Mighty fortresses and the "Luther effect"

Major exhibitions accompany the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

January 03, 2017

And Luther in the middle - a scene from the Yadegar Asisi Panorama in Wittenberg (Photo:epd-Bild/Jens Schlüter)

And Luther in the middle - a scene from the Yadegar Asisi Panorama in Wittenberg (Photo:epd-Bild/Jens Schlüter)

The famous portrait of Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder is still hanging in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. But not for much longer. In the Martin Gropius museum in Berlin, curator Anne-Katrin Ziesak is already waiting for the safe return of this highly insured, iconic picture, painted in 1529. In spring it is to be the centerpiece of the special exhibition "The Luther effect" in Berlin - one of three big national shows to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and countless other exhibitions.

In 1517 Martin Luther had published his Ninety-five Theses critical of the church, and thereby sparked religious, political and cultural upheavals of undreamt-of dimensions. In order to trace all facets of the Reformation and its historical impacts, museums and galleries in Germany and abroad have prepared impressive programs. Examples are "Luther and the German language" at Wartburg castle, or "On the 8th day God created the cloud" in Mainz's Gutenberg Museum. The biggest shows are now coming up in good time for the quincentenary celebrations in 2017.

Rare exhibits, history on-site

Above all, the special national exhibitions in Berlin, Wittenberg and at Wartburg castle in Eisenach address a broad public. They aim to show how the effect of the Reformers fundamentally changed the world and how this has molded life and culture up to the present. The first one to open, on 12 April, is "The Luther effect. 500 years of Protestantism" in Berlin's Martin Gropius building. This exhibition, organized by the German Historical Museum under the patronage of German president Joachim Gauck, is going to display the way Luther's Protestantism became a global movement. It also takes a look at other Reformers such as Hus or Zwingli, and other countries such as the USA, Korea and Tanzania.

Wartburg castle near Eisenach. (Photo: epd-Bild/Jens-Ulrich Koch)

The exhibition at the Wartburg - that "most German of all German fortresses - is about its very own history. From 4 May "Luther and the Germans" will shed light not only on how Luther and Lutheranism influenced Germany but also on how each age has drawn its own picture of Luther. The topics here include: the consequences of the Reformation for the German cultural nation, the underlining of education and the role of the Protestant parsonage, not to forget the obedience of Luther and the Germans to the authorities. And all this at the historical site in Eisenach at which Luther translated the New Testament, hidden away from his ardent pursuers following the ban by the emperor.

Finally, "Luther! 95 treasures - 95 people" is about the Reformer personally. This show will be open from 13 May in the Augusteum in Wittenberg. Unusual exhibits from Luther's early life and background will illustrate the path taken by the monk and scholar, who - legend has it - nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. In addition, it will present 95 men and women from all over the world and their very personal relationship with Luther - from Astrid Lindgren to Goethe to Steve Jobs. The special exhibitions are the German government's contribution to sponsoring the 2017 Reformation Year.

Mirrored in art and music

Other perspectives on Luther and his ideas can be seen in art galleries: what role Lucas Cranach the Elder played in disseminating the Reformation in the 16th century will be the theme of an exhibition at the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, entitled "Master - (trade)mark - modernity" (from 8 April). Under the heading "Luther and the Avant-garde" contemporary art will be shown on the topics of freedom, individuality and religion in three cities - Berlin, Kassel and Wittenberg, including with works by Anselm Kiefer and Günther Uecker (from 18 May).

Since October the 360 degree Panorama "Luther 1517" by artist Yadegar Asisi has been open in Wittenberg. In a rotunda, the EUR 4.5 million project shows a colorful historical wealth of pictures from Reformation days, with Luther in the middle. Over 40,000 visitors were counted up to Christmas, reported the operating organization "Reformation anniversary 2017", and half a million are expected in the anniversary year.

The musical side of the Reformer is taken up by the Eisenach Bach House: the special exhibition "Bach and Luther" is dedicated to the 14 Luther cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. In it, the composer turned congregational hymns like "A mighty fortress" into music for choirs with superb instrumental accompaniment. The origin of the hymns and their theological intention are explained along with Bach's own musical interpretation.

Meanwhile the Luther exhibitions on the theme "Here I stand" are meeting with lively interest in the USA. Since October tens of thousands of Americans have viewed the exhibits around the life and work of Luther - mostly on loan from Germany. They had never been seen before in the United States. At the beginning of February the artworks will return. In Germany the ticket sales for the first shows in the anniversary year have already begun.

Renate Kortheuer-Schüring (epd)

Website of the special national exhibitions in Berlin, Eisenach and Wittenberg
Website of the association Reformation anniversary 2017 (r2017)



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