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 [Squire 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

Luther Visualized 11 – German Peasants’ Revolt

German Peasants’ Revolt (1524-1525)

Title page of Martin Luther’s addendum to Admonition to Peace, titled Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes. This is a reprint of just the addendum by Johann Weyßenburger (Landshut, 1525), available from the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

In early May 1525 Martin Luther returned to Wittenberg from a trip to Thuringia, during which he had seen firsthand the rebelliousness and violence of the protesting peasants. He promptly wrote and published an addendum to his earlier work, Admonition to Peace, entitling it Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes. He urged swift and decisive action against the “poisonous” rebels. This woodcut, from the cover page of a Landshut reprinting of the addendum, depicts a peasant with a sword and his plundered goods. The fluttering paper says, “Esteem God.” This woodcut is doubtless meant to be an indictment against the rebellious peasants, in harmony with the work itself. They ought to esteem God, not the things of this world. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). The verse beneath the woodcut is Psalm 7:16: “His intrigue will meet up with himself, and his ill-will will be vented on him.”

The German Peasants’ Revolt and the Sacramentarian Controversy (yet to be covered in this series) hindered the momentum of the Reformation more than anything else. With his Admonition to Peace, Luther strained his relationship with the nobility, and with his addendum Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes, he isolated himself from many of the peasants. On the whole Luther, as usual, was simply walking the narrow biblical path: On the one hand, “rulers are not appointed to exploit their subjects for their own profit and advantage, but to be concerned about the welfare of their subjects.” On the other hand, God clearly forbids rebellion against the government (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-17) and arbitrarily taking the law into one’s own hands (Matthew 26:52). If Christians are being persecuted by their government, they can either use the legal channels available to address the wrongs (while patiently enduring in the meantime), or they can flee somewhere else (Matthew 10:23). But “rebellion is intolerable.” Luther would later accurately describe their attempt to advance the kingdom of God through opposition to the governing authorities as “fishing for the net” (i.e. going about things completely backwards).

However, even though Luther claimed to be writing Admonition to Peace “in a friendly and Christian spirit,” he presented his correct biblical position in harsh language in both that work and especially in the addendum. Luther also went too far in the addendum and actually contradicted himself when he advised “everyone who can” to “smite, slay, and stab” the rebellious peasants, “secretly or openly,” since he had correctly said in Admonition to Peace that “no one, by his own violence, shall arrogate authority to himself.” Even though a dispassionate reading of the rest of the addendum strongly suggests that he is giving this advice to the ruling authorities alone, that is not the impression given at the beginning.

Sources
Luther’s Works 46:3-55

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 172ff

Martin Luther, Luther at the Manger (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017), p. 51

Title page of Johann Fundling’s book Demonstration of Luther’s Two False Tongues—How He Has Misled the Peasants with the One and Condemned Them with the Other. This is a reprint by Johann Weyßenburger (Landshut, 1526).

In the wake of Luther’s Admonition to Peace and Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes, Johann Fundling, a Franciscan monk from Mainz, penned a scathing critique of these two works, sometimes also called Fifty-Five Astonishing Things. The woodcut on the cover page portrays Luther on the left attempting to seduce the peasant on the right with his teachings. Above the woodcut Ecclesiasticus 28:13 is cited: “The whisperer and the double-tongued is cursed, for many who have had peace he has troubled and perplexed.”

Initially styling himself anonymously as “Admiratus [Latin for astonished] the Wonderer,” Fundling attempted to point out all of Luther’s contradictions in these two works, both within the works themselves and when compared to his previous works. Fundling called Luther’s teachings “mouse crap” and questioned, for instance, how Luther could call Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer “prophets of murder” when he had previously spoken highly of them. Perhaps the climax comes when Fundling begins addressing Luther’s addendum. First he quotes Luther:

But before I could even inspect the situation, [the peasants] forgot their promise and violently took matters into their own hands and are robbing and raging like mad dogs. … [They] are violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs.

