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Rare Book Exhibit: Illustrating the Reformation

September 12, 2017 - October 1, 2017

October 31, 2017 marks not only the 500th anniversary of Martin Luter’s nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, but also its sparking of the reformation of the Catholic Church. While we now recognize that such a moment likely never occurred – or, at least, not as it is not remembered – this powerful image of a single defiant monk enumerating his criticisms of corrupt Catholic practices to the most powerful institution in Europe has stuck in our cultural memory precisely because that specific image has been reproduced repeatedly for five centuries.

Although the Reformation is often associated with iconoclasm – and some Reformers indeed did criticize, censor, and destroy Catholic art – there was no unified response to art, or even the unified movement that the singular term “Reformation” suggests of the religious changes that spanned the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The then-still-recent invention of moveable type resulted in a proliferation of books that promoted or endorsed religious change. Many of these “reformation” texts, in fact, were decorated and included images. Because books facilitated private religious devotion, which was favoured by Reformers, depictions of religious and biblical material in books were sometimes considered more acceptable that depictions in other artistic mediums. This exhibit illustrates some of the different ways in which both Catholic and Protestant books employed images, ornaments, and decoration to frame the text.

This exhibit was prepared by Elisa Tersigni with substantial assitance from Chris Harry, Jessica Farrell-Jobst, Natalie Oeltjen, Erin Siegel, Hillary Walker-Gugan and Paul Wilson.


September 12, 2017
October 1, 2017


Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies


E.J. Pratt Library Entrance
71 Queens Park Crescent East
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7 Canada
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