University Library

Print reformations

    Martin Luther, An den Bock zu Leyptzck

    By Susanne Meurer

    Luther’s open letter “To the Goat of Leipzig” forms part of a series of sharp exchanges between the Wittenberg Reformer and the Dresden chaplain Jerome Emser. Alongside Johann Eck on the Catholic side and Andreas Bodenstein for the Protestants, Luther and Emser had already faced each other in the Leipzig Debate of 1519, in which the doctrines of free will and grace and associated practices, such as the sale of indulgences, were discussed. Debate turned to feud, however, once Emser attacked Luther’s address “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” (1520) as un-Christian, prompting the present response from Luther.

    The eponymous “goat” is a reference to the ibex in Emser’s coat of arms. It was frequently invoked by Emser himself, when he warned opponents to “Beware or the goat will strike you!” in his publications. Once appropriated by Luther, however, the meaning of the goat-epithet switched from the formidable foe capable of dealing out devastating blows to an opponent debased by being likened to an animal. Animalization became a popular visual and verbal strategy of Reformation propaganda: Thomas Murnau, for example, was turned into a cat, while Johann Eck became a sow. Luther himself wasn’t exempt from such attacks. Emser thus addressed his response to the present pamphlet to the “bull of Wittenberg”.

    Although the word “libel” in the sense of a false or defamatory statement is not used until the seventeenth century, it has its root in the term used to describe such pamphlets in sixteenth-century Germany, the Latin “libellus”, meaning little book. Pamphlets were usually produced in quarto format, measuring around 20 x 15cm, and rarely consisted of more than 16 pages. An experienced printer like Melchior Lotter, who had incidentally also printed Luther’s 95 Theses, could produce several hundred copies of a pamphlet within a day or two. Small, lightweight and cheap, such publications spread easily and quickly to other parts of the empire via merchants, and itinerant booksellers or preachers. Once they reached a new printing centre, other printers might reissue editions of popular texts. Estimates suggest that 1.5 million Luther pamphlets were printed in the first decade of the Reformation. The actual audience for these pamphlets probably would have been even larger. With literacy rates as low as 5-10%, reading was often a communal activity: pamphlets could be read out in public and the sermon-format, as well as the diction and rhythm of these published texts often imitated spoken language.

    Martin Luther, Auff des bocks zu Leypczick Antwort

    By Susanne Meurer

    This is the title-page to another open letter addressed to Luther’s opponent, Jerome Emser, the “goat of Leipzig”. As in the case of the title-border with resting lions that served as the cover for one of Luther’s 1523 sermons, this woodcut illustration was reused on the title-page of at least seven publications issued between 1520 and 1525.

    While Lucas Cranach had designed the title-border, the woodblock itself was owned by Johann Rhau-Grunenberg, who is identified here by the large initials “IG” in the lower margin. Grunenberg’s profession is illustrated in the bottom left corner, where one figure tightens the screw of the press to exert pressure on the woodblock in order to transfer image and text onto a sheet of paper. The printer’s companion is holding two dabbers, the rounded pads used for applying ink to blocks and type.

    The remainder of the border is filled with seemingly incongruous vignettes, from the drunkard whose head is circled by bees, or the poacher escaping with his prey, to attacks by a bear on a bull and by a wolf on a sheep. For their common denominator, we need to turn to the book that this title-border was initially commissioned for, a Trostbüchlein (1520) or “Little Book offering Comfort” written by Martin Luther for the ailing Elector Frederick of Saxony. The publication appeared around the same time as work was underway in Augsburg for illustrations to a much grander, if similarly themed book project, the first German translation of the Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul by the Italian fourteenth-century humanist Francesco Petrarcha. Cranach appears to have been familiar with the lavish illustrations by the unidentified Petarch Master, which were completed in 1520, as he appropriates them for these scenes of adversity and conflict between different creatures.

    Martin Luther, Ein Sermon auff das Evangelion

    By Susanne Meurer
    The artist Lucas Cranach the Elder was a key figure in creating an infrastructure for spreading the message of Reform from the small, provincial town of Wittenberg. Besides producing large numbers of both painted and printed portraits of his close friend Luther, Cranach also designed book illustrations for Protestant publications from the early 1520s onwards. Cranach owned a paper mill and he was probably instrumental in drawing the Leipzig printer Melchior Lotter the Younger to Wittenberg. Until the two men fell out in 1524, Lotter’s press was located in Cranach’s large home in the centre of town, where this woodcut would have been printed.

    On the title-page of this pamphlet, putti flying amongst acanthus leaves are placed against a dark, hatched background, while two lions are resting without letting down their careful guard. Their tails are playfully entangled against the backdrop of a large wine leaf, which carries the title. That this whimsical imagery should be entirely unrelated to the pamphlet’s content, a Luther sermon, is fairly common for such tracts. Considering the fast pace at which these pamphlets were penned, it would have both taken too long and been too expensive to have a design matching the text cut into a woodblock. Purely ornamental borders, such as this, could instead serve more flexibly as the title-border for several publications. The image would have been printed from a single woodblock, while movable type would have spelled out the respective titles.

