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
In the 16th century, the social and political changes derived from the European religious wars between Catholic and Protestant countries, economic crises, and the Counter-Reformation had an enormous impact on the evolution of visual culture. These transformations drastically changed the way in which the Catholic faithful interacted with works of art. The exemplary uses given to the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints were promoted as intermediaries between God and people. The intense realism in art served precisely this objective, since the faithful could recognize themself in these figures. In addition, the rise of the brotherhoods and penitentiary guilds led to the popularization of behaviors that imitated the Passion of Christ, such as public self-flagellation. Therefore, the Spanish processional sculpture was fully brought forward by many of these brotherhoods. Processions used theatrical resources and were very successful among the people. In the 17th century, the Hispanic baroque aesthetic was strongly linked to the Catholic Church and was especially evident during Holy Week. The public processions and their artistic resources were very successful, so much so that they have survived to the present, evolving and adapting to each period.