In the mind of Martin Luther, images were first and foremost adiaphora and, as such, neither good nor bad. However, Luther spoke out firmly against the worship of images, as did other reformers. Based on his own anthropology, he countered the misuse of images by suggesting correct ways of using them, on the basis that man could only discover true faith through the mediation of images. For many years, researchers emphasized Luther’s negative attitude to images as a medium and highlighted the shift from a pre-Reformation culture of piety to the reformatory emphasis on the Scriptures. However, more recent examinations of liturgical practices and the link between art and politics, involving innovative methods, as well as some degree of imagination, have not only traced the development of a specific visual culture in Lutheranism but also highlighted their identity-creating function in denominational conflicts. What follows is an overview of the major image and media categories as portraits, allegories, altarpieces and epitaphs which influenced the visual culture of the Reformation. Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553) and his youngest son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586) were at the very center of this activity, together with their productive Wittenberg workshop. From the very beginning of the Reformation right through to the 1580s, both liaised with Luther, Melanchthon, and other Wittenberg reformers, respectively accompanying and decisively shaping the development of Protestantism with their pictures. What is more and of equal importance, the influence of their work is reflected in the popularity of their style in Protestant territories throughout the Empire during the 16th century.
Elke Anna Werner
Marjorie Elizabeth Plummer
Although born in the territory of the Counts of Mansfield, Luther’s connection to Saxony began early. He attended school in Eisenach (1498–1501), located in electoral Saxony, and enrolled in university (1501–1505) and later entered the Augustinian monastery (1505–1508) in Erfurt, an independent city with close economic and political ties to Saxony. Luther’s association with Saxony and its electors, however, was sealed with his 1508 arrival at the University of Wittenberg, followed by his return to Wittenberg in 1511, where he was to reside for the most remainder of his adult life. His relationship with the rulers in Ernestine and Albertine Saxony and their reaction to his reform movement proved fundamental to Luther’s life and career, just as Luther has become inextricably linked to the history of Saxony and Wittenberg. Scholars have concentrated on Luther’s interactions with the elector of Saxony Frederick III, “the Wise” (1463–1525, r. 1486–1525), during the early Reformation. Less scholarly attention has been paid to the relationship between Luther and the electors of Saxony during the reign of Frederick’s brother John the Steadfast (1468–1532, r. 1525–1532) and nephew John Frederick (1503–1554, r. 1532–1547), despite the vital role that these rulers played during the development of the new confessional identity. Discussions of Luther’s interaction with these Saxon electors were featured in 16th-century publications and art as well as early histories of the Reformation and of Saxony. Over the course of subsequent centuries, the relationship between Luther and the Ernestine electors has become central to the story of the Reformation and to Saxon history.