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The Reformation: Its History and Legacy (December 2017): Art and Printing in the Reformation

By Matthew Hill

Art and Printing in the Reformation

The Catholic world was a highly visual world of frescoes, cathedrals, and stained-glass windows. The visually stimulating world of the medieval cathedral served as a teaching tool for the masses. Within Protestantism, the Reformed churches tended to minimize the visual arts, but Lutherans embraced their aesthetic and theological value.

In his helpful study The Serpent & Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation, Steven Ozment offers a creative study of the relationship between Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach the Elder, who was a court painter in the Saxon court of Frederick the Wise, a close friend of Luther and one of the most celebrated painters of the Reformation. Now in its third edition, David Hotchkiss Price’s Albrecht Dürer’s Renaissance: Humanism, Reformation, and the Art of Faith is a fascinating study of the relationship between Renaissance Humanism, Reformation ideals, and religious art. Price is not concerned with whether Dürer embraced the new evangelicalism or Protestant theology per se, but rather with his strategic role as an intellectual and chronicler of the early years of the Reformation period in Luther’s Germany. The Reformed and Lutheran traditions differed in the use of art. Joseph Leo Koerner’s insightful study The Reformation of the Image tackles the tension between the newfound focus on the edification of the word and the continued use of religious imagery in Lutheran as opposed to Reformed circles.

Related to the visual arts was the use of the written word in the vernacular and the advent of the printing press. Andrew Pettegree’s Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation helpfully examines the close relationship between Martin Luther and the use of the printing press in fostering the Reformation. In essence, the spread of Reformation ideas is inseparable from the use of print technology, which made for the rapid spread of Protestant literature.