Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, RELIGION ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 30 April 2017

Martin Luther and Visual Culture

Summary and Keywords

In the mind of Martin Luther, images were first and foremost adiaphora and, as such, neither good nor bad. However, Luther spoke out firmly against the worship of images, as did other reformers. Based on his own anthropology, he countered the misuse of images by suggesting correct ways of using them, on the basis that man could only discover true faith through the mediation of images. For many years, researchers emphasized Luther’s negative attitude to images as a medium and highlighted the shift from a pre-Reformation culture of piety to the reformatory emphasis on the Scriptures. However, more recent examinations of liturgical practices and the link between art and politics, involving innovative methods, as well as some degree of imagination, have not only traced the development of a specific visual culture in Lutheranism but also highlighted their identity-creating function in denominational conflicts.

What follows is an overview of the major image and media categories as portraits, allegories, altarpieces and epitaphs which influenced the visual culture of the Reformation. Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553) and his youngest son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586) were at the very center of this activity, together with their productive Wittenberg workshop. From the very beginning of the Reformation right through to the 1580s, both liaised with Luther, Melanchthon, and other Wittenberg reformers, respectively accompanying and decisively shaping the development of Protestantism with their pictures. What is more and of equal importance, the influence of their work is reflected in the popularity of their style in Protestant territories throughout the Empire during the 16th century.

Keywords: Martin Luther, images, Cranach, portrait, allegory, altarpiece, epitaph, visual culture

Luther and the Reformatory Understanding of Images

In his writing and sermons, Luther repeatedly referred to the status and function of images. He did so not by developing a methodical theory on the subject, but by responding to the individual questions and problems which arose during the iconoclastic controversy, considering each case on its own merits. This accounts for why his comments are found scattered throughout his writings.1 For example, following his return from the Wartburg in 1522, he penned his 3rd and 4th Invocavit sermons. Both of these commented on Andreas Karlstadt von Bodenstein’s call for an absolute prohibition of images (“On the Elimination of Images …” 1522), as well as referring to the iconoclastic riot which took place in Wittenberg. He used the idea of adiaphora to address the issue of images: “We are free to have them or not, but it would be better not to have them.”2 As far as Luther was concerned, images were therefore neutral from a religious point of view, and not necessary for salvation as were the Holy Scriptures and sacraments.

Luther’s extensive analysis of the image debate was detailed in his 1525 text entitled “Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments.”3 In this, he clearly denounces the destruction of images, referring to the latter as a misguided compliance with the Old Testament’s ban on images. Nevertheless, he also firmly condemns the improper use of images, such as their worship or adoration in order to obtain particular favors from God. He pleads for this misuse to be countered initially through sermons and pastoral counseling. Only if the images continue to be worshipped should they then be removed from churches, and even then, this should not be done arbitrarily, but in accordance with the orders issued by the authorities.

It was not the existence of images as such, but the use to which these images were put that Luther felt to be problematic. He was favorable to the use of images as didactic and catechetical tools, which—according to the dictum of Pope Gregory I (590–604)—could encourage a better understanding of the faith, particularly for laypeople and the illiterate. Images which served “as recognition, as testimony, as commemoration, as signs” were deemed useful.4 Images were viewed as effective reminders and signs of remembrance of Christ’s actions, provided they were authorized by the Bible. Luther included among these “Christ on the cross and of all his dear saints,”5 Mary Mother of God,6 and John the Baptist, when he referred to the Crucified. All of these were deemed “beautiful, glorious paintings”7 because they revealed the grace of God. With regard to the decoration of altars, Luther issued the following instructions: “Whoever might wish to have panels set up on the altar should paint the Last Supper, accompanied by the words ‘The forgiving and merciful LORD instituted a remembrance of his miracle’ written in large gold letters, so that they might stand before the eyes and allow the heart to reflect upon it.”8 He made frequent positive comments about illustrated Bibles, and it appears that from 1534 he was personally involved in the illustration of his first complete Bible, indicating both the theme and the corresponding page upon which the illustration should appear.9

Luther’s positive understanding of images may also be explained by the idea that man can only speak of the Divine through pictures, likenesses, and metaphors,10 a standpoint supported by revelation theology and anthropology. In a 1533 Easter Sermon on the theme of “Christ’s Descent into Hell,” he typically explained that “we cannot … think or understand anything without images.”11 According to Luther, this theme was best described with a picture rather than words.12 It is primarily the inner pictures, human imagination, transforming words into pictorial representations which Luther believes are an essential prerequisite to the true understanding of the faith. He also introduces personal experiences: “When I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart.”13

Conversely, Luther rejected other pictorial themes such as Christ Pantocrator, the Virgin of Mercy, the Madonna lactans motif, and particular types of images of saints, as these supposedly kept the believers from turning to God.14 In his sermon delivered in Merseburg on August 6, 1545, Luther favored the ear over the eye as the sense which led to faith: “And the kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of hearing, not a kingdom of seeing. For the eyes do not lead us to the place where we find and come to know Christ; it is the ears that must do this.”15

The output of Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553), his youngest son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586), and their Wittenberg workshop are central to the following overview. Not only were they in close touch with Luther, Melanchthon, and other Wittenberg reformers, but they also accompanied and shaped Lutheranism with their pictures, throughout the 16th century and beyond. The Cranach workshop is also interesting because it enjoyed patronage from a broad spectrum of religious denominations: representatives of the old, “catholic” faith until the 1530s, and after Luther’s death in 1546 as much from the Gnesio-Lutherans as from the followers of Melanchthon, the so-called Philippists.16 What is more, the Cranachs were by no means restricted to religious painting and in fact produced many court works illustrating secular subjects. As such, this oeuvre offers numerous possibilities for a comparative review of aesthetic strategies of both religious and secular works, as well as their mutual exertion of influence.17

Printing and Prints as Denominational Profiling Media

It is widely recognized that printing made a great contribution to the effective dissemination of the Reformation.18 At this time, the technique of book printing was already nearly a century old and no longer a brand-new medium, but the possibilities which it offered were used strategically for the first time during the Reformation by authors, artists, and publishers. With the arrival of Luther, book production in Germany expanded from around two hundred to nearly nine hundred publications a year. There was also a significant increase in the circulation of leaflets, which, in a similar way to newspapers, made topical information and debates available to a wide audience. However, the printing of books did not alone guarantee the success of the Reformation, but rather the combined forces of literary, oral, and visual media which Luther and his entourage controlled to a large degree. Pictorial media included cover pictures and other book illustrations, satirical flyers, and graphic prints, of which the many portraits of Luther and other reformers were particularly powerful.

Lucas Cranach the Elder himself tested and used the artistic and economic potential of these new printing techniques.19 His endorsement of these was already established prior to the Reformation, with large-format woodcut prints depicting the Passion of Christ (c. 1502–1504). In his early years as artist of the court (1505–1510), Cranach created a series of extremely innovative prints, in which he developed a repertoire of ancient and courtly subjects. At the same time, he also created a series of religious illustrations, such as the more than one hundred woodcut prints for the Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch (1510), which were documented in the reliquary treasure20 of the Elector Frederick the Wise.

In these early works, there are clear signs of Cranach’s close contact with the humanist circles gravitating around the court in Vienna. His humanist interests are underlined by his intensive examination of works by Albrecht Dürer,21 but unlike the latter, Cranach combined his reception of Antiquity with the artistic tradition of the Late Gothic and particularly its prominence given to line, for instance.

