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The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation

Author: Ian McConnell

This lesson will introduce the art that influenced the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.

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An overview of the Protestant Reformation and its influence on Northern Renaissance painting.

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell and today's lesson is about the Protestant Reformation. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, briefly explain what the Protestant Reformation was, briefly explain the five points of Calvinism, and identify examples of artwork from this period of time.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term, Holy Roman Empire. An area rule during medieval and early modern times consisting of mostly Germany and part of Italy from 962 to 1806 that showed the decline of the pope and the power of the emperor. Northern Renaissance, an age of artistic and cultural discovery in Christian humanism that took place in Germany, the Netherlands, and France.

The big idea for today is that the Protestant Reformation was a major movement within Christianity that resulted in a schism within the Catholic church based on ideological differences. We'll be looking at the period of time today from 1512 to 1551. And here's the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517 as a reference point.

Although 1517 traditionally marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, it was an event many, many years in the making. Martin Luther was a very devout Augustinian monk. However, the Catholic church's sale of indulgences, which are essentially accumulated merit, for lack of better term, those finally cause Martin Luther to take action. His belief was that the justification of faith alone was enough to warrant God's forgiveness of sins. The selling of indulgences was looked at by Luther as a way for the Catholic church to essentially profit on the salvation of its people.

He wrote a response to this action in a writing called The Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, or more commonly known as the 95 Theses, and nailed it, supposedly, to the door of the local All Saints' Church. This action is widely considered the impetus for the Protestant Reformation. This movement was monumental and resulted in the eventual schism of the Western Catholic church into the Catholic, or traditional, which is eventually the Roman Catholic church, and the reformed, or Protestant Church.

So it begins with Judaism and then moves into Christianity after Christ. Christianity was essentially an offshoot of Judaism. And there was an initial great called the great schism, which was the church essentially breaking into two groups, the Western or Catholic, or Latin, church and Eastern Orthodox church. Eastern Orthodox here, and then the Catholic church, which was based in Rome.

Now the Catholic church after Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation was again essentially broken into two groups, Roman Catholic and Protestant. And then the Protestant sect was further broken into other areas as they emerged, just based on different variations of the Protestant, or the basic tenets of the reformed church. So Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, the Methodist church and the Calvinist church, which we'll talk about today, are all variants of Protestantism.

Again this isn't the decisive example, or the decisive family tree of Christianity, but at least it gives you a good idea of how the different religions, or the different churches, play against each other.

Our first artist is Matthias Grunewald, who originated from modern day Germany. In his day it would've been the Holy Roman Empire. And one of his most well-known works of art of those that survive is the Isenheim Altarpiece. He collaborated with another artist who completed the carvings, which are not shown. The image that you see is of the altarpiece closed.

The subject matter is that of the crucifixion, in which an emaciated and sort of ghastly figure of Christ is shown having already expired. He's rendered in rather grisly detail. He appears to have been dead for some time. The colors of the body suggests that the process of decay has probably already begun, and his fingers are rigid and sort of gnarly looking, which is an indication of rigor mortis.

His mother, the Virgin Mary, is shown in white being cradled by Saint John. Mary Magdalene is shown on her knees, and Saint John the Baptist appears to orate on the right about Jesus' prophesied rise from the dead. The predella, which is the space below the upper portion of the altarpiece, depicts the lamentation of Christ, in which his mother and friends prepare his body for entombment.

Altarpieces and other large works of art like this were discouraged and sometimes forbidden in the reformed churches that emerged in the years to follow.

Lucas Cranach's professional name is derived from his birthplace of Cranach in modern day Germany. Cranach was a very close friend of Martin Luther's, and his work is closely associated with the Reformation. His painting of the Allegory of Law and Grace was completed in 1530, well after the initial onset of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. And it's our first example of artwork that's post-Reformation, with the exception of this one here, this portrait of Martin Luther that was painted by his friend, Lucas Cranach.

The Allegory of Law and Grace is a pictorial representation of the different ideologies between the churches regarding salvation. The traditional view is based on the Old Testament law of being judged based on good works is on the left. And depicts a person who apparently attempted to live a good life being judged and damned by Christ, who's shown on a cloud in the sky, And and is subsequently chased by a demon skeleton into what we assume to be the fiery chasm of hell.

On the right, the Protestant view of an individual being saved by Christ's sacrifice on the cross, or by the grace of God. It's a work of art that would not have been forbidden or discouraged by the Protestant Reformation. In fact, quite the opposite. It would have been viewed as a visual ideological statement comparing Protestantism with Catholicism, and a valuable tool for the conversion of large numbers of people.

So Calvinism was an offshoot of the Reformation, or the church of the Protestant Reformation. But like the Reformation, was the eventuality of the work from previous reformists, not just the work of one man. However, John Calvin helped in establishing what are referred to as the five points of Calvinism, which takes a different, and perhaps more exclusive approach to the reformist view of eternal salvation.

I've paraphrased the five points below. The first point is that every person is enslaved to sin. The second point, and one of the most controversial, was that salvation is predetermined. Jesus' atonement is only for the pre-ordained is one of the third points. And if you are preordained, you won't turn from God. And those who are saved will continue in the faith forever.

Calvinism is believed to have had a strong influence on the Pieter Aertsen painting called The Butcher's Stall, or more familiarly, the meat still life. Aertsen-- who's not pictured, this is one of his paintings-- was a painter originating from Amsterdam. Grew up and worked in a time in which the Reformation was taking form. The painting appears to be a typical genre painting from a Northern painter. However, religious imagery and symbolism can be seen throughout if you look carefully and if you know what you're looking for.

Aertsen displays a wealth of meat and food items in the foreground, but if you look carefully you can see in the very back Joseph on foot pulling a donkey carrying Mary. They're donating to the poor. In the foreground, fish, pretzels, and wine, which are associated in their own way with religious symbolism, are juxtaposed with oysters, meats, and other foods considered gluttonous or lustful. Now it's similar, perhaps, to the message conveyed in Quentin Massys' painting of the money changer. It was a reminder of the importance of piety in a world filled with sin.

That brings to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you briefly explain what the Protestant Reformation was? Can you briefly explain the five points of Calvinism? And identify examples of artwork from this period of time.

Once again, the big idea for today is that the Protestant Reformation was a major movement within Christianity that resulted in a schism within the Catholic church based an ideological differences.

And that as it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "The Protestant Reformation"

Key Terms

Holy Roman Empire

An area of rule during medieval and early modern times consisting of mostly Germany and part of Italy from 962-1806 that showed the decline of the pope and power of the emperor.

Northern Renaissance

An age of artistic and cultural discovery and Christian humanism that took place in Germany, the Netherlands, and France.


Eisenheim Altarpiece; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mathis_Gothart_Gr%C3%BCnewald_019.jpg; Meat Still; Creative Commons: http://honorsworld.wikispaces.com/MMa Allegory of Law & Grace; Public Domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_d.%C3%84._-_Allegorie_auf_Gesetz_und_Gnade_%28Germanisches_Nationalmuseum%29.jpg Portrait of Martin Luther; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Martin_Luther_by_Lucas_Cranach_der_%C3%84ltere.jpeg; Image of Grunewald Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Grunewald_Self_Portrait.jpg; wald Public Domain; Image of Cranach Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_d._%C3%84._063.jpg; Image of Calvin Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Calvin.png; Image of Egg Dance Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Aertsen,_The_Egg_Dance_(1552).jpg