Reformation centenary broadsheet

Leipzig, Germany, AD 1617

This broadsheet depicts the early Reformation of the Christian Church as a prophetic dream of Friedrich III, often known as Frederick the Wise, the canny Elector of Saxony.

Elector Frederick was a political protector of Martin Luther, who in 1517 began what was to become known as the Reformation, creating the Protestant form of Christianity in Europe.

This broadsheet is, in our terms, a strip cartoon showing a sequence of events within the ‘elector’s dream’, with each element in it a scene depicting a different stage in Luther’s progress.

In one corner, Luther receives true insight in the form of a shower of words pouring down from God the Father, and Christ, onto the open page of a bible. In another he offers his work to the Elector Frederick.

Luther is also shown writing on a church door with an enormously long pen, which is a reference to the moment traditionally thought of as the beginning of the Reformation. On 31 October 1517, Luther publicly posted his 95 Theses in the town of Wittenberg.

The pen stretches across half of the picture to emphasise the importance ot the written word to Protestants, as opposed to images which were popular in the Catholicism of the time. The end of the pen passes through the ears of a lion and knocks off the tiara, or crown, of the pope of the time, Leo X, hence the lion. This is a clear reference to Luther’s criticism of the authority of the Pope as head of the Catholic Church in Rome.

in 1617 German Protestants seized on the idea of commemorating a centenary of Luther’s actions at Wittenberg as a means of attracting support for their hero in the light of increasing hostilities between Catholics and Protestants. Opposing armies were ultimately to clash in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain near Prague, a decisive victory for the Catholic Imperial forces that resulted in the outbreak of the Thirty Years War.


Reformation centenary broadsheet

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Object details

Height: 31.4 cm
Width: 38.2 cm



Prints and Drawings


    J. R. Paas, The German political broadsheet,1600-1700, (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 1994)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    W.A. Coupe, ‘Political and Religious Cartoons of the Thirty Years’ War’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 25 (1962), 65–86

    A. Cunningham and O.P. Grell, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, 2000)

    O.P. Grell, and B. Scribner (ed.), Intolerance and Tolerance in the European Reformation (Cambridge, 1996)

    C. Juncker, Die Geschichte der Reformation in Münzen und Medaillen bis zum Jahre 1706 (first published 1706, repr Karlsruhe, 1982)

    K. Moxey, Peasants, Warriors and Wives: Popular Imagery in the Reformation (Chicago, 1989)

    J.R. Paas, The German Political Broadsheet 1600-1700, Vol. 2 (1616-1619) (Wiesbaden, 1986)

    J.R. Paas, ‘The Changing Face of Gustavus Adolphus on German broadsheets, 1630-3’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 59 (1986), 205–244

    A. Pettegree, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge, 2005)

    R.W. Scribner, ‘Incombustible Luther: the image of the reformer in early modern Germany’, Past and Present, 110 (1986), 38–68

    R.W. Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Oxford, 1981 and 1994)

    T.L. Smith, ‘Luther and the Iserloh Thesis from a Numismatic Perspective’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 20 (1989), 183–201

    A. Walsham, ‘Domme Preachers? Post-reformation English Catholicism and the Culture of Print’, Past and Present, 168 (2000), 72–123

    P.H. Wilson, Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (London, 2010)