Worlds collide in Reformation exhibition

| December 7, 2016 | 0 Comments
St. Mary’s altar from the eastern apse of Naumburg Cathedral. © Picture archives of the Combined Cathedral Chapters of Merseburg and Naumburg and the Diocese of Zeitz Organized in cooperation with the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt, Wittenberg; Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin; Foundation Schloss Friedenstein Gotha; under the Leadership of the State Museum of Prehistory, Halle (Saale). Its realization has been made possible due to the support of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany within the framework of the Luther Decade. Presented by Thrivent Financial Lead Sponsors John and Nancy Lindahl and The Hognander Foundation

St. Mary’s altar from the eastern apse of Naumburg Cathedral. © Picture archives of the Combined Cathedral Chapters of Merseburg and Naumburg and the Diocese of Zeitz
Organized in cooperation with the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt, Wittenberg; Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin; Foundation Schloss Friedenstein Gotha; under the Leadership of the State Museum of Prehistory, Halle (Saale). Its realization has been made possible due to the support of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany within the framework of the Luther Decade. Presented by Thrivent Financial Lead Sponsors John and Nancy Lindahl and The Hognander Foundation

Minneapolis Institute of Art showcases 16th-century pieces marking Martin Luther’s split from Church

Martin Luther is remembered for the 95 theses he nailed to a chapel door that spurred dissent from the Catholic Church across Europe in 1517. But an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, aka Mia, explores Luther’s entire life, revealing to Catholics especially that the German priest was influenced by many of the great saints.

(A plea to St. Anne to spare him from being struck by lightning spurred the young Luther to become a monk. He later rejected the Church’s practice of praying for saints’ intercessions, believing conduits to God weren’t necessary even though they were spiritual role models.)

Arm reliquary of St. James the Great, first half of the 14th century. Foundation Cathedrals and Castles in Saxony-Anhalt, Halberstadt Cathedral Treasury © State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

Arm reliquary of St. James the Great, first half of the 14th century. Foundation Cathedrals and Castles in Saxony-Anhalt, Halberstadt Cathedral Treasury © State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

Gearing up for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017, Mia’s exhibition combines pieces from the 16th century and earlier that underscore the religious, political and cultural changes of that tumultuous time.

Visitors to “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation” — which runs through Jan. 15 — can view the papal bull excommunicating Martin Luther and some of the indulgences that were fodder for the former priest’s break from the Catholic Church.

“Right now, for this region of the world, this is the finest place to see great objects of late medieval and renaissance Catholic piety,” said Tom Rassieur, the exhibition’s curator and Mia’s head of the prints and drawings department.

The chasuble of Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg — Luther’s boss and ultimate nemesis — and other fine textiles are displayed in one of the first galleries of the exhibit. A green cloth to cover a statuette, likely one of Mary, features adornments from female clothing with amulets from Marian shrines.

“It’s a sweet thing, and it’s a real example of how things worked then,” Rassieur said. “It’s something throughout the show: People want to have a tangible connection to their faith, and they often want to leave their mark on their faith, so they give their own clothing — in this case, jewels, to adorn and venerate the statue of the Virgin.”

During Luther’s time, elaborate altar pieces with angels, saints, the apostles and Mary served as “bearers of the spirit” and personal connection for the faithful, Rassieur said.

“These are largely recognizable figures, and they tell charming stories in a beautiful way,” he explained. “You can imagine how lucky you’d be to walk in [to a Catholic church] on a feast day. In these places, anybody could still walk through the door of a church, and as you walked through the door of a church, you left that grim, industrial place, and you came into a place of great beauty — a taste of heaven on earth.”

The exhibition’s artifacts — numbering around 400 — and their connection to Luther’s Reformation convey the Church’s history in a transformative era. Further into the exhibit, visitors enter “serious Luther land,” Rassieur said, where Luther’s own theology takes shape in the art, including his German translation of Scripture, known as the Ortenburg Bible.

Other pieces are vulgar, some incorporating defecation, meant to denounce the pope and his authority. In one illustrated broadsheet with text from Luther, a demon, with one foot in a tub of holy water, holds a crosier in one hand and a box for indulgence profits in the other.

Also featured are a warming ball, which priests would hold during Mass to warm their hands in a cold church before elevating the Eucharist; an arm reliquary of St. James the Greater; and a double-sided Pieta, designed so that clergy in the sanctuary and the congregation could view it at once.

All of these pieces, Rassieur said, are “intended to convey the beauty and the grandeur of the Catholic Church that Martin Luther grew up in and in which he believed fervently.”

For more information about the exhibition, visit http://www.artsmia.org.

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Featured, Local News