Residing in Wittenberg, the very heart of the Protestant Reformation, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was a sophisticated patron whose court was a leading cultural center. The present painting was part of a group of sixty portrait pairs commissioned in 1532 by Frederick's nephew, John Frederick the Magnanimous (the other likenesses were of the Elector's brother, John the Steadfast). The lengthy inscription was authored by Martin Luther, who entertained a close relationship with Cranach, both serving as godfathers to each other's children. The two small notches on the upper edge seem to indicate that this panel was originally displayed unframed, suspended by a cord. Around 1867-68, Edgar Degas paid homage to Cranach by including a version of this powerful likeness of the robust Frederick the Wise in his Portrait of James Tissot (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art).
We are grateful to Dr. Werner Schade for confirming this attribution, on the basis of photographs (written correspondence, 14 November 2010).