The Papal Ass and the Monk’s Calf were among the most popular caricatures of the Reformation era. They illustrate a satirical broadsheet edited by Luther and Melanchthon in 1523 that attacked the papacy and the excesses of the monks. Deformities were regarded as warnings from God and harbingers of approaching disaster. Illustrations of them satisfied the curiosity and sensationalism of the population. The authors took advantage of these when Melanchthon connected a monster supposedly found dead in the Tiber in 1496 to the pope, while Luther interpreted a calf born in Saxony with a tonsure-like malformation on its head as a member of an order, apparently after he had been denigrated himself by a similar depiction. Numerous reprints and copies of these woodcuts testify to the effectiveness of these designs.


  • Title: Papal Ass
  • Creator: Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder
  • Date Created: 1523
  • Physical Dimensions: image: 14.6 × 10.5 cm, sheet: 20.9 × 14.6 cm
  • Technique and Material: Woodcut
  • Provenance: Acquired in 1900 from G. Hess, Munich
  • Museum: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett
  • Inv.-No.: A 1900–662
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-845516
  • External Link: http://www.skd.museum/de/museen-institutionen/residenzschloss/kupferstich-kabinett/
  • Copyright: Photo © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett/ Andreas Diesend; Text © Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach, A Cooperation of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nov 20, 2016 – March 26, 2017, Munich: Prestel, 2016; cat. no. 40 / Claudia Schnitzer
  • Catalogue: https://prestelpublishing.randomhouse.de/book/Renaissance-and-Reformation/Stephanie-Buck/Prestel-com/e504919.rhd
  • Artist Dates: 1472 Kronach–1553 Weimar
  • Artist Biography: Cranach, whose name derived from his birthplace, Kronach, was presumably trained by his father. Around 1502 Cranach was staying in Vienna, where he produced his first documented works. In 1504 Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony called him to his court in Wittenberg, where Cranach would head a very large, extremely productive workshop. The Cranach factory was active in prints as well as paintings. His many portraits of Martin Luther—the Cranach and Luther families were close friends—and his altarpieces with decidedly Reformist programs made Cranach and his memorable style the epitome of Protestant visual culture. Nevertheless, Cranach was also active for Luther’s adversaries, such as Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg.

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