Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that my favorite artist is Albrecht Dürer. But did you know that Dürer could be considered the "Artist of the Reformation?"
In 1516, Dürer, along with friends Willibald Pirckheimer and Lazarus Spengler, (both of whom were excommunicated along with Luther in 1521) attended a series of Advent sermons given by Johannes Staupitz, theVicar General of the Augustinians and Martin Luther's mentor. Staupitz preached on the subject of True Repentence. Dürer and his friends were so impressed with Staupitz's presentation of the Gospel that they formed a society called the "Staupitz Fellowship" and met to discuss what they were learning.
By 1517, when Staupitz returned to Nuremberg to preach a series of Lenten sermons, the Staupitz Fellowship not only attended, they began meeting with Staupitz himself. Thus began the artist's connection with the Protestant Reformation.
When Luther posted the 95 Theses, the Fellowship received a copy. Dürer was entralled with Luther's writing--so much so that he sent Luther a gift of some of his prints and received some books from Luther in return.
By 1520, Dürer was truly rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers of the Protestant Reformation. In a letter to the secretary to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, he wrote:
"I pray your honor to convey my humble gratitude to His Electoral Grace, and beg him humbly that he will protect the praiseworthy Dr. Martin Luther for the sake of Christian truth. It matters more that all the riches and power of this world, for with time everything passes away; only the truth is eternal. And if God helps me to come and visit Dr. Luther, then I will carefully draw his portrait and engrave it in copper for lasting remembrance of this Christian man who has helped me out of great distress. And I beg you to buy on my account anything new that Dr. Luther may write in German."
In the years between the posting of the 95 Theses and Luther's excommunication in 1521, Dürer collected the writings of Luther and other Reformers and supported the Reformation. He produced portraits of many of the principle players of the Reformation period but to my knowledge he never met Luther, nor painted his likeness.
When news came to Dürer heard Luther had been kidnapped and perhaps murdered, he was devastated. He prayed:
". . .if we have lost this man, who has written more clearly than any that has lived for 140 years, and to whom Thou has given such a spirit of the Gospel, we pray Thee O Heavenly Father, that Thou wouldst again give Thy Holy Spirit to another, that he may gather Thy church anew everywhere together. . .God!, if Luther is dead, who will henceforth deliver the Holy Gospel to us with such clearness? Ach, God, what might he not still have written for us in ten or twenty years?"
As it turned out, Luther had been "kidnapped" for his own protection by his protector, Fredrick of Saxony, and lived until 1548. Sadly, Dürer died in 1528, so there was a twenty year span of Luther's writing that he never had the privilege of reading.
If you'd like to see some of Dürer's paintings, you can find them at my Dürer round up post.