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Luther, Death, and Popery

Thursday Lecture Series, Supernatural

dateApril 12, 2018 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Heidi Hausse
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].
Painting of Martin Luther

In 1546, as Luther lay dying, he made one last sally against the Pope: ‘Living I was your plague, Dead I will be your death, O Pope!’ This imprecation was faithfully recorded in the published accounts of Luther’s death by his followers. Why did Luther curse the Pope at such a time? How could this outburst become part of Lutheran memorial culture?

Starting with Karlstadt and Cranach’s Himmelwagen, the first visual propaganda for the Reformation, this lecture explores anti-papalism and anti-monasticism in Lutheran art. In particular it examines the images that circulated with Luther’s late pamphlet Wider das Papsttum zu Rom. Their iconography was closely tied to the text, and we know that Luther had a hand in their design. But they were sold separately. Such images are not straightforwardly propagandist because they are so extreme that they would hardly have converted adherents of the old church. They were not meant literally, and they are full of riotous invention as well as bitter attack. Why were such images produced; and what can they tell us about Lutheran visual culture? More broadly, how can historians contribute to the study of visual culture?