Luther Visualized 18 – Physical Appearance

Martin Luther’s Physical Appearance

Luther historian E. G. Schwiebert wrote that Lucas Cranach’s “zeal in reproducing the Reformer outstripped his talent,” and called it “most regrettable” that Luther was never sketched or painted by a more talented artist like Albrecht Dürer or Hans Holbein the Younger (p. 571). However, while Cranach’s reproductions are not exactly photographic, he and the members of his studio were certainly not lacking in skill.

Apart from Cranach’s reproductions of the man, which began in 1520, there was, to our knowledge, only one earlier depiction of him, an anonymous woodcut (#9 below) on the title page of Ein Sermon geprediget tzu Leipßgk uffm Schloß am tag Petri un pauli ym .xviiij. Jar / durch den wirdigen vater Doctorem Martinum Luther augustiner zu Wittenburgk (A Sermon Preached at the Castle in Leipzig on the Day of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Year [15]19 by the Worthy Father, Doctor Martin Luther, Augustinian in Wittenberg), printed by Wolfgang Stöckel in Leipzig. Both this woodcut, originally printed in reverse, and another anonymous woodcut, not included in this post, are consistent with Schwiebert’s assertion that for “the first thirty-eight years of his life [up until 1521] he was extremely thin” (p. 573). The latter woodcut is consistently depicted but erroneously cited in Luther biographies (e.g. Schwiebert, p. 574, where he calls it the “earliest known likeness” without citation or proof, and Brecht, vol. 1, p. 412, where he gives an erroneous source, as evidenced from the actual source he cites, whose woodcut is based on #1 below).

As for the reproductions originating with Cranach and his studio in Wittenberg during Luther’s lifetime (#8 excepted), they can be classified into 8 groups (medium and year[s] that the depictions originated and flourished in parentheses):

  1. Luther the Monk (copper engraving, 1520; variously copied and embellished by a number of artists)
  2. Luther the Doctor of Theology (paintings, c. 1520; copper engraving, 1521)
  3. Luther as Junker Jörg (paintings and woodcut, 1521-1522)
  4. Luther the Husband (paintings, 1525 & 1526)
  5. The Classic Luther (paintings, 1528-1529)
  6. Luther the Professor (paintings, 1532-1533)
  7. Luther the Aging Man (paintings, 1540-1541)
  8. Luther on His Deathbed (painting based on Lukas Fortennagel’s sketch of the dead Luther, 1546)

The other three visual depictions included below are the already mentioned anonymous woodcut (#9), a sketch of Luther lecturing by Johann Reifenstein (#10), and Fortennagel’s already mentioned painting (#11). Scroll down beneath the engravings, woodcuts, and paintings for more on Luther’s appearance.

1. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk, copper engraving, 1520. The caption reads: “The eternal images of his mind Luther himself expresses, while the wax of Lucas expresses the perishable looks.”

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther with Doctor’s Cap, copper engraving, 1521. The caption reads: “The work of Lucas. This is a transient depiction of Luther; the eternal depiction of his mind he himself expresses.”

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk with Doctor’s Cap, oil on panel, c. 1520 (erroneous “1517” in the upper left-hand corner); housed in a private collection. These paintings circa 1520 are lesser known and therefore both are included here.

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on panel, c. 1520, since transferred to canvas; housed in the Lutherhaus Museum in Wittenberg.

3. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as Junker Jörg [Gentleman George], oil on beechwood, 1521-1522; housed in the Weimar Classics Foundation. Martin Luther likely posed for this painting during his secret trip to Wittenberg in the first half of December 1521, but cf. next image.

3. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as Junker Jörg, woodcut, 1522. The Latin superscription accompanying this woodcut read: “The image of Martin Luther, portrayed as he appeared when he returned from Patmos [Luther’s own biblical nickname for the Wartburg Castle] to Wittenberg.”

4. Lucas Cranach, Portraits of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, oil on beechwood, 1525; housed in the Basel Art Museum.

4. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Portraits of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, oil on beechwood, 1525-1526; housed in the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster.

5. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on panel, 1528; housed in the Art Collections of the Veste Coburg. Cf. the similar painting in the Lutherhaus Museum.

6. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on beechwood, 1533; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. The prototype for this painting, done on parchment in 1532 and housed in Drumlanrig Castle in Thornhill, Scotland, is one of Cranach’s boldest and finest depictions of Luther.

7. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Martin Luther, oil on panel, c. 1541; housed in the Lutherhaus Museum, Wittenberg.

8. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Martin Luther on His Deathbed, oil on oak, 1546; housed in the Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover. See commentary above.

