The Signature of Lucas Cranach the Elder

Some artists sign their works with a symbol instead of with their written name.  My favorite of all these artist’s symbols was the one employed by the great German gothic painter Lucas Cranach.  Ferrebeekeeper has already written about Lucas Cranach’s troubling allegory Melancholy, his fascination with severed heads and femme fatales, and his magnificent depiction of animals.  Cranach usually signed his works with a black winged serpent holding a ruby ring in its jaws and wearing a crown. It fills me with frustration that I didn’t think of it first—imagine signing the water bill with that!

There are various different versions of the serpent.  Cranach changed it around—especially when he signed printed artworks.  Elector Frederick the Wise granted the winged serpent with a crown and ruby ring to Cranach as a coat of arms on January 6th, 1508, but nobody is sure what it means.  Some art historians have speculated that it is an astrological or alchemical symbol.  Others believe it may be a lost pun concerning some aspect of Cranach’s name or have some allegorical meaning too subtle to fathom.  The actual explanation seems lost in mystery (which is probably how Cranach would like it).  Whenever I see a Cranach painting in a museum, the search for his serpent sigil is part of the fun.

Detail from "Cupid" (Lucas Cranach the Elder, c.1530)

Detail from "Venus Standing in a Landscape" (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529)