Cranach and Luther collaborated for the first time in 1518.22 That year, Cranach began producing woodcut title pages for the renowned Leipzig printer Melchior Lotter the Elder and established a new form of ornamentation for page borders. These borders emerged from a scenic representation at the bottom of the page, developing classical Renaissance elements on both sides of the title field and finally joining together at the top. Cranach’s layout of title pages would become the trademark of reformatory literature, although they were also used for books with secular themes.23

In addition to the title illustrations, Cranach created book illustrations and books, in which the text becomes less important than the pictures. In 1521, immediately after the Diet of Worms, an anti-papal pamphlet, “Passional Christi und Antichrist,” was issued by the Grau-Rhunenberg publishing house in Wittenberg.24 In the pamphlet, the criticism of papal supremacy was not so much expressed in the texts compiled by Melanchthon and Johann Schwertfeger, but rather in the antithetical juxtaposition of thirteen pairs of images, which confronted scenes of the modest life led by Jesus Christ with the pompous ceremonial surrounding the pope. This type of papal criticism was nothing new. It had already been expressed in a treatise by John Wyclif (c. 1320–1384) and had been transcribed into antithetical images in the entourage of the Bohemian church critic Jan Hus (c. 1369–1415).25

Cranach’s large format single print “Chariot to Heaven and Chariot to Hell,” published in collaboration with Andreas Bodenstein from Karlsstadt as early as 1519, was built upon the association of opposites.26 While above, Saint Augustin and Paul the Apostle drive toward Christ in a triumphal chariot, underneath the pope and his attendants drive straight to the mouth of Hell. On this first reformatory flyer, the pictorial representation is fraught and dissimulated with an abundance of inscriptions and details, whereas the Wittenberg Passional convinces through simple and effective representation.27 Simplicity, order, and clarity were depicted as the positive forms of expression of the new faith, and opposed to the negatively connotated appearance of confusing sumptuousness. The extent of Luther’s involvement in the Passional is uncertain, since he merely stated that he liked it in a letter written to Melanchthon from the Wartburg on May 26, 1521.28

One of the best-known works from the anti-papal polemic can be found in the leaflet “The Meaning of Two Horrific Figures, the Papal Ass in Rome and the Monk Calf Found at Freyberg in Meissen,” published in 1523.29 This publication, comprising several pages, was preceded by two woodcuts by Lucas Cranach the Elder, which show two beastly monsters. According to oral tradition, the Papal Ass was found dead in 1496 in the Tiber. The Monk Calf, a deformed calf in a ragged monk’s habit, had supposedly appeared shortly before the publication of the leaflet in Freiberg (Saxony). Remarkably here, two images serve to embody the starting point of the written polemic and both reformers closely oriented their explanations toward these. The association of Cranach’s pictures with Luther and Melanchthon’s texts proved successful and the expression “Papal Ass” has become one of Luther’s most frequently used metaphors.

Printed Bible Illustrations

The publication of Luther’s translation of the New Testament, which he had completed at the Wartburg, was the major publishing event of the year 1522. The Bible, entitled “September Testament” after the month of the first edition, was printed in Wittenberg by Melchior Lotter the Younger. Cranach not only acted as publisher, together with the goldsmith Christian Döring, but also created twenty-one woodcuts for the illustration of the Book of Revelation, which are variously interpreted by researchers. Most consider the woodcuts not to be truly autonomous, since Cranach was evidently influenced by Dürer’s famous Apokalypse from 1498 and did not develop any new images inspired by Lutheran doctrine.30 Tilmann Falk, however, did detect a connection with Luther, stating that Cranach had adapted Dürer’s models to match the Lutheran translation, as well as increasing the number of images from fifteen to twenty-one, in order that the images should further illustrate the text.31 Cranach’s images were evidently perceived as canonical by his contemporaries, since after the publication of the September Testament, other artists such as Hans Burgkmair or Hans Holbein the Younger no longer received Dürer’s woodcuts but those of Cranach instead.

The issue surrounding the polemic triggered by Cranach’s Apocalypse illustrations is the subject of much debate among researchers, due to the papal tiara Cranach had placed on the heads of the Whore of Babylon and that of a monster.32 Upon request of The Elector Frederick the Wise evidently took exception to this and requested that the papal tiaras be concealed in the second edition published in December 1522 (the “December Testament”). It is worthy of note in connection with denominational positioning that Cranach’s images were used again a mere five years later in an edition of the New Testament which the Duke George of Saxony, a fierce opponent of Luther, had printed for the Old Believers. Hieronymus Emser, who had accused Luther of many mistakes in his translation of the Bible, bought the woodblocks off Cranach for 40 thalers and completed a new translation himself.33

Between 1523 and 1524, Luther’s translation of the Old Testament was printed in three parts and embellished with illustrations by Cranach. The quality and format of the woodblock prints varied so considerably, however, that to this day the question remains among researchers as to whether they were produced by Cranach alone or with collaboration from his workshop.34

Portraits of Reformers—Printed and Painted

The first portraits of the reformers appeared in precisely the same chronological context as these reformatory, often polemic books and single-leaf prints. Depictions of Luther were the first to appear, followed by some of Melanchthon and other reformers, initially as prints, but later also in the form of paintings. The first portraits of Luther, published between 1519 and 1522 in the form of graphic prints, offer remarkable insights into the artistic and socio-historical connections in the early years of the Reformation. The portraits bear the marks of humanistic culture and show Luther as a mutable figure. The Cranach workshop in Wittenberg influenced the public image of the reformers.

Early Portraits of Luther in Printmaking

The earliest portrait of Luther appeared as a title page in a printed sermon, in which Luther defended himself against accusations of heresy following the Leipzig Debate (1519).35 Although the small-scale portrait had no artistic pretentions and has never been attributed to a named artist, it does inform us insofar as it shows Luther clothed in a monk’s habit and doctoral cap, presenting him therefore as a preaching saint.

When Lucas Cranach the Elder created the first portrait of Luther with individual facial features in 1520, he referred to the visual conventions of the time concerning how an individual portrait should be presented.36 The copperplate-engraving shows a bare-headed Wittenberg monk in a three-quarter profile against a neutral background. The prominently modeled face conveys an impression of willpower and is considered to be an authentic representation of the young Luther. The accompanying inscription refers to the dichotomy opposing the transient body and the immortal soul: “Aetherna ipse suae mentis simulachra Lutherus exprimit at vultus cera lucae occiduos.” (Luther gave expression to a true portrait of his soul, Cranach drew the physical features.) This ancient topos was commonplace in humanistic circles and can also be found on a medal portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam by Quentin Massys (1519).

The context behind the creation of the first portrait of Luther is extremely complex and has been variously interpreted by researchers. Dieter Koepplin suggested that since there are only three known contemporary examples, the court of the Elector of Saxony must have obstructed the circulation of the picture, since the image of the rebellious monk did not serve his own political goals. This theory was seized upon by Martin Warnke, who alluded to the copperplate portrait by Dürer of the Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, an opponent of Luther. Dürer completed the engraved portrait in 1519 and sent copies to George Spalatin, the confidential secretary of Frederick the Wise in Wittenberg, with the request that he might also portray Luther using this technique: “If God help me I will go to Dr. Martin Luther and make his likeness in copper for a lasting memorial of the Christian man who has helped me out of great anguish.”37

Dürer thereby became the first artist to wish to represent the reformer in an appropriate portrait and immortalize him for posterity. Spalatin later informed Cranach, however, that Dürer did not achieve his objective. Cranach copied Dürer’s copperplate engraving of the Cardinal, transforming the energetic church prince into a lethargic dignitary with sagging facial features. Warnke suspected that Cranach’s portrait of Luther originated as a counterpart to that of the cardinal.38 This political-reformatory version of the portraits of cardinal Albrecht and Luther, thus forming a pair of character opposites, was recently contradicted by Ruth Slenczka.39 According to her analysis, the limited dissemination of Luther’s portrait could possibly be explained by the fact that the copperplate was corrupted by the intervention of a stranger’s hand.40

A second copperplate engraving, also produced by Cranach in 1520, became the recognized official portrait of the reformer and was immediately widely spread.41

Martin Luther and Visual CultureClick to view larger

Figure 1. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther as monk, 1520, engraving.

©Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Bestand Museen.

However, the reformer no longer appears against a neutral background, but instead adopts an iconic gesture with eyes slightly directed upward, like the figure of a saint in a niche.

The significance of this second 1520 Luther portrait can also be seen in the contemporary copies by Baldung Grien, Erhard Schön, or Hieronymus Hopfer.42 These emphasized the sacralization, replacing the niche with a halo and adding a dove above Luther’s head. In 1521, a papal legate at the Diet of Worms reacted negatively to these visual representations of Luther, demonstrating how widely distributed these portraits were.43

Cranach’s third engraved portrait of Luther, which shows the reformer in profile wearing a doctoral cap, reprised an ancient type of portrait employed since the beginning of the 15th century in Italy, and soon also North of the Alps, and first seen in the portraits of Emperor Maximilian I.44 Around 1520, many political dignitaries, rich patricians, and humanists chose to be portrayed in this manner. The text of the Latin inscription changes in the earliest portraits. All three were most likely due to Melanchthon, whom Luther personally asked to write the texts.45 Wise humanistic inscriptions in Latin or occasionally in Greek were also present in other contemporary works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, such as his Venus paintings.46 These suggest a close collaboration between the artist and Melanchthon, whereas Luther seems not to have been very involved with Cranach’s pictorial production.

In 1522, Cranach created a fourth woodblock print portrait of Luther in which he appears clothed as “Junker Jörg,” the discreet camouflage he wore during his time at the Wartburg.47 Luther’s bare head is solidly drawn and powerfully worked, in order to lend his appearance a feeling of strength and assertion. This image places Luther in the secular world, where he must now ensure that his doctrine is implemented in daily life.

