A Brief Review of
The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation
Reviewed by Chris Enstad
Ozment is the McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History at Harvard University. His ten books include one National Book Award finalist, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550. The Serpent and the Lamb is his latest masterful telling of Reformation history, namely the relationship between Lucas Cranach (the Serpent) and Martin Luther (the Lamb).
Ozment has done a wonderful job basically bringing us three histories: a history of Cranach, the painter and print-maker; one of Luther, the theologian; and an insightful examination of the partnership that squeezed open the door of religious freedom as well as ushering in a new energy around the German family.
Cranach and Luther were godparents to each other’s children and were considered to be friends. The bringing together of Cranach’s visually stunning art with Luther’s barrage of rhetoric from the pulpit and the printed page joined together to truly energize and communicate the message of the Reforming movement to the country and, finally, to the world.
Each came at the goal with separate agendas: Cranach’s to defeat the iconoclasts and restore art and artists to mainline acceptance. Luther’s the “wholesale replacement of Roman authority and religious doctrine in the churches and a new Protestant gospel of faith alone taking their place. With those ends in sight, each grasped the other’s hand and plunged back into Saxony’s confessional wars.”
The book is full of black and white and full color examples of Cranach’s work and reads like both a phenomenal art history book as well as a wonderful look at the world of the Reformation. Steven Ozment does a wonderful job of delivering history with a style that keeps the reader reading. His close examination of the use of nudity in Cranach’s art alongside the almost village-wide effort to get Luther married off to prove the Reformer’s point make a truly vivid point: it was an amazing time to be a theologian and an artist.
Chris Enstad is the Poetry and Fiction editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also Senior Pastor of Elim Lutheran Church of Robbinsdale, MN. His blog can be found at http://livingtheresurrection.typepad.com