August 5: Albrecht Dürer, 1528, Matthias Grünewald, 1529, and Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1553, Artists

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer

In the turbulent sixteenth century as the Renaissance and the Reformation changed the cultural, social, political and religious face of northern Europe from medieval to modern, three artists stand as signs of those revolutions.

Lucas Cranach the Elder was born in south Germany. In his twenties he moved to Vienna where he became known in humanist circles. He later moved to Wittenberg where he became court painter to Frederick III, who was Martin Luther’s protector. His work enjoyed great popularity in his day, but history best remembers him for his several portraits of Luther and for the exquisite woodcuts he provided for the first German New Testament in 1522.

Albrecht Dürer was born Nurnberg and is generally regarded as the greatest German artist of the Renaissance. While he produced exquisite, life-like paintings, he is best known for his woodcuts and copperplate engravings. This art form enabled numbers of prints to be made of each work, which could then be sold to satisfy the rising middle class’s new demand for affordable art. His production was a sign of the shift in early modern society, especially in Protestant areas, from the church to the home as the center of life and religion.

Little is known of the early life of Matthias Grünewald, the name given to this artist by his seventeenth-century biographer. He is known to have been in Strasburg in 1479, already accomplished at portraits and woodcuts. He went to Basel in 1490, where Dürer was his pupil. Later he moved to what is now Alsace where he painted his famous Isenheim Altarpiece between 1512 and 1516. This piece was designed to go behind the chapel altar at the hospital in the monastery of the Order of St. Anthony. Grünewald was a deeply religious man who was particularly fascinated by the crucifixion as witnessed by the combination of raw physicality and mysticism that can be observed in the Isenheim Altarpiece.

Collect of the Day

We give thanks to you, O Lord, for the vision and skill of Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder, whose artistic depictions helped the peoples of their age understand the full suffering and glory of your incarnate Son; and we pray that their work may strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and the mystery of the Holy Trinity; for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Exodus 35:21–29

Romans 8:1–11

John 19:31–37

Psalm 96:7–13

Preface of God the Son

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

13 thoughts on “August 5: Albrecht Dürer, 1528, Matthias Grünewald, 1529, and Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1553, Artists

  1. Why are these artists on our calendar? Again, I have nothing against them – but do they warrant their own commemoration. Doesn’t the Common for Artists and Writers cover them? How many other artists might we remember besides these three? I’m just saying.

    Collect: If we keep it, this collect needs to be rewritten. Listing their names is quite a mouthful in and of itself. It just doesn’t read, or pray well.

    Bio: The paragraphs are in the wrong order. They should be Durer, Cranach, and Grunewald. Instead they are Cranach, Durer and Grunewald.

    1st paragraph: Is a comma missing after “In the turbulent sixteenth century,”?
    2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence: Beginning the sentence with the word “In” seems a bit awkward. Perhaps the last sentence could be: ‘He died in 1553.”
    3rd paragraph: Is the word ‘in’ missing in the first sentence ‘Albrecht Durer was born in Nurnberg”? Perhaps the last sentence could be: ‘He died in 1528.’
    4th paragraph: Perhaps the last sentence could be: ‘He died in 1529.’

    • Thanks, Michael for your careful reading and comments.
      As to the ‘why?’ – it can be helpful to have some specific lives of prayer to consider sometimes, rather than an amorphous group via the commons. For some of us the prayer of the eyes – gazing at icons, paintings, sculpture, even working ourselves with color and shape – is a crucial way, not so much of “understanding” Christ or the Creator, but of immersing ourselves through the sensoria – as I think these fine exemplars did also and facilitated for others by their gifts. It is good to remember that not every holy life was that of a monk, priest, or bishop.
      Your notes will be helpful as HWHM goes into revision.
      Jennifer Phillips
      Vice-Chair SC LM

  2. Interesting comment about the “prayer of the eyes.” Like music and literature (hymns, chorales, and oratorios are a combination of both), the visual arts can be not only aids to prayer, but evangelizing tools: that is, they teach the Gospel. I think Luther especially commended hymns for that purpose; perhaps he is on record as commending the visual arts, also. –I agree about the specificity of “witnesses” in the arts as well as in the ordained ministry and monastic orders, and other fields: the fact that all these commemorations are optional, I think, keeps them from being unwieldy. –The non-specific commemorations should be kept, too, I think, as a way to remind us of the many witnesses to Christ who are not so well-known, and without whom the church could not continue to exist.