Painted Portraits of Luther

In addition to these four engraved portraits which were created within a mere two years, Cranach created several painted portraits of Luther, apparently initially unique, and later as parts of a series. The earliest recognized Luther painting is a portrait, created around 1520, and closely resembling the engraved portraits.48 However, the facial features appear softer in the painting, and the lively nature of its style suggests that Luther posed as a model for this piece. Other painted portraits followed showing Luther as Junker Jörg.49

The production of painted portraits only began on a large scale in 1525 and to a great extent replaced the engraved portraits. The change in medium seems also to have been linked to changes in the reformer’s personal life. Most of the painted portraits produced in 1525–1526 show Luther and Katharina von Bora as a married couple, following their wedding in 1525.50 Evidently the legitimacy of the union needed to be visually documented and openly divulged. Luther himself confirmed the propaganda effect of these portraits during a table talk in 1537, when he suggested that these “married couple” portraits be sent to the Council of Mantua to allow the princes of the church gathered there to choose between the paintings of celibacy and marriage.51

Cranach turned to contemporary double portraits for visual convention: as is customary for portraits of married couples, Luther is shown bare-headed and wearing a black robe on the left-hand side, while Katharina, on the right-hand side, is wearing a bonnet and a plain black or grey dress. The diversity of formats used in this type of picture typically range from round medallion portraits to foldable diptychs and individual panels, probably reflecting the various wishes of patrons and buyers.

In 1528, a new type of double-portrait appeared, which presented Luther and Katharina as a successfully married couple: Luther wears a beret and a black coat which already resembles the robes of protestant clergymen, while Katharina is depicted bare-headed wearing a fur-trimmed dress.52

Over the next few years and up to the death of the reformer in 1546 the portrait-type conceived in 1528 had to be adapted to Luther’s advancing age while other, fundamental changes, were no longer carried out. When Luther reached the age of fifty in 1532, Cranach captured his aging facial features in an oil sketch and a series of Luther portraits were produced based on this.53 This portrait type, which was repeated in large numbers until 1539 in the Cranach workshop was intended as a model for all portraits of Protestant pastors.54 Around 1539 Cranach made another age modification. The reformer was depicted with a book in his hand, hatless and with greying hair.55 Concurrently with the portraits of Luther produced as a series between 1520 and 1527, numerous other portraits were published of his Old Believer counterpart, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg.56 The cardinal had tasked Cranach with creating altar panels for the collegiate church, evidently the context for these portraits.

In 1546, Luther’s death portrait was produced and attained a circulation equal to the earlier portrait types. It was based on a drawing by Lucas Furtenagel of Luther on his deathbed on February 18, 1546.57 It is probable that Lucas Cranach the Younger created the official death portrait from this authentic source, with the deceased wearing a light linen shirt, resting on a pillow with a peaceful expression on his face and in appearance more asleep than dead.

Despite Luther’s demise, the production and circulation of his portraits did not cease and instead spread to new image forms. Later in 1546, Lucas Cranach the Younger created a full-length representation of the reformer58 in connection with plans for his tomb in Wittenberg. This form of representation had been used since the Antiquity for specific dignitaries.59 Titian and Seisenegger had resurrected this tradition with their life-size portraits of Emperor Charles V in 1532 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; Madrid, Prado) and 1548 (Munich, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen; Madrid, Prado) and Cranach himself had already depicted the Saxon duke Henry the Pious and his wife Katharina von Mecklenburg in a full-length life-size portrait (Dresden, Gemäldegalerie). Luther is depicted with the features and grey hair of his 1539 portrait, set in a niche, with both feet planted firmly on the ground and a book in his hands. He is not wearing the clothes of a clergyman, but instead the black tabard traditionally worn by professors and electoral counsellors. The niche and the slightly over life-size format add to the impact of the portrait, lending a sacred aura to the memory of the deceased. Numerous replicas, also found on altar panels such as Salzwedel Altarpiece (1582), are testimony to the fact that Luther’s extreme glorification and experiences of rapture were not only acknowledged by his followers but also used offensively during the period of inter-devotional disputes which began following his death.60

Portraits of Other Reformers

The numerous portraits of reformers produced during the denominationally and politically heated period between Luther’s death in 1546 and the end of the 16th century carry a clear propaganda message. First and foremost, painted or printed portraits of Luther, repeating older portrait types or displaying new forms of representation, were increasingly juxtaposed with portraits of other reformers.

As early as 1532, Cranach had joined Luther and Melanchthon in double portraits (Gotha, Schloss Friedenstein; Berlin, Gemäldegalerie; Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen); this new portrait form replaced the married couple portraits featuring Katharina.61 The pictorial combination of both reformers is in keeping with the tradition of friendship portraits or also echoes the double sovereign portrait of Elector Frederick the Wise and his brother John the Steadfast.62 The first appearance of the reformatory double portrait in 1532 may well be linked to the Diet of Augsburg of 1530, when the “Confessio Augustana” created a new sense of Protestant self-awareness throughout the Empire, coinciding with the declaration of Lutheran Protestantism as a denomination in its own right at the Peace of Nuremberg in 1532. Melanchthon played an essential part in the consolidation of the Lutheran doctrine by formulating the “Confessio Augustana” and representing the Protestant territories in Augsburg. As with the married couple portraits, Luther is placed on the more prestigious left-hand side in these double portraits.

Melanchthon is the most frequently depicted reformer after Martin Luther. Contrary to the Luther portraits however, the Cranach workshop held exclusive rights over the depiction of Melanchthon. Dürer was the first artist to create a customized copperplate portrait of Melanchthon in 1526, showing the reformer in profile, with parallel hatching shading the background beneath the eyes, a strongly rounded forehead and the back of his head contrasting strongly with the light celestial background. The realm of thought is associated with light, while human vision is assigned to darkness.63 However, the Cranach workshop did not adopt this humanistic depiction of the Wittenberger intellectual and sought instead to align him with the Luther portraits.64 Melanchthon is often represented with an open book quoting from the Bible or his own writings. The depictions of Luther were adapted to the progressing age of the real person; the death portrait shows Melanchthon, as it did Luther, on his deathbed (Leipzig, Kunstsammlung der Universität).

The portrait types featuring Luther in a plain black tabard also became models for the portraits of other reformers and emanated, for the most part, from the Cranach workshop. Portraits of Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, and Veit Dietrich were probably not produced as individual portraits, but rather as complements to a portrait of Luther or a double portrait of Luther and Melanchthon.

Some portraits of Luther and Melanchthon were also completed with a depiction of Jan Hus, the Bohemian reformer sentenced to death by burning at the Council of Constance in 1415. Luther, who had represented Hus as his forerunner, had previously referred to his doctrine during the Leipzig Debate of 1519, qualifying it as unequivocally Protestant and supporting the printing of his texts. The visual connection of the Wittenberg reformers with historical reformer Hus is most impressively demonstrated in three giant woodblock prints, made around 1560 in the Cranach workshop.65 These distinctive, high-quality woodcuts are less about reducing cost and more about providing portable alternatives to painted panels, which are full-length but difficult to transport.

Portraits of Luther and other reformers played a prominent role in the visual culture of the Reformation, fulfilling several functions at the same time. They satisfied the curiosity of a large audience intent on discovering the outward appearance of the reformer and his comrades, although these characterized portraits bore little resemblance to the real person and focused more on their reformatory values. As with the reformatory texts which were produced in large numbers, the portraits also had a significant propaganda value and served to spread the new doctrine. In this sense, they helped to forge the very identity of the followers of the Reformation, for whom the images of the reformers provided inspiring examples of the new reformatory culture.

Religious Allegories as New Visual Themes

Once the central themes of Lutheran theology had crystallized into a canon, Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger set about developing innovative types of images for the new doctrine.

The “Law and Gospel” theme—the picture of which drew its title from the inscription on the painting from Prague—is traditionally considered to be Cranach’s most important contribution to the formation of a specific reformatory visual language (see Figure 1 in “Martin Luther on Grace”).66 The theme cannot be directly attributed to Cranach or to Luther. It is likely that Cranach was influenced by Pauline philosophy as presented by Erasmus of Rotterdam and used as his model a 1525–1530 woodcut from the circle of Parisian publisher Geoffroy Tory. In 1529, Cranach created two versions of the theme from the woodcut, and a painting now kept in Prague is considered to be the closest to and the earliest example of the printed model.

