Americans may know the basics of how Martin Luther was said to have nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, condemning the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences, but they probably don’t realize how Luther strategically used the media of his time: books, paintings, prints and music.
This monk in a town at the edge of Germany took on the Holy Roman emperor and the pope ”” then the most powerful men in Europe ”” 500 years ago, and won, dividing the church, setting in play “one of the most successful media campaigns in history” and altering Western society and culture, said John T. McQuillen, assistant curator of printed books and bindings at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.
That message and its resonance are being celebrated at three institutions in honor of the coming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s action and the beginning of the Reformation. Each of the shows ”” in Manhattan, Atlanta and Minneapolis ”” is unique. Featured among them are hundreds of objects: liturgical vestments; illuminated manuscripts; satirical woodcuts; one of six existing single-sheet printed copies of the 95 theses; the pulpit where Luther last preached; personal belongings, like Luther’s traveling spoon and beer stein; and items from recent archaeological excavations in Germany, including household goods and toys linked to Luther’s childhood.