The 15th and 16th centuries were a helluva gnarly time to be alive; especially in Europe. Although the continent is nearly a century out from the peak of the Black Death that claimed nearly half of Europe's population, the plague persists, the Roman Catholic Church has become a corrupt empire that labels dissenters heretics and burns them at the stake, and wifi is spotty at best.
Then, on November 10, 1493, in the tiny German town of Eisleben, a kid named Martin Luther is born, and, just 24 years later, on October 31, 1517, he's nailing 95 theses decrying the Roman Catholic doctrine to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg. It's the beginning of what would become the Protestant Reformation, and while it doesn't undo the inconveniences of the plague or infuriating medieval internet access, it does begin to dismantle the corrupt papal machine (though some more people do, we're sorry to say, get burned at the stake along the way).
Fast forward 499 years to the far away land of Minneapolis, and the most fully-realized exhibition detailing the man and the movement he created debuts at Mia. Comprised of everything from Luther's personal possessions to art of depicting and defining his Reformation to archaeological relics from his childhood home, Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation (Oct. 30-Jan. 15), is one-off experience that's the joint undertaking of Mia and four German institutions (the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Luther Memorials Foundation in Saxony-Anhalt, the Germain History Museum in Berlin, and the Foundation Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha). From plague masks to peasant weapons here's the tip of the iceberg exhibit's incredible cull.
Doctor in a Bubonic-Plague-ravaged town? Scared you too might contract the plague? No worries! Just put on this not-scary-looking-at-all leather plague mask (and other assorted protective gear), fill the beak with herbs and essential oils (seriously), and merrily go about the business of most likely not curing plague patients with a certain degree of confidence that you won't contract the plague yourself.
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Martin Luther grew up in the wee hamlet of Mansfeld, which was ruled by Counts like the guy this tomb coverplate is an effigy to, Count Hoyer VI of Mansfelf-Vorderort. The recumbent effigy is essentially a death cast of Hoyer VI (yeah, creepy) and, until it was shipped to Minneapolis for this exhibit, had spent the entirety of its first 475 years in St. Andrew's Church in Eisleben, which is also where Martin Luther gave his final sermon. Ever the humble Reformationist, Luther wasn't a huge fan of such braggadocious dead people.
Speaking of those braggadocious 16th century Roman Catholics and their incessant showiness, this is Holy Roman Emporor Maximillian I's "pilgrim's garment". Linen with absurdly ornate silk embroidery, it got misplaced by some Benedictine monks for like 300 years before it was finally found and put on display.
One of the big money makers for the Roman Catholic Church at the time was the peddling of "indulgences" which were basically sin credits meant to buy your way out of eventual purgatory for the occasional bout of gluttony, lust, or murder. Just put your money into the indulgence chest (right) and get an official voucher (left) from an enterprising man of the cloth that says you're all good in the eyes of God for that time your robbed the dude who just sold you an indulgence. It was a helluva racket and the chief thing Martin Luther took issue with in his 95 Theses and break from the Catholic Church.
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While Mia was able to work some minor miracles in what they were able to borrow for the exhibit (here's looking at the actual St. Andrew's Church pulpit that Martin Luther preached his final sermon in), they weren't able to bring over the entire Luther House from Wittenberg. They were, however, able to recreate his room within it and adorn it with the actual table, window seat, and door. And, lest you think Luther was all boring monasticism, the exhibit also features a stein rumored to have been used by Luther, who was a beer fan. As says the exhibition catalogue, "Despite his criticism of degenerate alcohol consumption in the ruling houses, Luther would every now and then partake of beer, which was brewed by his wife, as it helped him with his morning stool." Taro Gomi was right!
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The massive, polyptych Gotha Altar depicts scenes from Luther's German New Testament. Although it's now a celebrated masterwork and the jewel of the Reformation art collection in the small town of Gotha, it was likely originally a Reformation teaching tool; basically a slightly less portable version of a modern day picture Bible.
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Elector John Frederick the Magnanimous, Duke of Saxony (left, whilst imprisoned): hero of the Protestant Reformation and wearer of gigantic boots.
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The many faces of Martin Luther. In life. In death (See world? You can denounce the corrupt Roman Catholic church and die peacefully instead of catastrophic hellfire!). And in Playmobil.
Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation runs from October 30-January 15 at Mia. artsmia.org