The Prague version is based on the iconographic model of Hercules at the Crossroads. A naked masculine figure in the center of the painting sits in front of a tree, which is bare of leaves on the left-hand side and covered only on the right-hand side. The figure, his hands folded, is turned to the left where various biblical scenes are depicted within the landscape: Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the Erection of the Bronze Serpent, the Fall of Man and an open grave containing a corpse. A prophet from the Old Testament and John the Baptist, as prophet from the New Covenant, point the figure toward the right-hand side of the painting, showing the Virgin Mary at the conception of Jesus Christ, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. This antithetical juxtaposition of scenes from the Old and the New Testament is more powerfully disposed and divided in the version held today in Gotha. Here the man is depicted as two different figures. On the left, he is chased by Death and the devil, whereas on the right he prays before the Cross beside John the Baptist and Redemption is brought about by the trail of blood issuing from the wound in Christ’s side. In the lower part of the picture, quotations from the Bible clarify the individual scenes, enabling a better comprehension of the whole.

The close attention paid by Cranach to the visualization of the Doctrine of Justification in 1529 may well be linked to the publication of Luther’s new catechism that same year. It would appear that both didactic texts and images were used to disseminate and secure the Lutheran doctrine. With this in mind, Cranach looked to the tradition of religious educational pictures and once more referred to a print model from the entourage of Tory.67 During the Middle Ages, the educational images genre visualized religious knowledge according to a system of geometrical classification. In the Early Modern period, this abstract visualization of theological theories and concepts changed to images of an allegorical form, under the paradigm of a mimetic representation of the world. These new images were characterized by a tension between formal naturalism and symbolical meaning. This explains the emphasis placed on the trail of blood which spreads horizontally across the painting. This is associated with Luther and Zwingli’s 1525 Eucharistic Controversy, during which Luther defended the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.68

Only the version from Gotha was widely distributed, but more to the point Cranach provided a woodcut, which was adapted by other artists in paintings, prints, and decorative arts, enabling the subject to be circulated.69

In addition to the theologically complex, aesthetic but rather austere educational images such as “Law and Gospel,” Cranach developed a sensual and narrative type of image intended to visualize reformatory virtues and values. The first of these include the Charity pictures, at least thirteen versions of which have been preserved, the earliest dating from 1529. These connected Koepplin to Luther’s theology.70 In Lutheran thinking, loving one’s neighbor was a natural desire for believers, contrary to the old faith where one had to perform good deeds in order to attain eternal life. In accordance with this Lutheran aversion to the pre-Reformation doctrine of virtue, Cranach transformed the traditionally dressed personification of Charity into a breastfeeding mother, depicted in celestial nudity surrounded by her naked children. The harmony between the mother and her spirited children symbolized the positive effects of natural love for one’s neighbor. This reformatory transition from the canon of traditional virtue to that of spiritual gifts was documented by Nuremberg artist Erhard Schön in a 1535 woodcut entitled “The six noble spiritual gifts which come from true faith.”71 The only precondition for these gifts from the Holy Spirit is faith, from which Charity, as motherly love, also originates.

The “Christ blesses the children” theme, which Cranach developed as a new subject circa 1538, also belongs to this sensual-narrative image type.72 The basis of this religious allegory is the Bible quotation “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14–15). This was the starting point for Luther’s doctrine that only a pure, child-like faith in God could place the sinner on the path toward Redemption. The more than twenty versions produced in the Cranach workshop are testimony to the great popularity of these images. The lively scene is filled with a multitude of characters with Christ at the center, enabling Cranach and his co-workers to depict the love and care shown by women bringing up their children in a rich, diverse, and emotional manner. There has been much debate among researchers regarding whether this iconography should be understood as a reaction to the Anabaptists.73 A more convincing theory, however, is that these images are to be considered as an expression of specific family and child-rearing values as envisaged by the philosophy of the Reformation. In a similar manner, Cranach’s images of “Jesus and the adultress” and “Jesus and the Samaritan woman” reveal religious allegories to Lutheran doctrine. Koepplin went even further, not only attributing a reformatory interpretation to all pictures with explicitly Lutheran themes, but concluding that “virtually every traditional Christian theme depicted by Cranach and the artists of his time during the Reformation period acquired a new meaning through the influence of Luther’s doctrine.”74

New Images in the Church—Manifestations of Faith and Memoria


The Reformation brought about a sudden interruption in the practice of furnishing churches with altarpieces. With the abolition of private masses, side altars were removed, so that most Protestant churches now only had one altar they could use. The way altars and altarpieces were used also serve to distinguish Lutheran from reformed churches. While most reformed churches eliminated all furnishings acquired from existing churches, the Lutherans kept any furnishings that did not contradict their own beliefs and also erected new altarpieces during the 1530s. However, these were not donated by private individuals but by the authority which had taken charge of the church during the Reformation.

The winged altarpiece erected in 1539 in St. Wolfgang in Schneeberg (Erzgebirge/Thuringia) was produced in the Cranach workshop and is considered to be the first altarpiece of the Reformation.75 It was the first altarpiece to be newly installed in a church after the beginning of the Reformation, and the first altarpiece to depict the Lutheran visual theme of “Law and Gospel.” Despite its significance within reformatory visual culture, the background to its creation and the original form of the altarpiece remain largely unknown to this day. Researchers have debated whether the Ernestine Prince-Regnants depicted on the inner wings or the church community may have placed the order, and whether the altarpiece might have been converted in one or two different ways.76 The altarpiece was only re-erected in its present form in 1996 using a modern frame, following a modest transformation made necessary by war-damage repairs; the original carved frame was lost as early as 1705, following renovation of the church in the baroque style.

As far as its design is concerned, the Schneeberg Altarpiece is a winged altarpiece with predella. The reverse side features the Last Judgement, while the outer wings bear representations of the Flood and of Lot and his daughters. These rarely depicted scenes are perhaps site-specific, as they allude to the great danger that fire and water constituted for the prosperous mining town of Schneeberg.77 When the altarpiece is closed, as it was intended to be on workdays, it reveals one of the largest depictions of “Law and Gospel” based on the Gotha painting. When the wings are opened, as they were on feast days, a heavily populated Crucifixion is visible on the middle panel, surrounded by two scenes from the Passion of Christ—Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives on the left, and the Resurrection on the right, connected underneath by a portrait of John Friederick the Magnanimous and Johann Ernst of Saxony.

Cranach placed the Tree of Life from “Law and Gospel” in a central position as the heavenly prefiguration of the altarpiece, marking the transition between the working day and feast day states of the altarpiece. Heike Schlie has used this reading to demonstrate and underline the sensory nature and tangible content of reformatory altar paintings, in contrast to a purely didactic approach.78 When the wings open, the tree opens too revealing the Cross, which according to ancient beliefs was made from the wood of this very same tree. Luther carried this typology further and chose to interpret the trees of Heaven as a prefiguration of the Church.79 Cranach’s representation is also an expression of his artistic belief that Lutheran theology could be combined with the specific possibilities offered by this artistic medium in a meaningful way. So just as Luther felt that images were essential precisely because of their sensorial, tangible qualities, Cranach exploited the potential of images for portraying religious knowledge. Cranach’s Schneeberg Altarpiece appears to be a transitional piece, reiterating traditional elements such as the form of the folding altarpiece with the iconography of the Last Supper on the predella and the portraits of princes, together with reformatory visual themes to create a new semantics, based on Lutheran doctrine.

The first church built after the Reformation was the chapel of Hartenfels castle in Torgau, which was consecrated on October 5, 1544 by Luther. Although commissioned by the Saxon Elector John Frederick I issuing a clear statement of the new faith with a new building undisturbed by Roman Catholic doctrine, the spatial design is not specific to the Reformation and rather echoes the tradition of late medieval castle chapels, with its rows of pilasters surmounted by ribbed vaulting and its double gallery.80 The iconography of the chapel’s furniture, of which only the fixed pieces such as the portal, the altar table and the pulpit remain, is also traditional. They only maintain their reformatory significance thanks to the way they are arranged in the room, and the way they interact with the iconographical decoration, which does not survive.

Gabriele Wimböck has demonstrated how formal and content-related links can be made in accordance with the principle of “Law and Gospel.”81 For example, the middle relief of the pulpit, which shows the Sermon of the twelve-year-old Jesus at the Temple, is like a visual program detailing the church’s main function as a place for preaching. It is flanked by two scenes, featuring Jesus and the adulteress and the Expulsion of the merchants from the Temple, which show inappropriate behavior in a church and as such, can be understood as references to the ills of the old church tradition. This form of visual argumentation was underlined by a Cranach painting on the subject of “Elijah and the Prophets of Baal,” which served as a trial for the theme of the true versus the misguided faith.

