When Frederick the Wise, Prince-Elector of Saxony (1463-1525), came to Nuremberg in April 1496, he commissioned Dürer, then only 25 years old, to paint his portrait (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister) and thereby became the artist's first patron of high rank. It was only after Frederick had sat for him and commissioned an altarpiece that Dürer began to receive regular commissions from the patrician families of his birthplace.
Dürer must have felt great gratitude towards Frederick for his early and continued support - Dürer would receive further commissions from the Elector in the course of his career - but what further united them was their shared interest in the ideas and writings of Martin Luther, whose main supporter and protector Frederick was to become. The connection was such that the Elector personally arranged for some of Luther's tracts to be sent to Dürer. (The British Museum holds a manuscript by Dürer, possibly an inventory, listing a total of 16 pamphlets by the reformer.) Dürer in return wrote to Frederick's secretary, Georg Spalatin: Therefore I pray Your Honour to convey my humble gratitude to his Electoral Grace, and beg him humbly that he will protect the praiseworthy Dr. Martin Luther for the sake of Christian truth. (Hutchinson, p. 124-5). Frederick's own, bound copy of the Engraved Passion inscribed with prayers is in the Princeton University Library, and it is fairly certain that this was only one of many gifts from the artist.