These companion portraits of the two Wittenberg reformators Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon were reunited in the Städel in 2010. The lively modelling of their faces exemplifies the superb painting skills of Lucas Cranach the Younger. The portraits not only needed to portray the sitters in a lifelike manner, however, but also to depict their accomplishments. For this the artist arrived at an original solution. Both reformers display their writings to the viewer – Luther’s in German and Melanchthon’s in Latin and Greek. The two figures were also characterized in different and interesting ways. While Luther appears to nearly burst the picture frame with the considerable bulk of his body, Melanchthon seems comparatively fragile and, moreover, entirely attuned to Luther’s dominating form.
In 1906 the City of Frankfurt received a gift from England. Maximilian Michaelis (b. 1852), a native of Thuringia, presented this painting by Cranach, which he owned, to the museum. Michaelis, who lived in Trandridge Court, Surrey, between 1896 and 1919, was also a most generous patron of the arts in his adoptive country of South Africa, where he became very wealthy through the diamond trade. He made gifts to museums in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Kimberley, and it was in South Africa that he was given a knighthood in 1924. Michaelis traced the roots of his love of art, and especially the Old Masters, to his schooldays in Nuremberg.