9. Anonymous, Doctor Martin Lutter [sic] Augustinian, woodcut, 1519. See commentary above.

10. Johann Reifenstein, Luther lecturing in the classroom, sketch, 1545. The inscription was added in 1546 by Melanchthon. It begins with oft-quoted words of Luther: “While alive, I was your plague; when I die, I will be your death, O pope.” After some obituary-esque information, it concludes: “Even dead, he lives.”

11. Lukas Fortennagel, The Dead Luther, sketch, February 19, 1546.

While Cranach did have a virtual monopoly on Luther with regard to visual depictions, there are also written depictions that help us to complete our image of the man. Schwiebert gives the most complete treatment on the subject that I have read:

Vergerio, the papal nuncio, noted that Luther had a heavy, well-developed bone structure and strong shoulders… The Swiss student Kessler accidentally met Luther at the Hotel of the Black Bear in Jena when Luther was returning to Wittenberg from the Wartburg, still dressed as a knight. Kessler wrote in his Sabbata that Luther walked very “erect, bending backwards rather than forwards, with face raised toward heaven.” Erasmus Alber, the table companion, described Luther as well-proportioned and spoke of his general appearance in highest praise. …

One important aspect of his general appearance, noted by every observer, was Luther’s unusual eyes. Melanchthon made a casual remark that Luther’s eyes were brown and compared them to the eyes of a lion or falcon. Kessler, when he became Luther’s pupil, observed that his professor had “deep black eyes and brows, sparkling and burning like stars, so that one could hardly bear looking at them.” Erasmus Alber also likened them to falcon’s eyes. Melanchthon added the observation that the eyes were brown, with golden rings around the edges, as in the case of eagles or men of genius. Nikolaus Selnecker also compared Luther’s eyes to those of a hawk, falcon, fox, and eagle, having a fiery, burning sparkle. …

[Roman] Catholics, on the other hand, saw in these eyes diabolic powers. After the first meeting with Luther at Augsburg, [Cardinal] Cajetan would have no more to do with this man, the “beast with the deep-seated eyes,” because “strange ideas were flitting through his head.” Aleander wrote in his dispatches to the Pope that when Luther left his carriage at Worms, he looked over the crowd with “demoniac eyes.” Johannes Dantiscus, later a [Roman] Catholic bishop, visited Wittenberg in 1523 and noticed that Luther’s eyes were “unusually penetrating and unbelievably sparkling as one finds them now and then in those that are possessed.” His enemies also commonly compared him to a basilisk, that fabulous reptile which hypnotizes and slowly crawls upon its helpless prey. …

Another attribute which greatly enhanced Luther’s physical qualifications as a preacher and professor was his voice. It was clear, penetrating, and of pleasing timbre, which, added to its sonorous, baritone resonance, contributed much to his effectiveness as a public speaker. … Luther’s students enjoyed his classroom lectures because of the pleasing qualities of his delivery. Erasmus Alber added that he never shouted, yet his clear, ringing voice could easily be heard.

Sources
Cranach Digital Archive, combined with the power of Google

E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), pp. 571-576

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 318,412

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), Plates between pp. 14 & 15, and p. 378

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Luther Visualized 7 – Trial and Excommunication

The Papal Bull Threatening Luther’s Excommunication

Manuscript of the papal bull Exsurge Domine in which Luther is threatened with excommunication (Vatican Secret Archives, Reg. Vat., 1160, f. 251r)

This is a manuscript of the infamous papal bull (edict) threatening to excommunicate Martin Luther, proclaimed on July 24, 1520. It begins:

Leo etc. For future memory of the matter. Arise, O Lord, and judge your cause. Recall to memory your reproaches of those things that are perpetrated by senseless men all day long. Bend your ear to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to demolish the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trodden. … A wild boar from the forest is endeavoring to destroy it…

Luther had 60 days from September 29 to send a certified retraction of his errors to Rome. Instead, on December 10, Luther appeared with the bull, trembling and praying, before a pyre lit in the carrion pit at Holy Cross Chapel outside the eastern gate of Wittenberg. He cast the bull into the fire with the words, “Because you have confounded the Holy Place [or truth] of God, today he confounds you in this fire [or may eternal fire also confound you]. Amen.”

Pope Leo X issued the actual bull of excommunication, Decet Romanum Pontificem (It Is Proper for the Roman Pontiff), on January 3, 1521.