  3. @Celinda: I concur.

    @Jennifer: Thanks for commenting on the thread! It IS very important to remember that not every holy life is that of a monk, priest, or bishop. The vast majority of the holy lives lived are the ones who found their Lord in “returning and rest” and in “quietness and trust,” as the Noonday office reminds us. Would that we clergy could remember that when we look at our parishioners!

    @All: It’s too bad that it would be unwieldy to mention the impact of the Isenheim altarpiece on 20th century theology. Reportedly, Karl Barth had a print of it above his desk, and one can “read” a lot of his theological moves from the picture itself. I’m grateful that these are included as an optional observance. Their work “speaks” in ways that continue to challenge, encourage, and point people to Christ.

  4. Given the number of comments of the “why include this person?”, it might be helpful for SCLM to establish (and/or make public) some basic standards for inclusion in the calendar. I understand the “annexing” of persons and commemorations from the early Christian community and the Roman Catholic rota whose lives and ministries predate the Reformation. I understand also the occasional inclusion of exemplary Christians from communities of faith with whom Anglicans are in communion. I agree that a few outstanding artists of all media might rightly serve to move us from the generic to the particular and increase the breadth of our observances. But are there no Anglicans from whom to choose? If we value the particularity of Anglican/Episcopal identity, should we not raise up more examples from our tradition?

  5. I think there are quite a few Anglicans/Episcopalians in the whole HWHM, but on checking from the people on the proposed calendar since July I, they’re outnumbered by Christians from other traditions-and of course there are the saints who predate the Reformation. All in all, we’ve discussed 9 Anglicans (or Episcopalians), 22 Lutherans/ Moravians/RCs/Quakers, and 9 pre-reformation saints according to my count (others may differ). The “particularity of our tradition” –when you look at the whole palette of other post-reformation traditions–doesn’t come out with equal representation. Coming from a tradition in Anglicanism (“open Evangelical”) which says being Christian carries more weight than being Anglican, this isn’t a problem for me. I can see Sam’s point, but when I think of Handel’s _Messiah_, the early anti-racism of Las Casas (at a time when “racism”–the singling out of one group of people for denigration–was just beginning in Western Europe), of the emphasis in Germany of the visual arts as a way to spread the Gospel, of 18th century colonists like Conrad Weiser (related to the Moravians, who converted many native Americans to Christianity), who worked for just treatment of native Americans, it seems as though we’re all working to the same end.

  6. The caption shows these three, logically enough, in order of their leaving this earthly world. I suggest the biographies should match this order.

    I suggest the addition of birth years (or estimates, if the actual year is unknown) for all three honorees.

    Add the word “in” before “Nurnberg”, which needs an umlaut over the “u”.

  7. I don’t have a problem with the inclusion of these particular artists. I do feel the focus should be on a particular piece of art or that lovely term “prayer of the eyes”. All three had important pieces relating to the crucifixion. Without mentioning how these works helped to inspire and teach, parishioners are left scratching their collective heads about the commemoration.

  8. I would like to remark on the presence of non-Anglican/Episcopalians in our calendar. If we are celebrating the Communion of Saints, the Church Triumphant, spanning all eternity, shouldn’t our calendar reflect a Church beyond denominational and theological differences? Is the heavenly Jerusalem made up of gated communities? Recognizing the reality of the Body of Christ everywhere is one of the great strengths of the Episcopal Church.

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