This type of scene, which might well have appeared on the altarpiece in the first reformatory church in Torgau, can be found on the Reformation Altarpiece in the church of the town of Wittenberg. It was the result of a collaboration between Cranach the Elder and Cranach the Younger circa 1547–1548.82 What it has in common with the missing altar painting in Torgau is the representation of the Last Supper in its central panel. Jesus is seated at a table with his disciples in a loggia-type room overlooking a landscape. One disciple, with the features of Luther as Junker Jörg, is accepting more wine from the cupbearer, himself sometimes but unconvincingly identified as Lucas Cranach the Younger. Jesus places a piece of bread in the mouth of Judas, leading to the impression that he is placing his finger in his mouth. This “eloquent” gesture can be understood as the embodiment of the words of the Holy Communion: “This is my body.”83 Thus, the painting formulates a position in the Eucharistic Controversy, as it does not only advocate for the Communion in both forms, also demonstrates a belief in the real presence of Christ during the Eucharist. Further sacraments are depicted on the wings, performed by two important representatives of the Wittenberg Reformation—Melanchthon and Bugenhagen—in the presence of the entire community, together with baptism on the left and confession on the right. Although the Lutheran Church only recognized baptism and communion as sacraments, confession was perhaps added in order to balance the distribution of themes on the winged altarpiece.

The innovative visual program on the predella shows Luther preaching from the pulpit. His right arm points to the crucifix occupying the middle of the panel and separating him from the congregation, while his left hand rests upon an open Bible in a gesture of argumentation. The reference to Christ Crucified transposes Luther into John the Baptist by analogy. Artists other than Cranach, such as Grünewald and Leonardo represent John pointing at Jesus with his index finger. In his 1521 sermon on the solemnity of John the Baptist, Luther designated the saint as “the Baptist who pointed forward to Christ,” who, as the last prophet of the Old Covenant, had anticipated the coming of Jesus.84 On the predella, Luther is himself depicted as the new indicator, and therefore as a prophet of the New Covenant. A woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Younger, which probably appeared immediately after Luther’s death, elevated the reformer into a sacred souvenir picture, Luther being placed in the center of the picture with a double pointing gesture (Figure 2).85

Martin Luther and Visual CultureClick to view larger

Figure 2. Cranach the Elder, Last Supper of the Protestants and the Pope’s Descent to Hell, 1547, woodcut. Inv. Nr. A 6628, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

Pointing gestures also draw the eye to the altar painting in Herder Church in Weimar. Weimar became the new residence of the Elector John Frederick I of Saxony after his defeat by Emperor Charles V at the battle of Mühlberg in 1547. The plans for the altarpiece probably began when John Frederick returned from captivity in 1552 and settled there as duke of Weimar. He was accompanied by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who also spent the last year of his life in Weimar. The altarpiece was completed in 1555 by Lucas Cranach the Younger and exhibited in the church of the city of Weimar. It is an epitaph and was donated by the sons of John Frederick I (d. 1554) and his wife Sibylle of Cleves (d. 1554) as a memorial.86

The center panel offers a variation on the theme of “Law and Gospel,” since the Crucifix is placed in the middle, in accordance with Luther’s belief that man’s redemption is obtained through the Crucifixion of Jesus. To the left of the Cross, Christ overcomes death and the devil, while on the right stand John the Baptist, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Martin Luther. The prophet, the painter, and the reformer, with their pointing gestures, generate an internal system of theologically significant relationships, supported by the direction of their gaze. John the Baptist points to Jesus on the Cross and to the lamb at his feet while looking at Cranach. Cranach receives the stream of blood pouring out of Christ’s wounds and contemplates the viewer. Luther indicates the texts in his open book and gazes vaguely into the distance. The texts themselves are various quotes dealing with the expiation of the sins of man through the Blood of Christ, creating a content link with the Crucifixion. The acceptance of grace is embodied by the figure of Lucas Cranach the Elder, standing in the place of the common man. And John the Baptist gestures to a view of three assembled representations of Christ: Christ on the Cross, Christ resurrected, and Christ the sacrificial lamb. In recent years, several studies have examined the complex formal and theological structure of this unusual altarpiece.87

These examinations suggest that the folding altarpiece expresses the justification of images as a medium according to Lutheran doctrine. Luther did indeed consider the principle of Scripture as important, but on the altarpiece the writing is directly connected with the space occupied by the image—something that Cranach represents with the image of himself. Text and image are mutually related and illustrate the meaning of the inner and outer conception of faith (the “imagining” of faith) as understood by Luther.

The number of early reformatory altarpieces, of which the Weimar altarpiece is undoubtedly a prime example, but also later altar paintings, such as the Mühlberg Altarpiece (1568),88 the Augustusburg Altarpiece (1571), and the Colditz Altarpiece (1584, presently in Nuremberg)89 to name just a few, are impressive demonstrations of how the traditional folding altarpiece and its references to the sacraments were used by artists for visualizing Justification by faith alone. Through opening and closing, revealing and concealing, the viewer’s gaze is led from their own sinfulness to redemption through Jesus.


From the mid-16th century onward, funerary monuments called epitaphs enjoyed renewed popularity and became part of Lutheran churches. They pursued the late medieval tradition of serving the memory of the deceased and their families, but functioned on a new theological basis. Epitaphs were no longer donated in the hope of purging all sins and appealing to posterity for intercessory prayers, but became tokens of remembrance to the deceased’s exemplary life in the new faith. Thereby epitaphs became identity-forging monuments for the Lutheran Church and community.90 The funerary monuments produced by Lucas Cranach the Younger provided an iconographical and formal repertoire that lent expression to the Lutheran notion of the assurance of salvation, founding a new visual tradition.

The Resurrection of Christ is one of the central themes in Lutheran epitaphs, since according to Luther, Christ’s overcoming of death justifies man’s assurance of salvation. The epitaph ordered from Lucas Cranach the Younger by Leipzig mayor and university chancellor Dr. Leonhard Badehorn in 1559 for his late wife Anna, who had died two years previously, shows Jesus with a red robe and a banner bearing the Cross, standing on the closed sarcophagus91 (Leipzig, Museum of Fine Arts). The donator is seen kneeling with his entire family in the foreground and in the background the rising sun chases the dark clouds away. The double light source is significant: the natural light of the sun and the supernatural halo of light which shines behind the head of Resurrected Jesus, forming a kind of nimbus. An open door in the background leads into the sunlight and symbolizes man’s journey out of the darkness toward Christ as the Light of life. Both Jesus and the donator regard the viewer to encourage the pursuit of their faith in Jesus Christ.

The epitaph of Prince Joachim of Anhalt in Dessau, the so-called Eucharist Altarpiece (1565, Dessau, St. Johannis) illustrates how the memorial function can also be used for political purposes. Lucas Cranach the Younger created an epitaph and a near-identical copy for the sovereign who died in 1561, commissioned by his nephews and heirs Joachim Ernst (1536–1586) and Bernhard VII of Anhalt (1540–1570). The two paintings were probably destined for the donators’ respective court churches in Dessau and Köthen.92 They show the deceased before a balustrade in an attitude of prayer. Behind him, the view opens onto an imposing room where the Last Supper is taking place. In place of the twelve apostles, twelve Wittenberg reformers sit at the table with Jesus in the middle. Next to Luther and Melanchthon sits Prince George III of Anhalt, the first Protestant bishop, adopting a central role as John, Christ’s favorite disciple. The patrons themselves are also visible in the background, as if attending a Grand communal supper at court, and so become witnesses of the holy event. The artist has also included himself in the forefront as a cupbearer, recognizable from his signet ring bearing the winged snake of the Cranach family. The iconographical program brings the secular and the spiritual realms together while emphasizing the importance of the Anhalt princes during the Reformation. This superb epitaph, which was created in Dessau as part of a yet more extensive furnishing program for the castle church, not only documents the new confession of faith of the Anhalt dynasty but also reveals the challenges of courtly representation in which small principalities strove to compete on the same level as the Empire.

The epitaph produced as early as 1558 for the mayor of Nordhausen Michael Meyenburg (originally in St. Blasii-Kirche, Nordhausen, missing since 1945) also connects stories from the Bible with characters from the history of the Reformation. Cranach the Younger designed the miraculous revival of Lazarus by analogy—the deceased is depicted as Lazarus—a visual expression of the hope for the Resurrection of Michael Meyenburg. Behind Meyenburg and his family and the biblical revival scene, other figures are shown, including a group of important reformers and humanists he had been in contact with or whose work had had a significant impact on him. Alongside Luther, Melanchthon, and Justus Jonas, one can recognize Erasmus of Rotterdam, whom Meyenburg, a learned humanist, felt to be close to Luther, despite their differences.

In his epitaphs, Cranach combined the remembrance of the dead with the remembrance of important reformers, regardless of the patron’s status. What mattered were the personal relationships the deceased shared with certain reformers. This form of remembrance culture was not only valid for personal networks, which diverged still more during the course of the Reformation, but also enabled the creation of a denominational identity.