Sources
Vatican Secret Archives, “The Bull Exsurge Domine by Leo X with Which He Threatens to Excommunicate Martin Luther”

Weimarer Ausgabe 7:183ff

Max Perlbach and Johannes Luther, “Ein neuer Bericht über Luthers Verbrennung der Bannbulle,” in Sitzungsberichte der königlich preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1907), 1:95ff

Luther’s Works 48:192

The Vineyard of the Lord

Lucas Cranach the Younger, The Vineyard of the Lord, oil on panel, 1569 (photo by the Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt)

When Paul Eber (8 Nov 1511 – 10 Dec 1569) was 13, his horse bolted, throwing him from the saddle and dragging him along on the ground for half an hour, leaving him somewhat crooked for the rest of his life. He went on to be professor of Latin at the University of Wittenberg (1541), head preacher at the Castle Church (1557), head pastor of the City Church and general superintendent of the district (1558), and the most influential hymn writer of the Reformation after Luther. When he died, his children commissioned an epitaph from Lucas Cranach the Younger, who chose a vineyard as the theme of the accompanying painting (pictured), which is still on display in the City Church (St. Mary’s) in Wittenberg. In the painting, Eber and his family, including 13 children, are kneeling at the fence on the right hand side. Eber, whose name means “wild boar” (from the Latin aper meaning the same), is holding an open Bible which he has helped to translate. Luther (called a “wild boar” in the papal bull above), Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, and other fellow reformers labor faithfully in the Lord’s vineyard, while the pope and his cardinals, bishops, monks, and nuns do their best to ruin the vineyard.

For more on this painting, read here.

Luther Visualized 6 – Reform

The German Hercules

Hans Holbein the Younger, Hercules Germanicus, woodcut, c. 1519

This was not part of my sermon and service folder series, but I wanted to include it with this online series. In the midst of Martin Luther’s instructional and reformatory writings of 1519 and 1520, Hans Holbein the Younger of Basel produced this woodcut of “The German Hercules.” Luther with his tonsure and Augustinian habit, from which a lion’s skin hangs down protracted, holds a knotty club with long, sharp spikes in his right hand, in order to deal a crushing blow to the last of his opponents, which he holds down by the neck with his left hand. He is Jacob van Hoogstraaten, the Dominican doctor of theology and inquisitor of Cologne. (Perhaps Holbein produced this woodcut after being acquainted with Luther’s 1519 work A Page Against Jacob Hoogstraaten.) A string is drawn from Luther’s nose, which has a strangled pope hanging from the end of it. Beneath Luther the following have already been beaten down so that they lie there powerless: Aristotle, the philosopher; Thomas Aquinas; William of Ockham; an unnamed monk; Nicholas of Lyra, directly beneath Luther’s feet with his commentary on the Bible in hand; Peter Lombard, wearing a beret, virtually crushed by those around him, and holding his book (which reads “L. IV SENTENCIAR” – short for Libri IV Sententiarum [Four Books of Sentences] – in reflected letters); Robert Holcot, an English Dominican scholastic philospher, theologian, and influential Bible scholar; and Duns Scotus, who was known for his commentary on Lombard’s Sentences, is not visible. In the background are some houses, apparently belonging to a village, beneath a mountain. Between the village and the foreground another hooded, tasseled figure makes good his escape.

The colorized version of this woodcut appeared in the eighth book of the Schweizerchronik by Heinrich Brennwald and his son-in-law Johannes Stumpf, for the beginning of the year 1519. Beneath the woodcut are six Latin distichs, which read:

Do you not shudder, wicked Rome, at your enemy Luther,
the German Hercules, as he does away with monsters?

You see, do you not, how he has suspended the tripled Geryon [allusion to the three-tiered papal tiara]
from an aquiline nose, and how the drooping crest wearies the head?

See for yourself with what might he strikes down the raving sophists,
and how the agile club besets the rabid dogs.

Behold, what falls is a multitude gone mad, to whom Cerberus himself
is inferior, and a Hydra reproducing in new throats.

Why not then acknowledge the gallant man as both lord and father,
since you stretched out conquered hands to him when you were stung the first time?

There has been error enough, believe me; be sensible and cleanse yourself again,
or else impure Lerna’s sacred flame awaits you.

In a December 27, 1531, sermon on Isaiah 9:6, in talking about Christ as a Champion who “deals out blows left and right” “without swinging a sword,” Luther wittingly or not paid tribute to this portrayal of himself:

So too today, what have I done to the pope? I have not taken so much as a Heller [or dime] from him. I simply swing the gospel at the monks, nuns, priests, and bishops, and all their errors and idols have fallen to the ground.

