Representations and visual impacts of the iconoclastic processes of Wittenberg (1517-1522) in 16th century German art.

2017 edition

Ariadna Sotorra Figuerola

The city of Wittenberg played a key role in the evolution of the processes of the Reformation and in the manifestation of the first Protestant iconoclastic acts for different reasons. The first is that the University of Wittenberg, founded in 1502, had the presence of important academic and reformist theologians such as Martin Luther, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, Philipp Melanchthon and Gabriel Zwilling. Also in 1517 with the publishing of the 95 theses, Martin Luther fought against the preaching of indulgences in the archbishopric of Magdeburg, which were used to finance luxurious expenses of the papacy.

During Luther’s “exile” in the castle of Wartburg (Einsenach), between May 1521 and March 1522, the city became the scene of the first revolutionary and iconoclastic actions of the Reformation. Iconoclastic attacks, targeting the Stadtkirche, the Schlosskirche and the Augustinian monastery began in the autumn of 1521 and continued until the spring of 1522.

The iconoclastic disturbances caused a cultural and visual impact on the images created in the later years. This current presentation analyzes the direct and indirect impact of the Bildersturm of Wittenberg through the post-event images.

The methodology proposed for the study of events in Wittenberg is that of visual studies developed by the analysis of artistic vehicles of a different nature, created during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including images, objects and texts. The relationship between the different artistic vehicles allows to reconstruct the atmosphere and the iconoclastic events in Wittenberg between 1517 and 1522.

In order to exemplify this methodology, we present a selection of artistic vehicles, among which we find engravings – Caricature of the sale of indulgences by Tetzel, The path of the pelegrin to the Schöne Maria de Regensburg by Michael Ostendorfer, Allegory of iconoclasy of Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, Karlstatdt as iconoclastic, Lament for the idols, and religious images of Erhard Schön, Wir wöln kein Crüty kein Bilder han (We do not want any more crosses or images) and Den gecreüytygiten Abgott, schlezffen auss mit Kyndschem Spott (Eliminate the Idol crucified with childish mockery); paintings such as The Altar of the Reformation by Lucas Cranach the Elder or The Four Apostles by Albrecht Dürer; The coffers of indulgences and the text of Karlsatdt Von Abtuhung der Bylder.