A fashionably dressed lady holds upright a wooden cross, on which nail holes are distinctly visible. The cross identifies her as Saint Helena, the discoverer of the True Cross, on which Christ was crucified, and the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor. The woman’s sophisticated clothing and gold jewelry, however, identify her as a wealthy German of the sixteenth century. The painting may be an allegorical portrait, perhaps depicting a member of the court at Wittenberg, where Cranach was painter to Frederick III, elector of Saxony. Allegorical or historicizing portraits were a popular means of crediting a sitter with the exemplary qualities of a historical persona; in this instance, the subject of the portrait is associated with Saint Helena’s nobility and pious conviction. The patterning, and decorative curvilinear forms of the work reflect Cranach's celebrated attention to surface detail.


  • Title: Saint Helena with the Cross
  • Creator: Lucas Cranach, the Elder (German, b.1472, d.1553)
  • Date Created: 1525
  • Location Created: Germany
  • Physical Dimensions: 16 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (41 x 27 cm)
  • Credit Line: Bequest of Mary M. Emery
  • Alternate Title: Saint Helena with the True Cross
  • Accession Number: 1927.387
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: oil on panel

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