Protestant artists typically avoided the Harrowing of Hell altogether or treated it as allegory. This central panel of the altar triptych from the Evangelical Lutheran City Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Weimar, Germany, does both. At first glance, this image, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger in 1555, might appear to be a typical crucifixion scene, except that Jesus appears twice: on the cross and in the left foreground, dressed in a red robe, and standing with one foot resting on a skeleton symbolizing Death and the other foot pinning a grotesque representation of Satan. The painting clearly presents the crucifixion as the moment when Jesus triumphs over Death and Sin, represented by the Devil. Yet the artists have omitted the highly suspect descent into Hell, which John Calvin dismissed as “nothing but a fable.”

To the right of the cross, John the Baptist points to Jesus and to the lamb, reminding the viewer that this is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). At far right Martin Luther points to the scriptures from which he had preached a sermon on the crucifixion (“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him, may have eternal life” [John 3:14–15]).1 To the left of Luther is Cranach the Elder. The blood of Jesus streams onto the artist’s head as he prays. The blood symbolizes the salvific nature of Jesus’ death for believers (including Cranach) and powerfully illustrates the text of Luther’s sermon.