Lucas Cranach’s first graphic works were created during his stay in Vienna around 1501/03. From the beginning of his artistic career, Cranach considered printmaking an important task. Economic considerations led him to prefer woodcut to copperplate engraving. With woodblock printing, prints could be made in almost unlimited quantities on the same platen press used for letterpress printing. Image and text printing could be combined quickly and with little effort in the case of single-leaf woodcuts and book illustrations. In copperplate engraving, on the other hand, as an intaglio process, the ink must be drawn from the engraved lines, which requires a roller press with much higher pressure.
The production of a woodcut required a division of labour between the designer, the engraver, and the form cutter. Because of the very different cutting methods used in Cranach’s work, it can be assumed that he employed several form cutters in Wittenberg. They cut the printing blocks. As court painter from 1505 until his death in 1553, Cranach determined the pictorial representation of the most powerful dynasty after the Habsburg imperial court. In addition to the usual craft activities such as painting and gilding, the court painter also worked on designs for court garments, flags and festive decorations. His primary activity, however, consisted of representative paintings that served to decorate the electoral residences, but also served in diplomatic dealings as gifts to friendly courts. For this purpose, Cranach’s workshop produced countless portraits, mythological and biblical histories, and depictions of hunting and tournaments.
The early patronage of the Saxon electors for Luther and his connection to the Cranach family meant that the Cranach workshop played an important role in the spread of Reformation ideas. Immediately with the beginning of the Reformation Lucas Cranach began with the production of propagandistic prints and mocking pictures which experienced an immense spreading as leaflets. In the process, a change in the pictorial language took place, especially in the Protestant world. The court slowly began to replace the church as the most important patron of the arts. The reference to the client is reinforced by the Saxon double coat of arms, which Cranach used from the beginning of his activity as a court painter.