triptych, the center panel depicts the kneeling Saint Catherine, just before her beheading
© Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Hans-Peter Klut

Altar of Saint Catherine by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Following the discovery of cracks in the wooden picture support of the left wing panel, both wings were removed from the exhibition. In the museum’s own restoration workshop, the fragile left wing panel was stabilised using the latest conservation techniques and the cracks were filled in. Both wings are now once again on show in the permanent exhibition, having been reunited with the central panel.

[Translate to English:] Katharinenaltar II

The altarpiece relates the legend of St Catherine of Alexandria, who is said to have converted 50 scholars to Christianity through her skilful argumentation. For this, she was sentenced to be executed by being broken on a wheel. When, in response to her prayers, fire came down from Heaven and destroyed the torture instrument, she was beheaded.

The Elector of Saxony, Friedrich the Wise, commissioned this altarpiece from his court painter Lucas Cranach the Elder for the Castle Church in Wittenberg. St Catherine, the patron saint of scholars and educators, was the ideal symbolic figure for Wittenberg University, founded by Friedrich in 1502.

triptych, the center panel depicts the kneeling Saint Catherine, just before her beheading
© Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Hans-Peter Klut
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Altar of Saint Catherine, 1506 Oil on lindenwood, central panel 127 x 139,5 cm, Gal.-No. 1906 A

[Translate to English:] Katharinenaltar III

The later history of the altarpiece is fascinating: after having entered the Dresden Gallery in 1738, the back (outer) side of the left wing and the front (inner) sides of both wings were auctioned off in 1797 as a consequence of the diminishing appreciation of Cranach paintings in the late 18th century. This required the separation of the back and front sides of the wings, which were painted on a single wooden panel. This impaired the stability of the wooden picture support, ultimately causing cracks to form. A good 130 years later – in 1931 – the left wing panel (front side) was returned to the gallery as a loan from the Speck von Sternburg family based in Leipzig. In 1995 funds provided by the Federal Republic of Germany, the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States and the Free State of Saxony enabled it to be purchased for the Gemäldegalerie from the heirs of the Speck von Sternburg family. The backs of the two wing panels are now held in the National Gallery in London.

triptych, the center panel depicts the kneeling Saint Catherine, just before her beheading
© Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Hans-Peter Klut
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Altar of Saint Catherine, 1506 Oil on lindenwood, left wing (inner side) 121,4 x 64 cm, Gal.-No. 1906 BB

[Translate to English:] Slider Katharinenaltar

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