The Augustusburg Cranach altarpiece

in all its former glory

The Cranach altarpiece at Augustusburg

Cranach altarpiece at Augustusburg
More than seven years’ restoration work on the interior of the church at Augustusburg Castle reached their conclusion in 2015. The altarpiece and the pulpit, both by Cranach the Younger, have been restored to their former glory and original colours.

The imposing sacred painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586) is of incalculable historical value for Saxony and for the wider world and the only extant depiction of the Electoral family in contemporary Renaissance dress.

The restoration of the painting, frame and construction of the altar and pulpit was undertaken in situ in the Augustusburg castle church. Particular challenges included repairs to cracking, strengthening of the lime wood panels, which were only 1.15 centimetres thick, and the installation of an air-conditioned chamber. Sensors now monitor the slightest change in the climate and the wood itself, since it was the large fluctuations in the temperature in the late medieval church (from 1.5 to 27.6 degrees Celsius) that were largely responsible for the deterioration in the altarpiece.

It was Elector August himself who commissioned the altarpiece and pulpit from Lucas Cranach the Younger’s then world-famous workshop in Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt. An exchange of letters dated 26 February 1569 shows the artist asking Electress Anna to send him a list of her children and their ages along with likenesses. The letters also make clear the logistical challenges of transporting an altarpiece measuring more than three by two metres as well as the pulpit at the end of the 16th century. The altarpiece and pulpit were brought to Dresden by ship in 1572 and conveyed “at own expense to Augustusburg”.