Text as Mediator: Reforming Art in the Protestant Aesthetic

Aidan Flynn


The European Reformations gave way to a new sect of Christianity: Protestantism, which, in many countries, eclipsed Catholicism. Following Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which criticized the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, radical reformers following Luther’s theology engaged in acts of rebellion against the papacy. Among these events of insurgency were sporadic iconoclasms, in which reformers destroyed religious images in sacred spaces that were now seen as idolatry. In the cases of Protestant England, Wittenberg, and Strasbourg, iconoclasm gave way to a new aesthetic in religious art. Notably, the destruction of images did not signify a universal rejection of religious art, but assisted in fashioning a new theological perception of what art should mean in the ecclesiastical sphere. The purging of images associated with Catholicism led to a new Protestant aesthetic that minimized anxieties surrounding idolatry by incorporating text alongside religious iconography.

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