The Reformation is Saxony's most significant contribution to world history. This epoch-making Christian movement decisively reshaped the early modern world.
Martin Luther's stand on the indulgence controversy and the rapid circulation of his writings turned smoldering discontent with the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy into raging flames. Luther was supported by a number of secular rulers, partly for political reasons. His ideas were also embraced in a genuinely popular movement, and his theology was spread in Germany by numerous preachers. Church liturgy was transformed, congregational singing stimulated, and new modes of communal living evolved. The decrees of rulers and cities gave the Reformation a firm organizational foundation through independent state churches. After decades of conflict, the Religious Peace of Augsburg granted freedom of worship to Protestants in 1555.
These tumultuous developments are mirrored in the Saxon State Library's holdings, which include nearly complete runs of contemporary newspapers, controversial pamphlets, and the writings of Luther, his fellow Protestants, and his opponents. Of special value are the holograph manuscripts and letters of the reformers, a representative selection of which are included in the exhibition.
A crucifixion by Albrecht Dürer, ca. 1498
This work contains illustrations by the renowned artist, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). The book includes three woodcut series: the Life of the Virgin Mary, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and the Apocalypse. The woodcuts were first gathered in one volume and printed with the Latin verses of Benedict Chelidonius in 1511. This example owes its special charm to the colorful floral border and its illumination probably done in Dürer's workshop.
Albrecht Dürer "Passio Domini Nostri Jesu" ("The Passion of Our Lord Jesus") Nuremberg, 1511, leaves 24b, 25a Paper (15)Image of title page
Theuerdank, an allegorical poem by Emperor Maximilian I
Maximilian's (1459-1519) Theuerdank, is one of several planned literary works to be published during his lifetime. No other book of the time compares with it in typographic and artistic workmanship. Written with the assistance of the court poet, Melchior Pfinzing, in the tradition of the heroic epics, this poem describes the courtship of young Maximilian (Theuerdank) and Maria, heiress of the Kingdom of Burgundy. It is one of the earliest books written in Fraktur, a German text style, and is enhanced with woodcuts of everyday life by Hans Burgkmair, Hans Schäufelein, and Leonhard Beck.
Melchior Pfinzing Theuerdank Augsburg, 1519, pp. 364, 365 Paper (16)
Elector Frederick the Wise
The Elector Frederick the Wise (1463-1525) played an important role in the Reformation and in the life of Martin Luther. A man of profound religious beliefs and broad education, his court was a vital center of humanistic studies, the arts and music. In 1502 he founded the University of Wittenberg, where Luther became a professor in 1512. When Luther's actions ignited the Reformation, the Elector granted him protection. In 1521, for example, he provided Luther safe conduct to the Imperial Diet in Worms and then asylum in Wartburg.
Author unknown Wahrhaftige Abcontrafactur und Bildnis aller Grossherzogen von Sachsen (Authentic Representations and Portraiture of All the Grand Dukes of Saxony) Dresden, 1586, p.24a Vellum (19)
Luther's On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520
This work, which features Martin Luther's portrait, first appeared in Latin and was directed against Catholic sacramental teaching. Of the seven sacraments, Luther considered only baptism and communion, and to some degree, confession, sacraments of Christ. In the case of communion, he rejected the notions that it was a sacrifice to God and that the elements are transformed (transubstantiation).
Martin Luther Von dem babylonischen Gefängnis der Kirche (On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church) Wittenberg, 1520, title page Paper (21)
Twelve Articles of the Swabian peasants made during the Peasants' War, 1524-1526
The twelve Articles drafted by the Swabian peasants, March 1525, is the best known manifesto of the Peasants' War of 1524-1526. Relying on the Gospel, the peasants demanded free election of the clergy, abolition of serfdom, permission to hunt and fish, free use of the forests, and reduction of their burdens. The document went through twenty-five printings within a few weeks. At the collapse of the revolt all copies were confiscated. This is a rare surviving copy of the pamphlet.
Author unknown Handlung, Artikel und Instruction von allen Rotten und Haufen der Bauern (Act, Articles and Instruction Concerning all Gangs and Mobs of Farmers) 1525, title page Paper(26)
This genealogy contains portraits of secular and ecclesiastic princes and other persons of rank, with their wives. It begins with legendary times and continues to the mid-sixteenth century. Accompanying the colored drawings, in the style of Lucas Cranach, are coats of arms and explanatory texts in verse form. This opening shows Elector Frederick the Wise (1463-1525) and his brother and successor Johann the Constant (1468-1532), who supported the Reformation and introduced the Lutheran worship service in Saxony.
Author unknown Sächsisches Stammbuch. Sammlung von Bildnissen sächsischer Fürsten (Saxon Genealogy. Collection of Portraits of Saxon Electors), ca. 1550 Paper (28)
Letter from Luther to Duchess Katharina of Saxony, 1539
Duke Georg, ruler of Albertinian Saxony (1471-1539), opposed Luther's Reformation in his state. However, his successor and younger brother, Heinrich (1473-1541) sympathized with the Reformation, supported by his wife Duchess Katharina (1487-1561), for years a follower of Luther. The Reformation proceeded in the Duchy, though with resistance in Leipzig on the part of monks, university theologians and members of the City Council. In his letter of July 28, 1539, opening with the words, "Because my esteemed Lord Duke Heinrich [is] old and frail...," Luther sought Katharina's encouragement for the Reformation in the Duchy.
Martin Luther to Duchess Katharina of Saxony Wittenberg, July 28, 1539 Autograph letter (34)
Commentaries on and portraits of Saxon Electors, 1570
Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous, depicted here, was Elector from 1532 to 1547. He maintained close relations with Luther, whom he regarded as his "spiritual father." A defender of Protestantism, he was instrumental in founding the Schmalkaldic League (1530), designed to resist the Catholic Emperor Charles V; in reforming the church through the second visitation (1533-1535); and in establishing consistories (1539). In 1547 he was taken prisoner by Charles V in the Battle of Mühlberg and lost his territory and title of Elector.
Author unknown Imagines Electorum Saxoniae (Images of the Electors of Saxony) Wittenberg, 1570, p. 9 Paper (35)
Luther placed great value on congregational singing, a view shared by Johann Spangenberg (1484-1550), a Protestant preacher in Nordhausen. His Cantiones Ecclesiasticae, prepared at Luther's request, is the earliest and most important collection of contemporary liturgical music. The book was intended for learned and unlearned alike and was divided into a German and a Latin section.
Johann Spangenberg Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch (Protestant Hymnal) Magdeburg, 1545, leaves 532, 533 Paper (37)
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