Witchcraft and the Occult, 1400-1700
The Devil and the Reformation

Caricature of Calvin by the Vienna court painter,
Giuseppe Arcimboldo   larger image

During the Reformation of the sixteenth century, Protestants and Catholics depicted one another, in word and image, as the servants of Satan.  This page is intended as an introduction to the iconography of the period, to show its pre-Reformation roots and its general character.

This image of the fight of the City of Satan (Babylon) against the City of God (Syon) is in an edition of St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei [The City of God] printed by Johann Amerbach at Basel in 1489.  The Swiss city of Basel was a major printing centre and was to become a stronghold of the moderate Reformation.  Paracelsus taught at the university there, and Erasmus chose to end his days there, among his Protestant friends rather than among his less tolerant co-religionists.  Note the halo of the saintly author, the very different character of the two figures representing citizens, the dogs of the prosperous burgher of Syon which represent fidelity, and the angelic and demonic defenders of the cities.

The following images are taken from a work that is more explicitly concerned with the demonic, Jacobus de Teramo's Das Buch Belial, printed at Augsburg in 1473.  Unusually, it concerns Old Testament characters.  Above, the demon Belial is presenting his credentials to King Solomon, after appearing with his entourage of four lesser demons.
Here, Belial dances before Solomon, and then returns to the gates of Hell.  This image of the entrance to Hell as a monster's maw was commonplace in this period.  Examples have been found under the later whitewash, on the walls of many an English parish church, as at Wenhaston, and as far from the European mainstream as Finland and Denmark, where they were not obliterated by the Lutheran Church.  The image is also common in manuscripts, such as the magnificent Livre d'heures d'Etienne Chevalier, painted by Jean Fouquet, circa 1460.
Imagery of devils assaulting the Citadel of Heaven became widespread, moving from manuscripts and wall paintings in churches to the printed page.  The above image is from Celifodina's Scripturae Thesaurus, printed by B. M. Lantzberg at Leipzig in 1510.

Images of demons started to appear in mundane contexts, to make moral lessons more forceful.  Demons were no longer fighting only for the abstract City of God, but were also ubiquitous in everyday life, even in church.  Here a demon is causing women to gossip during Mass, and demons keep score on the babbling of women during the holy office. From Geoffrey de Latour Landry's Ritter vom Turn, printed by Michael Furter at Basel in 1493.
Here, the demonic hordes of Hell are catching the souls of sinners, driving them into the flames and the maw of the monster.  Note the use of bellows by the demon at the top.  From Warning vor der falschen lieb dieser werlft, printed by Peter Wagner at Nuremberg in 1495. larger image
Even before the Reformation, the Papacy could be seen by some as demonic.  Here, Pope Alexander VI is seen as a demon who declares, "Ego sum Papa" (I am the Pope), in a Parisian handbill of the late 15th century.  Formerly known as Rodrigo Borgia, this Spanish Pope was notorious, not only as the father of such children as Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, but also as an expansionist military ruler, always in need of funds for wars against the Northern Italian allies of the French, a lavish personal lifestyle, and large-scale building projects.   larger image

The early attempts at ecclesiastical reform were accompanied by the established imagery of the demonic.  Here, George Zingel, one of the adversaries of the reformer Jacob Lochner, is depicted as an infernal monster.  From Lochner's polemical treatise, Apologia contra poetarum acerrimum Hostem Georgium Zingel, printed by Johann Gröninger at Strasbourg in 1503.  In the 1520s, the images produced at Strasbourg reflected anticlericalism and iconoclasm, in line with the radical nature of the early Reformation in Strasbourg. From the 1530s, they reflect a more spiritualist tendency, as the town had a strong Anabaptist influence. After 1540, there was a decline in production as Strasbourg became Lutheran.
No sooner had Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg than the attacks began.  Here we see a reforming minister, officiating at the marriage of the fool and the she-devil, from Thomas Murner's anti-Lutheran pamphlet, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren, circa 1518, and Martin Luther triumphing over the Devil in the garb of a monk, from Mattheus Gnidius' Dialogi, a Reform pamphlet attacking the Catholics Murner and Weddel, in 1521.
The Protestants, with their greater emphasis on the printed word, proved themselves masters of the accompanying image too.  This demonic anti-Papist caricature appears on the title page of the Opera Poetica of the knightly reformer Ulrich von Hutten, printed by Henri Petri at Basel in 1538.  A frequently told tale among Protestants was that of  two Dominican monks, burned at the stake by order of the Inquisition, for allegedly signing pacts with the Devil. From the Histoire veritable de quatre Iacopins, Geneva, 1549.
Images in books were only a small part of the propaganda assault, however.  Cheap printed works, in the form of handbills and broadsides, reached a far wider audience, being posted on walls and read aloud in taverns.  Here we see indulgence peddlers in the jaws of Hell, from a satiric Reformation handbill, printed in Germany during the late sixteenth century. larger image
In a German broadside of the same period, we see the Papal hierarchy as mash in the Devil's vineyard.  larger image.

The attack on the clergy dominated the production of visual images in Germany. Anticlericalism did not consist of a general critique of the Church as an institution, but rather of criticism of the holders of clerical office. Visual imagery, largely deriving from such anticlericalism, ensured not only the effective reception of the reforming message, but also brought about a thoroughgoing change in the laity's attitude toward the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Visual depictions, more than words, were capable of destroying the emotional ties to the clergy which for centuries had been strengthened by images and ritual, and succeeded in replacing them with new ones.

Although Protestants and Catholics did not actually prosecute one another for witchcraft very often, and the period of the early reformation did not see major surges in prosecution rates, it seems likely that the great increase in visual representations and theological discussion of the role of the Devil in contemporary life was a major factor in encouraging both people and pastors to be on the lookout for the Devil's minions.  Both images and sermons may well have helped to create the terms in which popular and learned culture could speak to one another.

Illustrated course on Printing and Visual Propaganda in Germany, by C.Scott Dixon

Frank Muller, "L'Evolution de l'Image de Propagandie à Strasbourg dans les Premiers Temps de la Réforme", Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français 140 (1994) 7-31

Hans-Jürgen Goertz,  " 'Bannwerfer des Antichrist' und 'Hetzhunde des Teufels': die antiklerikale Spitze der Bildpropaganda in der Reformation", Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 82 (1991) 5-38

Robert W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany (Ronceverte, W. Va.: Hambledon, 1988)

Robert W. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981)