    Although several thousand impressions of an image could be produced from a single woodblock, over time, the lines cut into the wood would suffer damage from the repeated pressure exerted on them in the press. This wear and tear is visible here particularly in the upper right corner, where much of the background shading is lost because the fractured lines no longer carried sufficient ink to print them clearly.

    Martin Luther, Collected Works

    By Susanne Meurer

    The title-page to the third volume of Martin Luther’s collected works, printed in Wittenberg in 1549, carries the symbols of the four evangelists, an angel for Matthew, a lion for Marc, a bull for Luke and an eagle for John, presumably to highlight that Luther’s writings are firmly rooted in the Bible and thus the word of God. Along the lower edge of the border, Christ is shown on the cross alongside the kneeling figures of Martin Luther in the dark robes of a Protestant pastor on the right and John Frederick of Saxony in fur-trimmed robes on the left.

    John Frederick had good reason to be included in this image: not only had he instigated the publication of this Wittenberg edition of Luther’s works, but he had also played a significant political role in the consolidation of Protestantism in the Holy Roman Empire. The Saxon electors had traditionally been powerful supporters of Luther’s cause: John Frederick’s uncle, Frederick the Wise, had sheltered Martin Luther at the Wartburg following the reformer’s imperial ban in the wake of the Diet of Worms in 1521. John Frederick, in turn, was leader of the confederation of Protestants, the Schmalkaldic League. He paid a heavy price for this support of Luther’s cause: in 1547, John Frederick was held prisoner by Emperor Charles V and sentenced to death, a punishment that was eventually commuted when John Frederick ceded his electoral title and moved his court from Wittenberg to Weimar.

    Lucas Cranach’s son, Lucas the Younger, would produce numerous prints and paintings showing Luther or members of the Saxon ducal family alongside depictions of Christ, such as the Weimar Altarpiece (c. 1553-55). However, this woodcut from 1545 - as well as a similar composition on the titlepage of a New Testament issued in 1546 - were seized upon by Luther’s opponents, who accused him of venerating an image of Christ. Perhaps, the composition here still bore too much resemblance to earlier depictions of Catholic worshippers on the wings of late-medieval triptychs.

    The smudges along the lower and upper edges of the page are evidence of the book’s provenance: whereas the names of two owners have been crossed out, that of a “Lawrence Jacobs” (“Liber Laurentij Jacobs”) can still be made out at the top.

    Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers sowol in deutscher als lateinischer Sprache verfertigte ubersetzte Samtliche Schriften (1740)

    By Arvi Wattel

    Between 1740 and 1753, the Lutheran theologian Johann Georg Walch published the collected works of Luther, including translations of his Latin texts in the German vernacular.

    As this first volume contains Luther’s exegesis of ‘the First Book of Moses’, the print depicts Moses offering the book of Genesis to Luther. The Hebrew text at the top of the open pages (the book is shown upside down) is the Bible’s opening verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

    In 1525, Luther had issued his pamphlet Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments in response to Andreas Karlstadt’s call for an absolute prohibition of images. Luther argued that “according to the Law of Moses, no other images are forbidden than an image of God that is worshipped.” The use of all other images as didactic and catechetical tools was acceptable. The frontispiece reflects both aspects of Luther’s teachings on images: For, with his right hand, Moses gestures upwards where a cloud appears with the Tetragrammaton, four letters spelling the Hebrew name of God (YHWH in Latin).

    The didactic use of images is obvious in the illustrations of the book of Genesis on the closed portal behind Luther and Moses: the roundels at the top on either side of the arch show Cain killing Abel and the Sacrifice of Isaac, both Old Testament stories which were commonly understood as a prefiguration of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The panels below depict the Flood and Lot’s escape from the burning city of Sodom on the left, God (again in the shape of the Tetragrammaton) creating Eve and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Paradise at the centre, and on the right the exchange of gifts between Abraham and Melchizedek, king of Salem (a story taken from the Book of Hebrews but referring to Genesis) and Jacob blessing the children of Joseph.

    The lettering at the bottom of the print explains how the scenes illustrate the sin of men (the Fall) and their salvation through Grace alone, the central tenet of Luther’s teachings:

    “Look here and admire in God's stewardship/ the fruit of the Fall and Grace and their consequences:/ the paradise is lost, the murderous spirit guzzling blood; / The first world is flooded, and Sodom devoured by flames./ Yet what faith was seen there in Isaac's sacrifice; in what Salem's king did and Jacob's son experienced, / this salvation of sinners is illustrated in rich images, / and Moses's pictures are elucidated by Luther.”