This triptych was one of Cranach’s first major commissions as court painter to the elector of Saxony in Wittenberg. It treats the popular subject of the ‘Holy Kinship’, the legendary relationship between the Virgin and the mothers of some of the apostles. Disguised within the sacred motif is a political declaration by the Saxon rulers, who have lent their features to the two men shown on the wings. Frederick the Wise and John the Constant thus express their loyalty to Emperor Maximilian, who appears as one of Anna’s husbands in the gallery in the central picture.
Among the earliest major commissions which Lucas Cranach the Elder carried out in 1509 as court painter to the Electorate of Saxony was the so-called Torgau Altar. The altar was acquired with the help of several sponsors in 1906 at the auction of the Molinier Collection in Paris. The money required to secure this magnificent work for Frankfurt was provided jointly by the City of Frankfurt, private art lovers, the Städelscher Museums-Verein and the recently founded Carl Schaub'sche Stiftung. For Cranach researchers, its arrival at the museum was a small sensation: although the altar clearly bore the signature of the master himself, the work was previously unknown in the relevant literature on the artist.