Image and Identity in the German Reformation

AHA Session 108
Central European History Society 3
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Murray Hill Suite B (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Shira Brisman, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Joseph Koerner, Harvard University

Session Abstract

The Reformation, with its iconoclasm and its emphasis on preaching the word of God, has traditionally been seen as the enemy of art. During recent decades, however, scholarly interest in iconoclasm, which began during the 1970s, has been complemented by a growing awareness of the continued significance of images within Protestant culture. This panel will offer three papers that explore, in various contexts, the impact of the Reformation on visual culture and the role that images played in constituting and expressing religious identity. Mitchell Merback will focus on the early years of the Reformation, analysing  Sebald Beham’s Moses and Aaron engraving of 1526 as a response to Luther’s teaching and to the artist’s experience of religious exile; Andrew Morrall will consider family portraits as expressions of Protestant values; and Bridget Heal will explore identity and memory through a discussion of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century afterlife of Lucas Cranach’s famous Schneeberg Altar (1539). The chronological focus of the panel will range from the 1520s to the 1710s, enabling the participants to consider images’ role not only during the turbulent years of the early Reformation but also during the period that witnessed the institutionalization of the Protestant churches. The participants will discuss various media, and will consider the role of images both in an ecclesiastical and a domestic environment. Overall, the papers will demonstrate that the relationship between evangelical reform and artistic production could be creative as well as destructive, and that both patrons and artists responded positively to the Reformation’s rewriting of the rules of religious art. In keeping with the theme of the 129th meeting of the AHA, ‘History and the Other Disciplines’, the panel will bring together art historians and historians, exploring through its papers and through its moderator (Joseph Koerner) and chair (Shira Brisman) the differing methodologies and interests of the two disciplines.

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