Review of the Literature

The influence that the Reformation had on the status and function of images has been the subject of many different and divergent interpretations.93 The ascendancy of hearing over vision, which Luther formulated during his Merseburg sermon in 1545, is one of the most frequently cited statements used to prove Luther’s rejection of images.94 On the basis of this new hierarchy of the senses, there would supposedly be a successful transition from the pre-Reformation culture of piety to a new focus on language.

Some art historians have concluded that with the Reformation, art had ceased to reveal the divine and had thus become useless to the understanding of faith.95 According to Joseph Leo Koerner, reformatory art denied itself by showing that the kingdom of God did not reveal itself through images but through words.96 Dieter Koepplin even declared that reformatory art was superfluous.97 Whatever the case, art was assigned to a didactic function in the form of educational images or Bible illustrations, where they were subordinated to the text. The artistic quality of the works of Lucas Cranach the Elder and his sons has been discussed.98

This negative judgement on the Reformation with regard to its consequences on art is balanced by a more positive view, fed by various suppositions and traditions. Quite early on, Robert Scribner pointed to the important role of leaflets and prints as visual propaganda for the Reformation.99 Referring to Hegel, Werner Hofmann even considered that the Luther’s desacralization of art had sparked a new artistic understanding paving the way to modern art.100

The most recent research is more discriminating in its arguments. Reformation historian Thomas Kaufmann has underlined Luther’s conciliatory position whereby he consciously sought a balance between the Roman Catholic adoration of images and reformatory iconoclasm.101 Kaufmann also refers to older research, which had stressed the “preserving power of Lutheranism” illustrated by their adaptation of pre-reformatory church furnishings, and interprets the Lutheran intermediary position as a distinctive sign within the denominational conflicts with the reformists.

In this context, in addition to the identity-building function of images, historical and art historical examinations have put the depreciation of vision as a sense into perspective102 and emphasized the importance of art for the Reformation. Steven Ozment goes so far as to define Cranach as a reformer just like Luther and treats his pictures and Luther’s writings as equals.103 Ruth Slenczka makes a distinction between Cranach’s early reformatory leaflets, which above all forged a “reformatory audience,” and his reformatory painted sketches. She takes the view that artists remained dependent on the demands made by the authorities, who only gradually formed an imperial Protestant party following the 1529 protest in Speyer.104 More recent art historical studies have attempted to decipher to what extent Luther’s positive understanding of an inner, imaginary vision could have affected the artistic production of its time. Susanne Wegmann has examined visual strategies in Cranach’s work, which transform an inner vision into a real understanding of the grace of God.105 Heike Schlie shows how Cranach transformed the viewer’s reception of images from the purely didactic to a performative process on the road to redemption106 by adopting new interpretations and semantic shifts for traditional forms, themes, and media.

Topics of Further Research

Considered within the context of the Reformation, the appreciation of vision as a sensorial form of religious knowledge offers true potential for future research. What has been presented here applied to Cranach paintings, as an example, could be examined with regard to other art forms (drawings, sculpture, architecture) and artists. Comparative analyses of reformatory, Catholic and secular images could provide new information on the specificities of visual culture in the early modern times. Unlike his paintings which are generally owned by museums, Cranach’s altarpieces can still be found in churches today and have only recently attracted the attention of researchers. They offer many opportunities for studies on archival or hermeneutic subjects, and examinations into the technology of painting. What is more, the strong focus which has so far been placed on Cranach’s work following the studies led by Bridget Heal and Susanne Wegmann on reformatory visual culture, could be extended to encompass other artists and cultural landscapes. The geographical mapping and the reception of specific Lutheran visual culture in European art and culture of the early modern times has still to be comprehensively addressed. The intensification of interdisciplinary research into the aforementioned themes could contribute to a finer understanding of religious cultures in early modern Europe, as well as offering a basis for global historical perspectives.

Further Reading

Belting, Hans. Bild und Kult: Eine Geschichte des Bildes vor dem Zeitalter der Kunst. Munich: Beck, 1990.Find this resource:

Brinkmann, Bodo, ed. Cranach. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2008.Find this resource:

Ertz, Stefanie, Schlie, Heike, and Weidner, Daniel. Sakramentale Repräsentation: Substanz, Zeichen und Präsenz in der Frühen Neuzeit. Munich: Fink, 2012.Find this resource:

Hofmann, Werner, ed. Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1983.Find this resource:

Kaufmann, Thomas. “Die Bilderfrage im frühneuzeitlichen Luthertum.” Historische Zeitschrift 33 (2002): 407–454.Find this resource:

Koepplin, Dieter, and Falk, Tilman. Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik. 2 vols. Basel: Birkhäuser, 1974–1976.Find this resource:

Koerner, Joseph Leo. The Reformation of the Image. London: Reaktion Books, 2004.Find this resource:

Noble, Bonnie. Lucas Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Renaissance. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2009.Find this resource:

Ozment, Steven. The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2011.Find this resource:

Parshall, Linda B., and Parshall, Peter W. Art and the Reformation: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.Find this resource:

Pöpper, Thomas, and Wegmann, Susanne, eds. Das Bild des neuen Glaubens: Das Cranach-Retabel in der Schneeberger St. Wolfgangskirche. Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 2011.Find this resource:

Slenczka, Ruth. “Cranach der Jüngere im Dienst der Reformation.” In Lucas Cranach der Jüngere: Entdeckung eines Meisters. Edited by Roland Enke, Katja Schneider, and Jutta Strehle, 124–137. Munich: Hirmer, 2015.Find this resource:

Stoichita, Victor. Das selbstbewußte Bild. Munich: Fink-Verlag, 1998.Find this resource:

Tacke, Andreas. Der katholische Cranach: Zu zwie Großaufträgen von Lucas Cranach d. Ä., Simon Franck und der Cranach-Werkstatt. Mainz: Zabern, 1992.Find this resource:

Wegmann, Susanne. Der sichtbare Glaube: Das Bild in den lutherischen Kirchen des 16. Jahrhunderts. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 2016.Find this resource:

Weimar, Christoph. “Luther and Cranach on Justification in Word and Image.” Lutheran Quarterly 18 (2004): 387–405.Find this resource:

Werner, Elke Anna/Eusterschulte, Anne/Gunnar Heydenreich, eds. Lucas Cranach der Jüngere und die Reformation der Bilder. Munich: Hirmer, 2015.Find this resource:


(1.) Essential reading: Linda B. Parshall and Peter W. Parshall, Art and the Reformation: An Annotated Bibliography (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986); Margarethe Stirm, Die Bilderfrage in der Reformation (Gütersloh: Verlagshaus Mohn, 1977); Serguisz Michalski, The Reformation and the Visual Arts. Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe (Routledge: Chapman & Hall, 1997); and Christoph Weimer, Luther, Cranach und die Bilder: Gesetz und Evangelium—Schlüssel zum reformatorischen Bildgebrauch (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1999).

(2.) WA 10/III:26.

(3.) WA 18:27–84.

(4.) WA 18:80, 7.

(5.) WA 2:689, 28.

(6.) WA 18:80, 9.

(7.) WA 46:683, 35.

(8.) WA 31 I:415.

(9.) Christoph Walther, Von vnterscheid der Deudschen Biblien vnd anderer Büchern des Ehrnwirdigen vnd seligen Herrn Doct. Martini … (Wittenberg, 1563) (VD16 ZV 18738, B 2v and r); and see Ruth Slenczka, “Cranach als Reformator neben Luther,” in Der Reformator Martin Luther 2017: Eine wissenschaftliche und gedenkpolitische Bestandsaufnahme, ed. Heinz Schilling (Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2014), 147.

(10.) Anne Eusterschulte, “Der reformulierte Bilderstreit—Grundlagen einer reformierten Theorie der Imago,” in Philosophie der Reformierten, eds. Günter Frank and Hermn J. Selderhuis (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 2012), 143–147.

(11.) WA 37:63, 26ff.

(12.) WA 37:62, 21ff.

(13.) WA 18:83.

(14.) WA 33:83, 28ff.; WA 47:310, 15ff.; WA 34 II:226, 21ff.; and WA 10/I 2:434, 16ff.

(15.) WA 51:21.

(16.) Andreas Tacke, Der katholische Cranach: Zu zwei Grossaufträgen von Lucas Cranach d. Ä., Simon Franck und der Cranach-Werkstatt (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1992); and Daniel Görres, “Cranach, Luther und die Ernestiner,” in Bild und Bekenntnis: Die Cranach-Werkstatt in Weimar, eds. Franziska Bomski et al. (Göttingen, Germany: Wallstein Verlag, 2015), 37–54.

