Portrait of the week - Katharina von Mecklenburg

Katharina von Mecklenburg, by Lucas Cranach the elder, 1514.

This portrait is very typical of the painting style of Cranach and of the German Renaissance. The dress is brightly coloured in red and yellow and gold. The arms are slit to show the white linen beneath it. The waist is laced and around her neck are chains of gold. Her fingers are adorned with rings with precious stones. Her hat is a barrette with white plumes.

This is a dress of a noble woman, that you can tell without knowing anything else about her - which we do, though. This is the latest fashion of the time, portrayed to really state the economic and social situation of its wearer.

The lady in question is Katharina of Mecklenburg, the daughter of the duke of Mecklenburg. She was born in 1487 and married Henry the Pious (Heinrich der Fromme) of Saxony in 1512, at the not so tender age of 25 - the husband being fifteen years her senior. But neither was married before this match. The had six children, four sons and two daughters. One of the sons died at the age of eleven, but all the other reached adulthood - another rare feat at the time.

Henry was at the time of the marriage in charge of the areas of Wolkenstein and Freiberg, he was the younger brother to the duke of Saxony, and the duke had two sons himself. There was no reason to suspect that they would inherit the duchy.

This was also the time of the Reformation, and Katharina turned to Luther but her husband did not follow her example, at least not officially - probably much due to his older brother being a fervent Catholic. But he eventually overcame this fear and in 1536 Freiburg officially became Lutheran. By 1539 the Duke of Saxony, Henry's older brother, had lost both his son and according to the laws that made Henry heir presumptive. The brother did not approve of it, because of the difference in religious views and he did not want Saxony to turn Lutheran. But the Duke died before he could do anything about it and Henry and Katharina could take up residence in Dresden.

Henry died just two years later but Katharina would live for another twenty years, mostly residing in the castle of Wolkenstein. She died in 1561 in Torgau.

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