The Reformation and the Visual Arts

While the impact of the Reformation on music is widely recognized, its substantial outcome on the visible humanities is not. Partly this is given Protestants are widely regarded as iconoclasts who deserted eremite art altogether. Many people trust that Protestantism’s only grant to the visible humanities was to secularize them.

Although Protestant artists clearly did not furnish the same kinds of eremite art as the Catholic artists of the time, they positively did paint eremite works. In many cases, even their “secular” work contained devout themes encoded in the paintings.

Albrecht Dürer

Not surprisingly, the beginning Protestant artists embellished in styles very suggestive of Catholic painters of the day. In some cases, it isn’t wholly transparent what a painter’s eremite views were. Albrecht Dürer, for example, embellished many of his many critical works as a Catholic before the Reformation. He voiced indebtedness for Luther, but it is not transparent possibly he became a Protestant. There may be a hint, however, in his paintings of the Last Supper before and after the 95 Theses in 1517. His 1510 painting, “The Last Supper,” following Catholic iconography, does not have a mug on the table; his 1523 portrayal does. Some scholars trust that this change reflects Luther’s perspective that the laity should accept the crater at the Eucharist, not simply the priests (as had been the case in the Catholic Church).

Lucas Cranach

The eremite views of other painters are much clearer. Lucas Cranach the Elder embellished both before and after the Reformation began, but he was a close co-operator with Luther. Cranach’s character did not change much, but the calm of his paintings positively did. The best instance of this is Cranach’s “Law and Grace,” which he embellished in conference with Luther as a impressive depiction of Luther’s divinity and its contrariety with Catholicism.

Luther believed that eremite art should learn sound theology. Although Luther likely was wavering about depicting God visually at first, he eventually allowed Cranach to paint images of Christ and even of the Father, and to embody them in engravings in his Bible.

Meanwhile, Cranach continued portrayal normal eremite themes. Judith and Holofernes, a story from the Apocrypha, was a favorite subject, and paintings of saints and biblical stories continued to be renouned among Cranach’s patrons. However, he embellished fewer and fewer Madonnas over time, many likely also reflecting the interests of his patrons.

Engravings were also an critical partial of Lutheran art, quite given copy allowed mass placement of the images. As with paintings, engravings promoted Protestant ideas, presented Luther and Melanchthon as heroes (including as the Two Witnesses in Revelation), and criticized and mocked Catholic ideas and people. Later, the targets would enhance to embody non-Lutheran Protestants, including Calvin.

Images in the Reformed Tradition

The Reformed tradition was much some-more changeable about eremite art than the Lutherans were. As we remarkable in the prior article, Reformed Christianity deserted the use of images in churches as distractions from the ecclesiastics of the Word. This was reinforced by the Regulative Principle, that only what is specifically ordered in Scripture can be enclosed in worship.

Further, many Reformed thinkers argued that the Second Commandment prohibits any depiction of God. Such depictions fundamentally crush the bargain of who He is given they disguise some-more than they reveal. This anathema extends even to depictions of Jesus: even yet He has a human nature, He is also God and so is enclosed in the prohibition.

As a result, Reformed Christians are mostly seen as iconoclasts, rejecting eremite art altogether in preference of portraits, landscapes and seascapes, still lifes, and scenes of daily life.

Genre Paintings

However appealing this end competence be on the surface, it is dubious on deeper inspection. First, Reformed Protestantism put a clever importance on the informative mandate, that is, the shortcoming before God to build culture, which so means that all of life is sacred. Depictions of a well-ordered domicile (or, in the case of 17th-century Dutch painter Jan Steen, totally jumbled households) so make theological statements even yet their subjects are not sincerely religious.

Theological messages were mostly encoded in these paintings. For example, early complicated still lifes , while they forked to wealth and the good life, almost always have a memento mori, that is, something to remind the spectator of the flitting of time and the karma of death, such as a snuffed candle, an hourglass, a skull, a half-peeled piece of fruit, or an overturned glass.