(17.) Regarding the aesthetic strategies of Cranach’s secular works, see Elke Anna Werner, “The Veil of Venus: A Metaphor of Seeing in Lucas Cranach the Elder,” in Cranach, ed. Bodo Brinkmann (London: Royal Academy Books, 2008), 99–109; and Elke Anna Werner, “Cranach und Italien: Künstlerische Transferprozesse und mediale Strategien kultureller Aneignung,” in Die Welt des Lucas Cranach (1472–1553): Ein Künstler im Zeitalter von Dürer, Tizian und Metsys, ed. Guido Messling (Leipzig: Seemann Henschel, 2010), 30–41.

(18.) Michael Giesecke, Der Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit: Eine historische Fallstudie über die Durchsetzung der neuen Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien (Frankfurt on the Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1991).

(19.) Tilman Falk, “Cranach-Buchgraphik in der Reformationszeit,” in Lukas Cranach: Gemälde Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, vol. 1, eds. Dieter Koepplin and Tilman Falk (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1974), 1:307–412; and Jutta Strehle and Armin Kunz, eds., Druckgraphiken Lucas Cranachs d. Ä. Im Dienst von Macht und Glauben (Wittenberg: Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt, 1998).

(20.) Livia Cárdenas, Friedrich der Weise und das Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch: Mediale Repräsentation zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit (Berlin: Lukas Verlag, 2002).

(21.) Dieter Koepplin, “Humanistisch-höfische Repräsentation in Kursachsen seit 1505,” in Lukas Cranach: Gemälde Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, vol. 1, eds. Dieter Koepplin and Tilman Falk (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1974), 1:185–267.

(22.) Falk, “Cranach-Buchgraphik in der Reformationszeit,” 311–314.

(23.) Andrew Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 99f.

(24.) Dieter Koepplin and Tilman Falk, eds., Lukas Cranach: Gemälde Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, vol. 1 (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1974), 1:330, cat. nos. 218–220; and Armin Kunz, “Papstspott und Gotteswort: Cranachs Buchgraphik im erste Jahrzehnt der Reformation,” in Druckgraphiken Lucas Cranachs d. Ä. Im Dienst von Macht und Glauben, eds. Jutta Strehle and Armin Kunz (Wittenberg: Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt, 1998), 166–183.

(25.) Kunz, “Papstspott und Gotteswort,” 166.

(26.) Joseph Leo Koerner, The Reformation of the Image (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 299, fig. 154.

(27.) Robert W. Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 148–158.

(28.) Kunz, “Papstspott und Gotteswort,” 166.

(29.) Koepplin and Falk, Lukas Cranach, 1:246–249; Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk, 129–133; and Kunz, “Papstspott und Gotteswort, 232–235.

(30.) Kunz, “Papstspott und Gotteswort, 184–231; and Slenczka, “Cranach als Reformator neben Luther,” 140f.

(31.) Falk, “Cranach-Buchgraphik in der Reformationszeit,” 331f.

(32.) Ibid., 334.

(33.) Kurt Löcher, ed., Martin Luther und die Reformation in Deutschland, Vorträge zur Ausstellung im Germanischen nationalmuseum Nürnberg 1983 (Schweinfurt: Weppert, 1988), 277.

(34.) Falk, “Cranach-Buchgraphik in der Reformationszeit,” 334–343.

(35.) Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk, 14–36; and Martin Warnke, Cranachs Luther: Entwürfe für ein Image (Frankfurt on the Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1984), 8–11.

(36.) Koepplin and Falk, Lukas Cranach, 1:92, no. 35; Christiane Andersson and Charles Talbot, eds., From a Mighty Fortress: Prints, Drawings, and Books in the Age of Luther 1483–1546 (Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1983), 232, no. 126; and Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 14–30.

(37.) Quoted by Hans Rupprich, ed., Dürer: Schriftlicher Nachlaß (Berlin: Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1956), 86f.

(38.) Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 20f.

(39.) Ruth Slenczka, “Dürer, Holbeins und Cranachs Melanchthon,” in Der frühe Melanchthon und der Humanismus, ed. Franz Fuchs (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011), 119–132.

(40.) Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 25f., fig. 12.

(41.) Koepplin and Falk, Lukas Cranach, vol. 1, no. 36 and Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 27–32.

(42.) Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk, 18f.; and Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 32f.

(43.) Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 33.

(44.) Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk, 16, fig. 4 and Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 38f.

(45.) Translation and explanations, see Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 36–39.

(46.) Werner, “The Veil of Venus,” 99–109.

(47.) Koepplin and Falk, Lukas Cranach, 1:98, cat. no. 42; and Warnke, Cranachs Luther, 49f.

(48.) Bodo Brinkmann, ed., Cranach (London: Royal Academy Books, 2008), cat. no. 38; was subsequently attributed the date 1517, which is suspected to be wrong.

(49.) Werner Schade, Die Malerfamilie Cranach (Dresden: Verlag der Kunst, 1974), 52.

(50.) Cf. the works found under the search term “Martin Luther” in the online database directed by Gunnar Heydenreich,

(51.) Brinkmann, Cranach, cat. no. 41.

(52.) Cf. the works found under the search terms “Martin Luther” and “Katharina von Bora” in the online database directed by Gunnar Heydenreich,

(53.) Lucas Cranach d. Ä., Martin Luther, 220 x 190 mm, c. 1532, tempera (and oil?) over an underlying drawing on brown primed paper, Thornhill, Drumlanrig Castle (Scotland).

(54.) Reimar Zeller, Prediger des Evangeliums: Erben der Reformation im Spiegel der Kunst (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 1998).

(55.) Schade suggests that this type of image had already been developed by Lucas Cranach the Younger: Schade, Die Malerfamilie Cranach, 53.

(56.) Cf. the works found under the search term “Albrecht von Brandenburg, Kardinal” in the online database directed by Gunnar Heydenreich,; and Andreas Tacke, “Mit Cranachs Hilfe: Antireformatorische Kunstwerke vor dem Tridentiner Konzil,” in Cranach der Ältere, ed. Bodo Brinkmann (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2007), 81–89.

(57.) Alfred Dieck, “Cranachs Gemälde des toten Luther in Hannover und das Problem der Luther-Totenbilder,” Niederdeutsche Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 2 (1962): 191–218; and Brinkmann, Cranach, cat. no. 42.

(58.) Ruth Slenczka, “Lebensgroß und unverwechselbar: Lutherbildnisse in Kirchen von 1546–1617,” Luther 82 (2011): 99–111.

(59.) John Pope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963).

(60.) Slenczka, “Lebensgroß und unverwechselbar,” 99–111.

(61.) Slenczka, “Lebensgroß und unverwechselbar,” 149–157.

(62.) Kurt Löcher, “Humanistenbildnisse—Reformatorenbildnisse: Unterschiede und Gemeinsamkeiten,” in Literatur, Musik und Kunst im Übergang vom Mittelalter zur Neuzeit, ed. Hartmut Boockmann (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1995), 352–390.

(63.) Slenczka, “Lebensgroß und unverwechselbar,” 133.

(64.) Löcher, “Humanistenbildnisse—Reformatorenbildnisse,” 352–390.

(65.) Max Geisberg, The German Single Leaf Woodcut, vol. 1, ed. Walter L. Strauss (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1974), 1:158–160; and Katja Schneider et al., eds., Lucas Cranach der Jüngere: Entdeckung eines Meisters (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2015), 239–242, cat. no. 2/10–12.

(66.) Matthias Weniger, “Durch und durch lutherisch? Neues zum Ursprung der Bilder von Gesetz und Gnade,” in Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst 55 (2004): 115–134; Dieter Koepplin, “Zu Holbeins paulinischem Glaubensbild von Gesetz und Gnade,” in Hans Holbein d. J. Die Jahre in Basel 1515–1532 (Munich: Prestel, 2006), 79–95; Heimo Reinitzer, Gesetz und Evangelium: Über ein reformatorisches Bildthema, seine Tradition, Funktion und Wirkungsgeschichte (Hamburg: Christians Verlag, 2006); Bonnie Noble, Lucas Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Renaissance (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2009), 27–66; and Miriam Verena Fleck, Ein Tröstlich Gemelde: Die Glaubensallegorie “Gesetz und Gnade” in Europa zwischen Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit (Korb: Didymos-Verlag, 2010).

(67.) Dieter Koepplin and Tilman Falk, eds., Lukas Cranach: Gemälde Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, vol. 2 (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1976), 2:507f.

(68.) Friedrich Ohly, Gesetz und Evangelium: Zur Theologie bei Luther und Lucas Cranach zum Blutstrahl der Gnade in der Kunst (Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1985).

(69.) Fleck, Ein Tröstlich Gemelde.

(70.) Dieter Koepplin, “Cranachs Bilder der Caritas im theologischen und humanistischen Geiste Luthers und Melanchthon,” in Cranach der Ältere, ed. Bodo Brinkmann (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2007), 63–79.

