Working in the Lord´s vineyard…

Epitaph for Paul Eber 1569 by Lucas Cranach the Younger.

Professor Paul Eber´s children hired Lucas Cranach the Younger to paint an epitaph for their father in 1569. The artist uses the association of the name “Boar” to make the connection to Psalm 80 verses 12-16, which Pope Leo X used to warn Dr. Martin Luther of his impending banning (15th June 1520)

Why did you break down its walls,
so that all who pass by pluck its fruit?
The wild boars of the forest ruin it;
the insects of the field feed on it.
O God of Heaven’s Armies, come back.
Look down from heaven and take notice.
Take care of this vine,
the root your right hand planted,
the shoot you made to grow.  It is burned and cut down.

Dramatically Luther takes up the fight and burns the papal warning outside the eastern city gate (Elstertor) – not far from his house in the “Black cloister” – which was the knacker´s yard at that time (Schindanger) after throwing the canonical law and some of his adversaries writings into the fire for good measure. This was not just about, who was banning who, but rather a matter of who was the right custodian, representative and ambassador of the Lord in His vineyard. The demonstration poses the question to the students there in Wittenberg, but also to all looking at the illustration: Who is in the right and who in the wrong?

Lucas Cranach doesn´t shy away from this conflict, but even 40 years after that initial book-burning illustrates the opposing parties effectively on this epitaph – depicting one vineyard, but the two different approaches – yes, opposing sides: Who is the good worker in the vineyard and who is not? It´s no longer just about Dr. Martin Luther, but about the Lutheran reformation and all its many co-workers. By 1569 there were 3 different generations of reformers already – and obviously on the Roman side, you didn´t just have the Pope, but a multifacetted entourage… Lucas Cranach lets the viewer decide, but he is rather blantantly obvious painting the Reformers as hard workers doing the proper job of winegrowers, whereas the old Roman bunch are visibly destroying the Lord´s vineyard. Not much room for debate there…

1. Martin Luther, 2. Philipp Melanchthon, 3. Johann Forster, 4. Johannes Bugenhagen, 5. Georg Major, 6. Paul Crell, 7. Caspar Cruciger, 8. Justus Jonas, 9. Matthias Flacius Illyricus, 10. Sebastian Fröschel, 11. Georg Spalatin, 12. Paul Eber.

The Lutheran reformers numbered on this picture stand for the first three generations of Reformers – theologians up front and in the background with Spalatin two more courtiers. The Pope, who is out and getting his dime from the Lord as one, who has laboured over the ages. The Lutherans have just come in on the act. They´re still fresh and very much at work.

The family of the deceased Paul Eber (The boar) are neatly arranged with him. 5 of his children passed on ahead of him – 3 boys and 2 girls in white. He is kneeling next to his wife and is holding a bible showing his work as Hebrew Professor for Old Testament.

Lucas Cranach used the same motif for an Altar in Salzwedel in 1582. Here the painting takes on the centre piece of the Altar – and Luther and Melanchthon the side flaps. The competition between Rome and Wittenberg occupies centre stage – and the differences are even more flagrant. For a more detailed discussion look at the little booklet by P. Albrecht Steinwachs: “Der Weinberg des Herrn” (2001), which is no longer for sale, but might be found in some library or in private possession here or there.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Gedankensplitter, Gottesdienst, Histories, Lutheran World, Old Latin School in Wittenberg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Working in the Lord´s vineyard…

  1. Steve Kukuk says:

    Thank you for your explanation of this painting, probably my favorite painting at St. Mary’s. We are saddened that we cannot return to Wittenberg this year with Wittenberg English Ministries, but Lord willIng we can return in 2021. May the Lord bless you and keep you safe. Steve Kukuk.

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