the background is Lucas Cranach “the Elder” who has deliberately chosen to join the Protestant group. The narrow red band around Luther’s neck is reminiscent of a cardinal’s collar as if to make Luther the secret bishop of the Protestant church. A comparison of the two wings of the Cranach triptych and the bottom panel reveals the same interior design, making the altar a uniform and compact whole.