Friday, December 23, 2011
85. Reformation Centenary Broadsheet (NOT ON DISPLAY)
We had the printing press a few podcasts back, when Dürer circulated a rhinoceros he’d never seen. Here’s another woodblock-printed illustration, one which brings up issues such as printing and literacy, the Protestant reformation and the 30 Years’ War, political cartoons, and centenary celebrations. This cartoon was printed and circulated out of Leipzig in 1617, marking the 100th anniversary of the famous day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the cathedral in Wittenberg, launching the Reformation; although it circulated in northern Germany where they were celebrating this cenetenary, it was in no uncertain terms a gauntlet tossed to the Elector of Saxony (ruling from nearby Dresden, I suppose) to get ready for war—the 30 Years’ War, which began the next year in 1618, devastated Germany and all central Europe through 1648 when they finally gave up and decided to live together. This war so weakened Germany, they were no competition for France in the late 1600s, when Louis XIV emerged to lead Europe and rule the world now that Spain was declining.
But none of that is in the document itself. Instead, it’s a very busy political cartoon which has Luther writing his essay “Against Indulgences” on the church door, at left, with an enormous quill pen which is spearing the brains of the lion-pope Leo X and knocking off the silly hat of the human-pope standing near the lion. Feathers are dripping from Luther’s mighty pen, and elsewhere they’re pulling feathers out of a goose—literacy and writing are spreading like wildfire, and dopey church is powerless to stop it. You’ve also got a Luther in the middle-right, higher up, studying his Bible, and light from above (sent down by a funny-looking holy trinity) illuminates his page. Strong imagery for the power of books, word, text, written communication.
One of MacGregor’s experts goes so far as to claim that this revolution was TOO successful—that now we are mired in words, embedded and cemented in them. His other expert is a political cartoonist with a different point of view, who claims that all the usual tricks of political cartoons were already here in this document in 1618, using an image to make your enemy look stupid/weak and you look mighty and strong. In fact, that trick goes back as far as King Den’s sandal label, doesn’t it? It may be true that words can be a trap, for those who take up the verbal lifestyle. Yet it seems to me that currently we’re in a wonderful world of mixed media—that you need both words and image in most modern forms of communication. The fewer words, the better; but the right words take your picture and whirl it through multiple dimensions in a way that makes me (as a writer/blogger/communicator) very happy.