Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther

By Mark U. Edwards Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Luther's Earliest Supporters in
the Strasbourg Press

In his path-breaking study For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation, Robert Scribner examined the ways Luther was depicted in woodcuts and engravings during the early years of the Reformation movement.1 He showed that with slight variations the three recurring signs in all pictorial depictions of Luther were monk, doctor, and man of the Bible. To these central signs were added other signs such as a dove, which symbolized the Holy Spirit and suggested that Luther had been enlightened or inspired by God, and the nimbus of sainthood, which suggested that Luther had saintly qualities or could be considered to be like a Father of the church or both.2

As it happens, all of these signs were deployed on the title page of a Latin account of Luther's appearance before the Diet of Worms, issued by the Strasbourg press of Johann Schott (see plate 1).3 The woodcut presented Luther as a monk (monastic habit), doctor (doctoral beret), and man of the Bible (held in his hands) who was inspired by God (the dove of the Holy Spirit and the nimbus of a saint). The woodcut was reused in 1522 when Schott issued a German translation of the same account.4

This constellation of visual signs constituted the skeleton of Luther's public persona among at least some of his supporters. But it left undisclosed the specific content of each sign. What did the doctor teach? What did being a man of the Bible entail? In what way was he inspired by God and to what purpose? In what did his sanctity con-

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