2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation is one of the most contested events in European history, one whose legacies we are still living with today. On the 31st October 1517 Martin Luther, an Augustinian Friar and Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, wrote an academic disputation. Whether or not he actually nailed his ‘95 Theses’ to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, this was a provocative document that soon became widely known beyond the University. It called into question a number of religious and legal ideas that were central to Roman Catholic teaching and practice. Such ideas soon spread and the Reformers attracted both condemnation and support.
Luther and his followers were adept at using the visual image to advance their ideas, especially in printed material. Other Reformers were more suspicious of visual images. They preferred a plainer approach that emphasised the written and spoken word of God. The danger was idolatry, worshipping false images instead of God. In various European countries, including Scotland and England, we see evidence of iconoclasm, the destruction of ‘false’ religious images like statues, paintings, and stained glass windows. Yet as a new exhibition, curated by Dr Adrian Streete, Seeing the Reformation: Religion and the Printed Image in Early Modern Europe in the foyer on level 12 of the Library will show, images are never completely rejected: they retain a central, if contested, place in Reformed printed culture.
The exhibition draws upon the extensive and internationally-renowned collection of early printed books held in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Glasgow and it will be launched on 13th November. This includes one of the largest and most important collections of early printed Bibles to be found anywhere in the world. The exhibition foregrounds this biblical collection, but it also explores other aspects of Protestant visual culture, including images by well-known artists like Cranach and Holbein who were involved in Protestant print culture. Early modern Protestantism is not solely a religion of the word: it can also harness the power of the visual image.
To mark the anniversary today this post looks back at some of our previous discussions, collections and projects that relate to Luther and the wider reformation movement. From earlier this year our Happy 566th Birthday post included a section on links between the University of Glasgow and the reformation:
Desiderius Erasmus still features at Graduation ceremonies at the University today. After the Mace has been placed on the table in front of the platform party, and before anyone sits, the Professor of Divinity opens the proceedings in Latin with a prayer written by the Dutch scholar and theologian.
Access to Scripture in vernacular language was a key demand of Reformation thought and you can find out more about the changes in the Bible during Reformation years from the fantastic collections held by Special Collections. Find out more in the virtual exhibition: Divine Write: the King James Bible and Scotland, and you can see more images on our Flickr set.
Another University connection to the Reformation in Europe is that of John Mair, Principal of the University 1518-1526 . He lectured in Theology at the College de Sorbonne in Paris before returning to Scotland in 1518 and according to the historian Alexander Broadie, “Mair was undoubtedly at the centre of cultural life in Europe during the first half of the 16th century”. It is likely that Mair was greatly involved in Reformation thought in the 16th century.
Some other relevant posts include:
- Martin Luther – the book as a force for change? – the cataloguing of a fascinating collection of 35 religious tracts and sermons written by Martin Luther and published during his lifetime.
- John Knox’s Bible Discovered – last year ASC staff identified a previously unknown book once owned by Scottish religious reformer John Knox.
- Divine Write – an exhibition to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible.
- Reformation-era travels of early university records a guest post by Meghan Rathbun looking at the movements of the Rector’s Book (Annales Universitatis Glasguensis) during the Scottish Reformation.
- Queen Mary’s gift, 1563 – a second guest post by Meghan Rathbun looking at Queen Mary’s 1563 charter which provided provided a gift to address the perilous finances of University of Glasgow following the reformation.
- The Antichrist in Printed Art, 1500-1600 – a guest post by Sophie Sterling, an M.Litt Art History student researching Reformation-era illustrations in our early printed books.
- A Precious Symbol: the medieval Mace of the University of Glasgow a guest post by Aline Brodin looking at the history of the Mace and its fate during the 1560s.
Categories: Archives and Special Collections