Thursday, December 24, 2009

Visual Satire in the New Testament

While we do not usually equate the Bible with satire, its value as a powerful satirical source among writers and illustrators has long been recognized. Because of its broad and universal appeal the Bible lends itself as an effective satiric vehicle. In the famous woodcut by the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) The Whore of Babylon, a Christian allegorical figure of evil mentioned in the Book of Revelation 11:7 and associated with the Antichrist, is shown wearing the triple tiara worn by the popes of Rome. In creating this image, Cranach equated the Roman Church with the Antichrist, an uncommonly bold and controversial act for its time. In fact, these satirical images eventually proved too provocative. Despite its popularity—3000 copies are said to have been printed quickly sold—the Duke Georg of Ducal Saxony (1471–1539) prohibited its continued sale and use, identifying the woodcuts as being the most offensive aspect of Luther's vernacular New Testament. Melchior Lotter, the printer, tried to capitalize on the book’s success by printing a second edition in December. He appeased the Duke by reducing the number of tiaras worn in the December edition. This allowed him to reprint the book quickly and circulate it within neighboring Catholic territories. Pirated editions soon surfaced and some printers re-introduced the controversial tiaras that identified the Pope with the antichrist.

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