Then Fundling, speaking as “the Wonderer” astonished at Luther’s words, responds:

Listen here, you traitorous and unfaithful Metius Fufetius,* isn’t that exactly what you instructed and told not only the peasants but the whole world to do? Long ago, in your propositions on vows (or reproaches of them) that you addressed to the heretical men at Wittenberg that you have made out to be bishops, you said: “This is the sense of the monastic vow: I vow to you, God, that I will lead an irreligious and sacrilegious or God-ignoring life all my days” [#34 of Luther’s Theses on Vows of 1521]. Therefore, you say, the monastic vows should not only be shattered and dissolved, but also severely punished, and all the cloisters of the earth likewise, since they are idol temples and Satanic whorehouses of the devil.

To this day, Luther’s biblical distinction between the two kingdoms, Church and State, and the means for carrying out God’s work in each continue to be misunderstood.

Endnote
* A general of the army of Alba Longa known for his treachery; he violated a treaty with Rome by withdrawing his troops from a battle between Rome and Fidenae and then waiting to see which side would win.

Luther Visualized 9 – At the Wartburg

Luther at the Wartburg Castle

Luther Room at the Wartburg Castle (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018)

This was Martin Luther’s room at the Wartburg Castle, after he was “kidnapped” for his own safety on his way home from Worms. He lived here from May 4, 1521, to March 1, 1522, with the exception of a secret trip to Wittenberg in the first half of December 1521. It was also in this room that Luther translated the entire Greek New Testament into German in less than 11 weeks, between December 1521 and February 1522. None of the furniture is original except possibly the whale vertebra, which was in the castle’s possession at Luther’s time and which Luther may have used as a footstool.

Sources
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 1,29-30,41-42,46-47

Wolfram Nagel, “Outlawed and unrecognized at Wartburg Castle”

Matthäus Merian der Ältere, Eisenach, copperplate engraving, 1650 (coloring subsequent)

On May 3, 1521, on his way home from Worms, Luther preached in Eisenach and then headed south for a short stay with relatives in Möhra. Johann Petzensteiner, a fellow Augustinian monk, and Nikolaus von Amsdorf, a colleague at the University of Wittenberg, accompanied him. On May 4 Luther and his companions took leave of his relatives and rode east in their covered wagon, circling around the Altenstein Palace to the south through the village of Steinbach. As they were headed north through the ravine, the party was attacked by armed horsemen. Petzensteiner immediately jumped from the wagon and fled. Luther just had time to grab his New Testament and Hebrew Bible before being snatched from the wagon. He ran alongside the horsemen until they were out of sight, and then was given a mount. The horsemen took lengthy detours in order to mislead any pursuers before leading their captive to the Wartburg south of Eisenach at 11 p.m.

Luther Monument northeast of the Altenstein Palace (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018), marking the approximate place where Luther was “kidnapped” for his own safety. A beech tree called the “Luther Beech,” which allegedly dated back to the event, was used to mark the spot for centuries, until it came down in a storm in 1841. Duke Bernhard Erich Freund of Saxony-Meiningen had this monument erected at the same spot in 1857.

The above engraving of Eisenach, the city where Luther also attended school from 1498-1501, appeared in Martin Zeiler’s famous Topographia Germaniae series, specifically Topographia Superioris Thüringiae, Misniae, Lusatiae etc (Frankfurt am Main: Matthaeus Merian, 1650), between pages 48 and 49. The city is viewed from the north-northeast, with the Wartburg Castle, built in 1069 according to Zeiler, on the hill overlooking the town. Note how different the castle looked in 1650 from the present day castle. (The various changes undergone by the castle are well documented by models on display there.) The numbers in the engraving identify the following:

  1. Royal Residential Castle
  2. City Church of St. George
  3. Town Hall
  4. The Kloeÿ [?]
  5. St. Nicholas Church
  6. The Bell-House
  7. The Royal Shooting Ditch
  8. Dominican Monastery
  9. Foundation of St. Mary
  10. St. Anne Hospital
  11. Our Lady’s Gate
  12. Clachs [?] Gate
  13. St. George’s Gate
  14. Dominican Gate
  15. The Nuss [Nesse] and Hersel [Hörsel] Rivers
  16. Wartburg Castle
  17. The Modelstein, where a castle once stood
  18. Here the Eisenach Fortress once stood

