[German New Testament]. Das Newe Testament deutsch.
Translated by Martin Luther.
Wittenberg: Melchior Lotther, [December] 1522.
The Protestant Reformation introduced one of the most creative and controversial periods of printed Bible illustration. Martin Luther (1483–1546) made especially effective use of vernacular translations enriched with woodcuts, beginning with his first translation of the German New Testament, published in September 1522. For that edition he employed Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), one of the leading artists of the German Renaissance, to supply a rich program of woodcuts, including twenty-one full-page illustrations of the Apocalypse.
Exhibited is Luther’s “December Testament,” which was published with the same set of woodcuts three months after the first edition of 1522. The exhibited illustration of the Harlot of Babylon (Revelation 17–18) is an altered version of the woodblock that Cranach had used to illustrate the September edition. In the earlier printing, the woodcut had a clear Protestant agenda, as Cranach emphasized the harlot’s identification with the alleged corruption of the Catholic Church by placing the triple tiara of the papacy upon her head. However, after warnings that this symbolism was too controversial, the book was reprinted with the papal tiara removed from this image.