Illustrating the Reformation

[Actes and monuments of matters most speciall and memorable, happening in the church, with an vniuersall history of the same... now againe, as it was recognised, perused, and recommended to the studious reader by the author Master Iohn Foxe].

October 31, 2017 marks not only the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’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 now 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 than 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 complement text.


All the books featured in this exhibit are from the collection of the Centre for Reformation & Renaissance Studies, located on the third floor of E.J. Pratt Library.


This exhibition was curated by Elisa Tersigni, who is a PhD candidate in English and Book History & Print Culture. Her research brings together analytical bibliography and algorithmic methodologies to examine writing, printing, and the English language during the English Reformation. 


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

Illustrating the Reformation