Albert of Brandenburg was one of the most interesting and controversial figures of 16th-century Germany. A brother of Joachim I Nestor, Elector of Brandenburg, he received a splendid education in the University of Frankfurt-upon-Oder that himself and his brother founded for that very reason in 1506. Albert became archbishop of Magdeburg at the age of 23, and five years later he already was a cardinal. He established a residence in the castle of Moritzburg in Halle. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther and a patron of Dürer, Cranach, Grünewald and Baldung Grien. He played an important role in religious, political and cultural life of Germany in the beginning of 16th century.

Albert of Brandenburg was a patron of humanists and even invited to his court the writer Ulrich von Hutten, but at the same time he backed the Pope Leo X in 1517 and started selling indulgences. Half of the revenue was sent to Rome and another half used to pay his debts to the banker Jacob Fugger. Martin Luther, angered by the selling of indulgences, wrote his 95 Theses that led to the Reformation. Albert was among the enemies of the new movement. Despite that, he granted liberty of worship to his subjects in Magdeburg, in exchange for a sum of money. But when he was chased from his castle of Moritzburg by the Protestants, he supported the Emperor and in 1540 was the first to welcome Jesuits to Mainz. In 1544, he concluded accords with Catholic princes against the Protestants.

Albert of Brandenburg was a patron of sciences and arts. To adorn the cathedral in Halle, he entrusted Lucas Cranach (a Luther’s friend and a supporter of Reformation) with painting of sixteen altars including 142 pictures. This is considered to be the largest contract in whole history of German art. He also commissioned Matthias Grünewald to create an altarpiece with Saint Erasmus and Saint Maurice. Hans Baldung Grien also received commissions from the cardinal. In 1541, when Albert had to leave his castle in Moritzburg, he could take some paintings with him, including ones by Lucas Cranach, his favourite painter.

From the point of view of Albert, his activity as a sponsor of arts was pious and led to the salvation. He financed it from the money raised by selling indulgences.

He commissioned Dürer to create his graphic portrait. Dürer made 500 prints from the plate and sent them to the cardinal. Albert probably used this woodcut as an ex-libris.