The Cranach Houses at Markt 4 and Schlossstraße 1 were the headquarters of one of the leading media undertakings of the early modern period: this was the location of the representative lodgings and workshops of Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger, then and now two artist-entrepreneurs of international standing. In the service of the Reformation, they created numerous woodcuts that were used to illustrate pamphlets and translations of the Bible by Luther, as well as authentic portraits of the main protagonists of the Reformation.
The farmstead at Markt 4 is located on the south side of the Wittenberg market square that forms the centre of the Wittenberg’s elongated historic mediaeval city centre bordered by two long streets. In its present appearance, the facility is the result of a variety of renovation measures; its basic structure, however, emerged in the mid-16th century, when the property was in the hands of Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son-in-law, Caspar Pfreundt.
The property at Schlossstraße 1 is situated at the southwest corner of the market square. Mediaeval predecessor structures are documented on the plot of land; these were completely built over during the Renaissance, or else integrated into the new buildings. In the Cranachs’ day, the plot at Schlossstraße 1 was the largest piece of developed land in the city.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, who served as court painter to Saxon Elector Frederick the Wise from 1505 and was a close friend of Martin Luther, joined the Reformation right from the beginning and placed himself at the service of Reformation publicity and instruction. Together with Luther and Melanchthon, he drew up a programme of imagery in service of the Reformation, a programme he then artistically carried out in his workshops. Through a combination of archival sources with findings in the history of architecture, we know today that Lucas Cranach the Elder purchased the property at Markt 4, together with the closely linked house at Markt 3, in the year 1512. In 1518, Cranach purchased the property just a few metres away, at Schlossstraße 1.
Particularly during the Baroque period under builder Johann Benjamin Thomae, as well as in the 19th and 20th centuries, the various parts of the complex at Markt 4 were considerably reshaped, both inside and out. As a result, today the front house is presented in Baroque style; in the courtyard, though, the marks of the Renaissance era are still intact.
In its present form, the property at Schlossstraße 1 is also the result of various instances of new construction, alteration and expansion. Its current appearance is particularly the result of construction work carried out in the years around 1540, 1800 and 1872.
The likeness of the reformer Martin Luther is firmly embedded in collective memory thanks to the panel paintings and prints produced by the Cranach workshop, which disseminated these images hundredfold. The works of Lucas Cranach the Elder makes quite clear just how strongly Luther’s theology influenced the design of these images. This tradition of the Reformation programme of imagery was successfully carried on by his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger.
Both properties rank among the few surviving artists’ residences of the Renaissance and are top-tier examples of representative, early-modern residential and commercial complexes: As the seat of the Cranach media company, with print shop and paint workshop, the Cranach Houses are a key witness to the social, architectural, artistic and economic setting of the Reformation.
In the series of the most important Reformation sites, these workshops were one of the leading centres of production: Luther’s translation of the Bible was printed here, as were numerous pamphlets with Reformation-related content. Artists, printers and publishers played a critical role in conveying and disseminating the ideas of the Reformation, particularly in Wittenberg (‘no printing, no Reformation’). The Cranach Houses exemplify Wittenberg as a ‘media city’ of the Reformation.