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

Advertisements

Luther Visualized 10 – Return to Wittenberg

Luther’s Return to Wittenberg

Anonymous, Witenburg, watercolor, 1537, from Das Reisealbum des Pfalzgrafen Ottheinrich

The city of Wittenburg is viewed from the south, with the Elbe River in the foreground. On the far left is the palace suburb outside the Coswig Gate. Prominent on the left, in the city itself, is the Electoral Castle or Palace, of which the famous Castle Church was a part. To the east, along the south wall, you can see the Dragon Head Turret at the Elbe Gate. Prominent in the center of the city is the Parish Church of St. Mary, where Martin Luther preached more than 2000 sermons. The University of Würzburg identifies the large building to the east of St. Mary’s as the town hall, but it was inaccurately located by the artist. (It was west of St. Mary’s.) Proceeding east from there, the two notable buildings are the so-called Old Frederickian College of the University of Wittenberg (built in 1503) and the Luther House, respectively.

Upon Luther’s return from the Wartburg in 1522, he preached a series of eight consecutive sermons in the Parish Church, starting on March 9, Invocavit Sunday or the First Sunday in Lent, in order to rectify the prevailing unrest and the spirit of extreme reform. They remain some of his finest sermons, and showcase Luther’s biblical, balanced, and level-headed approach to reform.

In November 1536 Count Palatine Otto Henry departed from Neuberg with a retinue of about 50 persons. Threatened with bankruptcy, he traveled to Krakow to collect on his Polish grandmother Hedwig’s dowry, which had never been paid. Succeeding in his purpose, he began his return trip on January 17, 1537, and took a circuitous route home. He is documented as being in Wittenberg on February 11-12, during which time an anonymous artist in his retinue sketched the city, as he had done with all the other rest stops. The sketch was later made into an ink drawing and finished with watercolors and coating paints. (The mountains were added for effect.) It is the earliest known representation of Wittenberg in humanity’s possession today.

Sources
“Die Reise des Pfalzgrafen Ottheinrich 1536/1537” (University of Würzburg Library)

John W. Doberstein and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. A. Steimle, rev. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 51:67ff

You can also view the more detailed 1744 woodcut by Johann Wilhelm Bossögel, Accurate Depiction of the Highly Distinguished City of Wittenberg in AD 1611, the Famous Home of Electoral Saxony, the Mother and Propagatrix of the Restored Light of the Saving Faith. Here is a guide to the lettering:

A. The Electoral Castle or Palace
B. The Castle Church
C. The Town Hall
D. The Parish Church of St. Mary
E. New Frederickian College (university building completed in 1511)
F. Old Frederickian College (university building built in 1503)
G. Philipp Melanchthon’s House
H. Augusteum or Augustan College (university building completed c. 1571)
I. Augustinian Cloister or Dr. Luther’s House
K. The Elster Gate
L. The Cemetery
M. The Chapel on the Churchyard
N. The Elbe Gate
O. The Dragon Head Turret
P. The Gray Cloister (Franciscan monastery)
Q. Jurists’ College
R. The Town Mill
S. The Ramparts and Ditches
T. The Castle or Palace Gate, or Coswig Gate
V. The Suburbs

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

Quote of the Week – Let It Rain Enemies

The following is taken from Martin Luther’s letter to Elector Frederick the Wise, penned at Borna and dated March 5, 1522. While Luther was “kidnapped” at the Wartburg Castle, his university colleague Andreas Karlstadt was rushing forward with all sorts of changes in worship that the people were not ready for. The neighboring Duke George of Leipzig in Albertine Saxony, a devoted Catholic, heard about the changes and vowed to put an end to them and to “the Lutheran heresy.” Thus Martin Luther decided to return to Wittenberg from the safety of the castle—at risk to his life, since he was still an outlaw—so as to put a stop to the hasty changes and restore order in Wittenberg, and to stop the slanders of Duke George. Elector Frederick the Wise did not want Luther to return, but here is what Luther had to say, as he was already on his way back to Wittenberg…

[T]he devil knows quite well that I did not [hide out in the Wartburg Castle] out of any fear. He could see my heart just fine when I entered Worms; he saw that if I had known that as many devils were lying in wait for me as there are tiles on the roofs, I still would have jumped right into their midst with joy.

Now Duke George is still far from the equal of a single devil. And since the Father of boundless mercy has made us gallant lords over all the devils and death through the gospel, and has given us such a wealth of confidence that we may dare to address him, “Dearest Father!”, Your Electoral Grace can see for himself that it is the greatest insult to such a Father not to trust him enough to know that we are also lords over Duke George’s wrath.

I know this much about myself at any rate: If affairs were the same in Leipzig as they are in Wittenberg, I would still ride right in, even if (Your Electoral Grace will pardon my silly speech) it rained nothing but Duke Georges for nine days and each one were nine times as furious as the one we have. He treats my Lord Christ like a doll-man woven out of straw; my Lord and I can certainly endure that for a while.

Source
Weimarer Ausgabe, Briefwechsel 2:455