and Lucas Cranach the Elder
I am currently writing about a period of dramatic historical change, the Enlightenment, which fed upon another, that of the Protestant Reformation. Lucas Cranach the Elder got in on the ground floor of the Reform: he was a close personal friend of Martin Luther himself, of whom he painted several portraits. And one of his most conspicuously “reformed” paintings destroyed a chapter I had nearly completed. Damn!
Indeed to hope for justice is to ask for death. In the left (“Law”) side of Cranach’s image there is death everywhere, including the left half of the tree that divides it. Only the gratuitous grace of Christ’s sacrifice offers hope. Pictorial art often expresses complex ideas with a clarity denied to mere discursive prose, and Cranach made me see in a split second a complication I would be happier to avoid. The complication is this: if Martin Luther overthrew the religion of the Middle Ages by discarding justice in favor of grace, and if two hundred and fifty years later Michelet’s revolutionaries overthrew the religion of the Middle Ages by discarding grace in favor of justice—well, you perhaps see my problem.