Reformed Religious Art

Further, not everybody within the Reformed tradition deserted depictions of Jesus. For example, Rembrandt outpost Rijn embellished a far-reaching operation of biblical scenes, including many from the life of Christ. (He also embellished scenes from Tobit, a book in the Apocrypha not supposed as authorized by Protestants.)

Stylistically, Rembrandt’s eremite paintings are considerably opposite from paintings constructed by Catholic artists, quite those with a Counter-Reformational focus. The Catholic paintings naturally focused on Catholic themes, such as the saints and sacraments, but many were rarely charged emotionally, depicting martyrdoms, for example, and using extreme contrasts to worsen the visible impact.

Rembrandt’s eremite paintings seem almost native by comparison. Rembrandt’s portrayal of the “Supper at Emmaus,” for example, depicts a very human and standard Jesus (except for the pragmatic halo) sitting down with very standard friends. Most of his paintings have a common tone, nonetheless Rembrandt, depending on the subject, can and does use the techniques of Counter-Reformation artists. For example, his Ascension would fit very good with Catholic sensibilities of the day. On the whole, though, his paintings etch Jesus and the saints as elementary people in gripping with the Protestant doctrine of the ecclesiastics of all believers and the virtue of the ordinary. These are the same themes that surprise the Protestant traditions of congregational singing and giving both the bread and the booze in Communion to the laity.

Monumental Art

This brings us to a final eminence between Protestant and Catholic art in the period. While Catholic churches continued to furnish staggering art and elaborate altarpieces, and used a good understanding of bullion leaf, quite in frames and sculpture, Protestants elite smaller, private commissions. There were several reasons. One of the grievances people had against the Catholic Church was its insistence on collecting tithes and then using them for gold, jewels, and elaborate musical programs in churches. People suspicion the Catholic Church was getting abounding off them. So churches shortly stopped commissioning elaborate altarpieces and large-scale art for the churches, even in Lutheran areas.

Along with this rejecting of celebrated expenditure (and the tithes indispensable to fund it), Reformed aesthetics of whitewashed churches bereft of statues or stained-glass windows also apparently separated the kind of large-scale musical programs so standard of Catholic churches of the period. And in The Netherlands, the country’s prolonged fight for autonomy from Spain also contributed to a rejecting of staggering art, which was compared not just with Spanish Catholicism, but also with the Spanish monarchy. The Dutch Republic so saw it as inapt both theologically and politically.

Wrapping It Up

As we bring this series to a close, it is worth reflecting quickly on because the Protestant Reformation, a eremite movement, changed enlightenment on so many levels.

In the postmodern universe today, sacrament is just one aspect of life, seen as mostly away from all else (except maybe for ethics and morality). In the Gothic world, however, sacrament supposing the simple horizon ruling all of life:

  • When you were born, you perceived your name at benediction in the church;
  • Your contention had a enthusiast saint, and if you were in a guild, you had eremite duties compared with your work;
  • Religious rituals sanctified the fields to help safeguard their fertility;
  • The church dynamic whom you could marry, using both biological and devout reciprocity to establish how closely you were associated to equivocate incest;
  • You married, if at all, in a church;
  • Social gratification and gift were rubbed possibly by eremite orders or by confraternities, lay eremite organizations;
  • Religious leaders such as bishops were partial of polite government;
  • When you were on your deathbed, the clergyman came to console you;
  • When you died, you were buried in the churchyard;
  • The church regulated probate law given it was a form of dedicated vow.

Despite the obvious crime in the Catholic Church of the late Middle Ages, its position was unassailable—it had a corner on the means of salvation. If you wanted to go to heaven, your only track was believed to be by the Catholic Church’s sacraments.

When Luther rediscovered justification by faith in Scripture, the Catholic corner on shelter was broken. This growth had a large sputter outcome by all that the Catholic Church touched, including the family, work and the economy, politics, law, the humanities … literally every area of life. And in the process, for good and ill, the Protestant Reformation laid the substructure for the complicated world.


Glenn Sunshine is a highbrow of early complicated European story specializing in the Reformation at Central Connecticut State University and a comparison associate of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Image: “Supper at Emmaus” by Rembrandt outpost Rijn, Wikimedia Commons

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