Thursday, March 07, 2013

Luther's Painting of the Virgin Mary in His Study

From my mailbox:

I stumbled across your blog looking for a Table Talk reference where how the site of an image of the Virgin Mary and Child would evoke from Luther a lament at the way in which sinful man disregards the mercy shown by God in the Incarnation. Any help?

I've come across something like this before in  Bridget Heal's The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Germany. She states, "Indeed we learn from the 'Table Talk' that he himself did in fact have an image of the Virgin and Child hanging in his study" [WA Tr., Vol. 2, no. 1755 and vol. 5, no. 6364. Attempts have been made to identify this with an existing painting of the Virgin and Child by Lucas Cranach. Joesef Lieball, Martin Luthers Madonnenbild (Stein am Rhein, 1981), pp. 77-80].

WA tr., 2, no. 1755 can be found here. This entry say something like,  now the child is sleeping in Mary's arms, but wait til it wakes up! God may be slow to punish but wait til he gets to it. He will rouse himself... will also punish the cardinals, etc.

WA tr., 5 no. 6364 can be found here, and this appears to be the statement that the e-mail inquiry has in mind:
"It is a great grace of God, That he gave his Son in the flesh. The mystery can be that no man can consider, and yet we are so cold and ungrateful.... When Doctor Martin viewed a painting of the little child Jesus resting in the lap of the pure virgin Mary, he sighed deeply on account of the article of the incarnation of God and said: Oh, that we would rightly contemplated the work of the divine mercy and not just cast is aside. Oh phooey, you disgusting unbelief! How you show yourself so horridly ungrateful regarding the friendly and gracious will of God, even while you attach yourself to all creatures instead. Oh, Adam's sin, what have you wrought?
Special thanks to Brigitte for help with the translation.

As always, it's to be remembered these are Table Talk statements, and not something Luther actually wrote, but is purported to have said. It also appears that any evidence of Luther having a picture of the Virgin and Child in his office comes from these Table Talk statements. It would be interesting to see Lieball's book and see what he concludes about this. I wonder what's happened since 1981? Have historians been able to identify if indeed such a painting was in Luther's study, and has that painting been identified today? There certainly are plenty to choose from if the painting was done by Cranach.

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