(71.) Koepplin, “Cranachs Bilder der Caritas,” 65, fig. 6.

(72.) Christine Kibish Ozarowska, “Lucas Cranach’s Christ Blessing the Children: A Problem of Luthern Ikonography,” Art Bulletin 37 (1955): 196–203; and Koepplin and Falk, Lukas Cranach, 2:516–519.

(73.) Koepplin and Falk, Lukas Cranach, 2:516–519.

(74.) Ibid., 2:500.

(75.) Noble, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 67–96; Thomas Pöpper and Susanne Wegmann, eds., Das Bild des neuen Glaubens: Das Cranach-Retabel in der Schneeberger St. Wolfgangskirche (Regensburg: Schnee & Steiner, 2011).

(76.) Also according to the latest archival record, the church parish paid 357 guilder and 3 pennies to Lucas Cranach for the altarpiece in 1539, it is apparently not yet clear whether the parish commissioned the piece or not; according to the role played by the princes, the portraits were either donator or honorary portraits, see Pöpper and Wegmann, Das Bild des neuen Glaubens.

(77.) See ibid.

(78.) Heike Schlie, “Das Holz des Lebensbaumes, des Kruezes und des Altarretabels: Die Cranach’sche Neufassung einer sakramentalen Bildgattung,” in Das Bild des neuen Glaubens: Das Cranach-Retabel in der Schneeberger St. Wolfgangskirche, eds. Thomas Pöpper and Susanne Wegmann (Regensburg: Schnee & Steiner, 2011), 112, with criticism in Noble, Lucas Cranach the Elder, which pursued the traditional vision of reformatory images as didactic instruments.

(79.) See Luthers Genesisvorlesung, 1535/38, WA 42:72.

(80.) Hans-Joachim Krause, “Die Schlosskapelle in Torgau,” in Glaube und Macht: Sachsen im Europa der Reformationszeit, Aufsätze, eds. Harald Marx and Cecilie Hollberg (Dresden: Sandstein, 2004), 175–187; and Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, 405–411, on the other hand, sees the clear structure of the church with less decoration as a prototype for Lutheran church construction.

(81.) Gabriele Wimböck, “Exempla fidei: Die Kirchenausstattungen der Wettiner im Reformationszeitalter,” in Glaube und Macht: Sachsen im Europa der Reformationszeit, Aufsätze, eds. Harald Marx and Cecilie Hollberg (Dresden: Sandstein, 2004), 189–204.

(82.) Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, 171–200, 252–281, 308–339; Ingrid Schulze, Lucas Cranach d. J. und die protestantische Bildkunst in Sachsen und Thüringen (Bucha: quartus-Verlag, 2004), 32–51; Noble, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 97–137; finally Insa Christiane Hennen, “Die Ausstattung der Wittenberger Stadtpfarrkirche und der Cranach’sche Reformationsaltar,” in Das ernestinische Wittenberg: Spuren Cranachs in Schloss und Stadt, eds. Heiner Lück et al. (Petersberg: Imhof Verlag, 2015), 401–422, with the unconvincing attempt to identify the apostles in the scene of the Last supper as Wittenberg citizens.

(83.) Schneider et al., Lucas Cranach der Jüngere, 404, cat. no. 3/54 (R. Slenczka).

(84.) Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, 192.

(85.) Ibid., 271f., fig. 139.

(86.) Bonnie Noble, “From Vision to Testimony: Cranach’s Weimar Altarpiece,” Reformation und Renaissance Review 5 (2003): 135–165; the latest results of the research led by research in the contributions of Daniel Görres, Christian Hecht, Christian Neddens, Gunnar Heydenreich, Ingo Sandner, and Helen Smith-Contini, in Bild und Bekenntnis: Die Cranach-Werkstatt in Weimar, eds. Franziska Bomski et al. (Göttingen, Germany: Wallstein Verlag, 2015).

(87.) Franziska Bomski et al., eds., Bild und Bekenntnis: Die Cranach-Werkstatt in Weimar (Göttingen, Germany: Wallstein Verlag, 2015); Susanne Wegmann, “Die Sichtbarkeit der Gnade—Bildtheorie und Gnadenvermittlung auf den lutherischen Altären,” in Medialität, Unmittelbarkeit, Präsenz: Die Nähe des Heils in der Reformation, eds. Johanna Haberer and Berndt Hamm (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), 187–211; and Heike Schlie, “Blut und Farbe: Sakramentale Dimensionen der frühneuzeitlichen Bild- und Kunststheorie,” in Sakramentale Repräsentation: Substanz, Zeichen und Präsenz in der Frühen Neuzeit, eds. Stefanier Ertz et al. (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2012), 51–80.

(88.) See Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, 429ff.

(89.) Anja Grebe, “Das ‘sprechende’ Retabel: Neue Überlegungen zum Colditzer Altar Lucas Cranachs des Jüngeren,” in Lucas Cranach der Jüngere und die Reformation der Bilder, eds. Elke Anna Werner et al. (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2015), 318–329.

(90.) Doreen Zerbe, Reformation der Memoria: Denkmale in der Stadtkirche Wittenberg als Zeugnisse lutherischer Memorialkultur im 16. Jahrhndert (Leipzig: Evangelisches Verlagshaus, 2013).

(91.) The original dating was 1559, in accordance with the signature, but this was mistakenly changed to “1554” during a restoration; Andreas Priever and Johann de Perre, “Die Auferstehung Christi und der Stein des Anstoßes: Eine Fallstudie zum Bildgebrauch in der lutherischen Orthodoxie,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 70 (2007): 513–544, hier bes. 525f.; and Schulze, Lucas Cranach d. J. und die protestantische Bildkunst, 150–158.

(92.) Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, 377–401; and Schneider et al., Lucas Cranach der Jüngere, 404, cat. no. 3/54 (R. Slenczka).

(93.) Stefan Ehrenpreis and Ute Lotz-Heumann, Reformation und konfessionelles Zeitalter (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2002), 80–90.

(94.) For a summary of the current state of research on this subject, see Bridged Heal, “The Catholic Eye and the Protestant Ear: The Reformation as a Non-Visual Event?,” in The Myth of the Reformation, ed. Peter Opitz (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 321–355.

(95.) Stirm, Die Bilderfrage in der Reformation, 121; and Hans Belting, Bild und Kult: Eine Geschichte des Bildes vor dem Zeitalter der Kunst (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1990), 510–523.

(96.) Koerner, The Reformation of the Image.

(97.) Dieter Koepplin, “Kommet her zu mir alle: Das tröstliche Bild des Gekreuzigten nach dem Verständnis Luthers,” in Martin Luther und die Reformation in Deutschland, Vorträge zur Ausstellung im Germanischen nationalmuseum Nürnberg 1983, ed. Kurt Löcher (Schweinfurt: Weppert, 1988), 190.

(98.) Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach (Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1932), 17; and Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, 27, 32, etc.

(99.) Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk.

(100.) Werner Hofmann, Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst (Munich: Prestel, 1983), 33.

(101.) Thomas Kaufmann, “Die Bilderfrage im frühneuzeitlichen Luthertum,” in Macht und Ohnmacht der Bilder, Historische Zeitschrift 33, ed. Peter Blickle (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2002), 407–454.

(102.) Markus Friedrich, “Das Hör-Reich und das Sehe-Reich: Zur Bewertung des Sehens bei Luther und im frühneuzeitlichen Protestantismus,” in Evidentia: Reichweiten visueller Wahrnehmung in der Frühen Neuzeit, eds. Gabriele Wimböck et al. (Münster, Germany: LIT, 2007), 453–482; and Heal, “The Catholic Eye and the Protestant Ear.”

(103.) Steven Ozment, The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2011); and see the critical review of Keith Moxey, review of The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation, by Steven Ozment, American Historical Review, December 2012, 1678.

(104.) Slenczka, “Cranach als Reformator neben Luther,” 133–158.

(105.) Susanne Wegmann, “Die Sichtbarkeit der Gnade—Bildtheorie und Gnadenvermittlung auf den lutherischen Altären,” in Medialität, Unmittelbarkeit, Präsenz: Die Nähe des Heils in der Reformation, eds. Johanna Haberer and Berndt Hamm (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), 187–211, Susanne Wegmann, Der sichtbare Glaube: Das Bild in den lutherischen Kirchen des 16. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), see the theories also in Lucas Cranach der Jüngere und die Reformation der Bilder, eds. Elke Anna Werner et al. (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2015).

(106.) Schlie, “Das Holz des Lebensbaumes, des Kruezes und des Altarretabels,” 101–118; and Schlie, “Blut und Farbe,” 51–80.