First Exhibition Marking 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” Presented by Minneapolis Institute of Art
“Martin Luther: Art of the Reformation” at Mia is organized in partnership with four German institutions—the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Luther Memorials Foundation in Saxony-Anhalt, German Historical Museum in Berlin, and Foundation Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha. The Luther House in Wittenberg, Germany is closed in 2016 for major renewals of its permanent exhibition for the Jubilee Year 2017, which has allowed key works to travel to Mia for this first-of-its-kind exhibition.
“We are thrilled to launch the international commemoration of this watershed moment in history with such an extraordinary exhibition,” said Kaywin Feldman, the Duncan and Nivin MacMillan Director and President of Mia. “Minnesota is home to one of the largest Lutheran populations in the nation, so this story has a special resonance here. We are proud to partner with our peers in Germany, and look forward to engaging our local audiences and visitors from around the world with the art and objects that were at the heart of the Reformation.”
“Martin Luther: Art of the Reformation” will place particular emphasis on Luther’s support of art as a tool for worship, teaching, and propaganda. Among the works on view will be paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), who was inspired by Luther’s preaching to develop didactic paintings that vividly depict the viewer’s choice between salvation and damnation. Cranach’s narrative paintings illustrate biblical stories in brilliant colors and ravishing—sometimes gory—detail, and his stylized portraits capture the humanist spirit of the age. Additionally, several vandalized objects by other artists will be presented to underscore the intense emotional reaction in the wake of Luther’s protest.
A major portion of the exhibition devoted to Luther’s personal life will feature recent archaeological finds from his boyhood homes in the towns of Eisleben and Mansfeld, as well as his house in Wittenberg, the base for his history-making activities. Excavations, undertaken in 2004 and 2005, uncovered household goods that reveal new information about Luther and his family. A selection of those objects will be displayed for the first time in the United States and offer new insights into Luther’s daily life, especially his childhood.
“The objects in this exhibition have strong visual and emotional presence. Not only do they tell the fascinating story of the man and his impact on religion and politics, but they also continue to reverberate today,” said Tom Rassieur, Mia’s John E. Andrus III Curator of Prints. “With the incredibly generous support of our German colleagues, we are excited to be able to share spectacular works of art and new discoveries with the public, and to vividly bring Luther’s world to life for contemporary audiences.”
- “Boyhood,” in which the archeological findings at Luther’s childhood homes will be displayed;
- “Secular Power,” which features rare paintings, prints, sculpture depicting the rulers and courtly life of the era, as well as opulent status symbols belonging to the most powerful men of the age;
- “Pre-Reformation Piety,” which presents paintings, carvings, goldsmith’s work, and vestments associated with late medieval and early renaissance Catholic practice;
- “Luther as Monk, Scholar, and Preacher” includes the notorious indulgence chest of Wittenburg, a 1517 printed copy of the “Ninety-Five Theses,” and the final pulpit from which Luther preached—newly-restored for the exhibition;
- “Luther’s Theology” features Lucas Cranach’s Law and Grace, the 157-panel Gotha Altar, and some of Luther’s own hand-written notes for his translation of the Bible;
- “Luther’s House as the hub of the Reformation,” featuring the furniture from his studio, his personal possessions, portraits of Luther, his wife Katarina von Bora, and their associates, as well as additional archeological finds from Luther’s home—from jewelry and pen knives to tiles and glass—that embody his daily life and international status;
- “Polemics and Conflicts” underscores the turbulence of the era through vandalized works of art, satirical woodcuts, weaponry and war trophies; and
- “The Legend,” which highlights the establishment of Luther’s posthumous reputation through memorial objects such as the model for his grave marker, the debating stand of the University of Wittenburg, and relics that gave his followers tangible bonds to their spiritual leader.
Additional highlights from the exhibition include:
Programming related to the exhibition will include a lecture series featuring Professor Harald Meller, Director of the State Museum of Pre-History, Halle, who conceived of the exhibition; Professor Christiane Andersson, Bucknell University, an expert on Reformation art and censorship; and, Tom Rassieur, Mia’s curator collaborating on the exhibition. Mia will engage youth groups through programs on protest art. Additional programming details will be announced in the coming months.
Luther was born to a mining family in Germany in 1483. At age seven, he enrolled in school and became an avid student of grammar, rhetoric and logic, eventually entering the University of Erfurt to earn a Master of Arts degree in the field. Although he initially intended to practice law, Luther became increasingly interested in theology, philosophy and scripture as a source for assurances about life. In 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood, and later awarded his Doctor of Theology from the University of Wittenberg, at which he spent the remainder of his career as a professor of theology.
It was shortly after entering the monastery that Luther began to doubt that the Church could offer salvation. A visit to Rome in 1511 solidified this view as he witnessed rampant corruption, and was particularly outraged by the issue of “indulgences,” or certificates that could be purchased to gain forgiveness of sins and freedom from purgatory. On October 31, 1517, Luther decided to publish his opinions on the matter of indulgences—and the conclusion that faith, not the Church, would guarantee salvation—by posting the “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Castle Church. These were then taken to the university printing press and produced in Latin and German, and within four weeks had spread far beyond Germany—ultimately giving rise to what would become the Protestant tradition.
General admission to Mia is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. General admission for “Martin Luther: Art of the Reformation” is $20.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday 10am–5pm
Thursday, Friday 10am–9pm
For more information, call + 1 612 870 3000 or visit artsmia.org