Luther Visualized 8 – The Diet at Worms

Luther’s Stand Before the Diet at Worms

Anton von Werner, Luther at the Diet at Worms, oil on canvas, 1877

This painting depicts Luther’s famous stand before the Holy Roman Emperor on April 18, 1521. The emperor, Charles V, sits beneath the curtained canopy, with bishops and cardinals surrounding him. The presiding official, Johann von der Eck, is holding a parchment in his right hand. Luther tells the assembly, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything…”

Sources
Weimarer Ausgabe 7:814ff, esp. p. 838

Luther’s Works 32:101ff

Some Diet at Worms Trivia

  1. Two contemporaries of Luther, Daniel Greser and Helius Eobanus Hessus, record that when Luther preached at the Augustinian church in Erfurt on his way to Worms, “the church was so full of people that the balcony groaned and everyone thought it was going to collapse, and so a few people also knocked the windows out and would have jumped out onto the churchyard if Luther had not reassured them and told them to stay put. He said the devil was up to his usual mischief and they should just stay put; nothing bad was going to happen.” He may have even addressed the devil himself: “I know your tricks, you bitter enemy!” The people did stay put, there was no accident, and Luther went on to deliver a beautiful gospel sermon (available in English in Luther’s Works 51:60ff).
  2. diet back then had nothing to do with food. In basic terms, a diet was a regular, representative imperial business meeting for the Holy Roman Empire. These meetings or assemblies were attended by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Imperial Estates of the empire. The Imperial Estates were divided into three chambers—the Council of Electors, the Council of Princes, and the Council of Free and Imperial Cities. These representatives would hold discussions and make decisions pertaining to the problems, reform, and maintenance of the empire.
  3. On the first day of Luther’s trial at Worms, April 17, he was much more subdued and seemed to be nervous. It seems that he was still hoping to get a fair hearing. He quickly realized, however, that as an excommunicated man he was only going to be asked to acknowledge his writings and to retract them. It was a deciding moment and Luther requested time for thought; he was granted one day. He was much more prepared, confident, and bold on the second day.
  4. Before Luther gave his famous summary speech concluding with “I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand,” etc. on the second day of his trial (April 18), he gave a much longer speech in which he classified his books into three categories, in order to show that they could not all be treated the same, even by his opponents. He actually gave this speech in German first, and then repeated it in Latin. He may have given his famous summary speech in both languages too. (This might account for the debate over whether or not he actually said the famous words, “Here I stand.”) By the time he was finished with all that talking at the end of the day’s proceedings, Luther was sweating heavily in the hot and overcrowded hall.
  5. Among those in attendance at the Diet at Worms was the somewhat famous Renaissance composer Ludwig Senfl, who eventually began a correspondence with Luther in 1530 and even sent him one of his motets. Scholars are divided, however, on whether Senfl became a Protestant.
  6. Even many Lutherans think that Luther exited the Diet at Worms in the metaphorical blaze of glory after his famous “Here I stand” speech. While the proceedings for that day (April 18) did conclude shortly after Luther’s remarks, there were more private negotiations between Luther and a specially formed commission of ten men on the days following. Since Luther refused to back down from his biblical position and no agreement could be reached, Johann von der Eck visited him for the last time on April 25, warned him that the emperor was going to take action against him, and told him he should return home within 21 days.
  7. The resulting Edict of Worms, issued on May 25 and backdated to May 8, was the fiercest edict ever issued by a German emperor. It said that Luther and his sympathizers could be arrested or killed, and that his followers should be driven from their homes and anyone who wished could appropriate their belongings.
  8. There have always been behind-closed-doors aspects of politics that will remain shrouded in mystery until Judgment Day: Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, Luther’s governing prince, requested that he be exempted from enforcing the Edict of Worms, and Emperor Charles V inexplicably granted his request.

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, on the grave slab for Paul Eber in the Wittenberg Parish Church (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.