It has been described as “one of the greatest spontaneous prayers in world literature”, but Albrecht Dürer’s elegy on the arrest of Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, may not have been written by the German painter, printmaker and writer, after everything, research suggests. .
Considered one of Dürer’s best-known writings, the Lament over Luther could have been the work of a contemporary monk who slipped into the artist’s journal, possibly for political reasons, according to what the National Gallery describes as “very compelling evidence.”
The author of the text was sympathetic to the theologian’s challenges to conventional religious beliefs. But, at a time when Lutheran sympathizers were arrested and executed and Lutheran books and pamphlets were publicly burned as heretics, it is now believed to have been a “fraudulent insertion” in Dürer’s diary to frame him as a staunch Lutheran.
The research is part of the National Gallery’s upcoming exhibition on the master, titled Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist, which opens in March.
The show brings together more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints and documents, most of them exhibited in Britain for the first time, such as a 1490s double-sided painting of a Madonna and Child from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
It will reflect that Dürer struggled with universal problems related to the meaning and conduct of earthly life, following Luther’s challenges to faith.
Luther is one of the most influential figures in the history of Christianity, a German theologian who in 1517 published his 95 Theses, denouncing the abuses of the Catholic Church as accepting money for sins in order to be forgiven. In defying papal authority, he was excommunicated and became the catalyst for the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
Luther’s Lament was a response to fears that the “pious man” and a “follower of the true Christian faith” had been arrested, “taken prisoner by treason,” wrote its author. “Help me to cry for this man imbued with the spirit of God, and to pray to God to send us another man to carry his light.
In an essay for the National Gallery’s exhibition catalog, Jeroen Stumpel, an art historian at Utrecht University, concludes that the elegy was probably written by Jacob Probst, a monk from an Augustinian congregation near Dürer’s home. in Antwerp. Probst’s close ties to Luther are confirmed by his correspondence with him in 1519, just after he moved to Antwerp from Wittenberg, where Luther was staying.
Stumpel said that while Dürer was undoubtedly sympathetic to Luther’s cause, the expressive style of the elegy differed from the rest of his journal. “One must conclude that the passage was certainly contemporary, but it was not composed by Dürer. He must have somehow stuck to the magazine and then absorbed into it, either accidentally or more or less on purpose, as an easy and welcome occasion to frame Dürer as a staunch Lutheran. “
Stumpel added: “The tone and style of the Lament comply in all respects with the letter known to have been written by Probst … The theology, the exalted voice and the love for Luther perfectly comply with Probst’s publications at the time. , and they are completely at odds with everything we know was written by Dürer. “
Dr Susan Foister, deputy director of the National Gallery and curator of the exhibition, said: “Stumpel’s pioneering discovery sheds new light on Dürer as a man and as an artist, allowing us to get closer to the real Dürer and re-evaluate the works we are showing that they are informed by the beliefs of Luther “.
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