Sources
Theophil Burckhardt-Biedermann, “Über Zeit und Anlaß des Flugblattes: Luther als Hercules Germanicus,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde, vol. 4 (1905), pp. 38-40

Martin Luther, Luther at the Manger: Christmas Sermons on Isaiah 9:6 (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017), pp. 49-51

Title page from a first edition of Martin Luther’s Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (Wittenberg, 1520); full book viewable here

1519 and 1520 were truly the years of the Reformation proper, as far as Luther’s writings are concerned. Among his instructional writings were his lectures on Galatians (May 1519, eventually replaced by his 1535 edition); lectures on Psalms 1-21 (1519), Meditation on Christ’s Passion (1519); Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (April 1519); A Brief Form of the Ten Commandments; A Brief Form of the Creed; A Brief Form of the Lord’s Prayer (1520); A Sermon on Preparing to Die (October 1519); A Sermon on Usury (1519); A Sermon on the Sacrament of Penance (1519); A Brief Instruction on How Confession Should Be Made (January 1519) and How to Confess (March 1520); A Sermon on the Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism (1519); A Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods (1519); and his Treatise on Good Works (May 1520).

His two major reformatory writings were To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (June 1520), in which he demanded that the papacy be reformed and celibacy for the priests abolished and proposed that every city should care for its own poor people (leading to the first congregational charity program), and his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520; pictured), in which he denied that there were seven sacraments and confessed only three or two (depending on whether an external element was part of the definition of sacrament), denied the doctrine of transubstantiation and taught the real presence, and taught that priests should be elected and permitted to marry. The latter work gained such notoriety that it was even rebutted by King Henry VIII of England.

Quote of the Week – Sin, Death, and Hell Swallowed Up

I apologize for not sharing any quote last week. This week’s quote is taken from Martin Luther’s Tractate on Christian Liberty (1520). Luther originally intended this tractate as a devotional work to accompany a conciliatory letter to Pope Leo X, at the suggestion of papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz. Luther’s own German translation, On the Freedom of the Christian Person, is more widely read, but the original Latin is clearer and more complete (cf. LW 31:329ff).

[S]ince Christ is God and man, and is so in a person who has not sinned nor dies nor is condemned, for that matter is unable to sin, die, or be condemned, and his righteousness, life, and salvation is unconquerable, eternal, and omnipotent; since, I say, such a person shares in his bride’s sins, death, and hell, and on account of his ring of faithfulness even makes them his own and situates himself in them in no other way than as if they were his own and he himself had sinned – suffering, dying, and descending to hell that he might conquer them all – and sin, death, and hell are unable to swallow him up, then by necessity they have been swallowed up in him in an amazing battle. For his righteousness is greater than the sins of all people; his life is more powerful than all death; his salvation is more invincible than all hell.

Source
Weimarer Ausgabe 7:55

Quote of the Week – Worthily, Not Worthy

The following is taken from A Sermon on the New Testament, that is, on the Holy Mass (1520) by Martin Luther. The work as a whole does not yet represent Luther’s mature thought on the Lord’s Supper, but it does “replace the traditional notion of the mass as a sacrifice with the scriptural teaching of the Lord’s Supper as a testament” (LW 35:77). The very first paragraph is also a masterpiece on the purpose and limitations of the law, and may appear in a subsequent Quote of the Week. In the quote that follows, from paragraph or section 15, Luther helps us to distinguish between taking the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27) and taking it as intrinsically worthy people (which we neither can nor do).

Now if one of these two thoughts should assail you (since even [when we believe Christ’s testament in the Lord’s Supper] these thoughts do not leave)—the first, that you are way too unworthy of such a rich testament, and second, even if you were worthy, what it gives is still so great that human nature shudders when confronted by the greatness of the gifts (for what can be missing when there is forgiveness of all sins and eternal life?)—then, like I said, you must pay more attention to the words of Christ than to such thoughts. He will not lie to you; your thoughts will deceive you.1 If a thousand gulden [or $300,000] were bequeathed to a poor beggar or even to a buffoon, he would not claim it out of his own merit or worthiness, nor would he relinquish it on account of how great the gift was. And if anyone would throw his unworthiness and the greatness of the gift in his face, he would certainly not let any of this scare him away and would say, “How is this your business? I know very well that I am unworthy of the testament. I do not claim it on the basis of my merit, as if anyone owed it to me, but on the basis of the favor and grace of the testator. If he did not think it was too much to bequeath to me, why should I despise myself so, and not claim and take it?”

Source
Weimarer Ausgabe 6:361,362

Endnote
1 Luther has this, intentionally or not, in the form of a memorable rhyme: Er wirt dir nit liegen, deyn gedanckenn werden dich triegen.