Renaissance and Reformation

The motif of the mixed pair is as old as the world. Even stories about the Creation introduce unequal and contradictory pairs: dark and light, heaven and earth, water and land, and even the first human couple: Adam and Eve. These pairs make it clear that there is always more than one point of view from which to understand the world.

The period around 1500, the epoch of the Renaissance and Reformation, also demands to be viewed from different perspectives. It was characterized by upheavals and contradictions: the culture of Christianity was shaken down to its roots and split. The rebirth of antiquity was followed by the renewal of the mind.

The following juxtapositions take up aspects that characterized the creativity and influence of the Reformers and humanists in this turbulent time.

Studious Stay-at-Homes
The initiator of the Reformation is said to have been the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, who in October 1517 published his ninety-five theses—a severe critique of the abuses within the Catholic Church—on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. Luther also called for making the word of God accessible to all the faithful, and he translated the Bible into German. In that respect, he is seen in the tradition of Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin more than a thousand years earlier.
Godless Clergymen
Luther’s criticism and the anger of the Reformers focused above all on inappropriate behavior, corruption, and greed for money in the Catholic Church. The sale of indulgences managed from Rome triggered particular discontent: rather than doing penance, the faithful could buy their way out of their sins with letters of indulgence and escape purgatory.
Cross & Glory
The schism between the old and the new teachings of the church was also reflected on the political level: Beginning with the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, the sovereigns determined the faith of their own region. The Electorate of Saxony, one of the wealthiest German principalities, emerged as the power protecting the Lutheran Reformation. Magnificently decorated armor, saddles, and weapons were produced for its court.
Worldly & Worshipped
The presence of skilled artisans and artists in the cities of the empire is also reflected in their local work; Tilman Riemenschneider, for example, was a leading sculptor in Würzburg. Innovations in printing technology also made it possible to quickly disseminate artistic models and Reformist ideas. Modern visual media such as the woodcut and the broadsheet reached broad sections of the population and visually recruited people for the goals of the Reformers. The heroes of the new age were earthly in nature: Reformers and scholars stood alongside the traditionally worshipped saints.
Sensual & Sinless
Even the most important figures of the Christian faith have secular counterparts at their side. Mary—the robed and virtuous Virgin—embodies the new Eve free of sin. But Eve also has her moment: with a fig leaf held coquettishly before her private parts, she became the pinup of the Reformation period in works by Lucas Cranach the Elder in particular. The same is true of the ancient heroine Lucretia, whose transparent veil attracts the eye and almost emphasizes more than it covers.
Lust & Ruin
The relationship between man and woman has always fascinated artists. Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, however, the theme also has a dark, ruined side, which shaped the imagination during the Renaissance as well. The interplay of eroticism and the decay of the body and of morals had a particular appeal. In the theme of Death and the Maiden, which was very popular in the sixteenth century, Death is the seducer and lover of a young girl—a motif that also resonates in depictions of naked witches.
Lasting Moments
Knowledge of omnipresent transience causes people, on the one hand, to be pious. On the other hand, the gaze turned more and more to this world. In the eyes of the humanists, almost everything deserves close inspection: from the plumage of a hunted partridge to the expression of a crying child. Life should be captured in all its facets—at least in art.
Credits: Story

Online Curation: Nadine Söll, Jutta Dette
Text / Editing: Jutta Dette, Astrid Alexander

Based on: Renaissance and Reformation - German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach, Nov 20, 2016–March 26, 2017, 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, Munich: Prestel, 2016.

© This exhibition was made possible by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, and made possible by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. Additional support is provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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