The Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation

LibraryThe GemsThe Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation

The tales of Thebes, Troy, Alexander, the Round Table, the song of the Niebelungen, these represent the great French and German story cycles of the Middle Ages. An important German collection, the Kalocsa Codex, contains branches of the Reynard story (known as Roman de Renard and Reinhard Fuchs) and numerous texts by the Middle High German itinerant poet known as Der Stricker. The cycle of Reynard tales led the way for allegorical literature down to Christine de Pisan, René d’Anjou and the mysterious Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the Dream of Poliphilus. The storyteller’s art and moral literature are the province of Boccaccio and Chaucer, both of whom are recalled in exceptional manuscripts. Dante is abundantly represented and is one of the five pillars of the collection. Indeed the quattrocento well deserves a special place in our displays. With Petrarch, poetry went through a renewal that would continue to play out as far as Ronsard, while the humanist spirit, with Erasmus, swept through Europe. The Age of the Printing Press also heralded the era of the Reformation and Luther’s theses, down to the Edict of Nantes in France.

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A gem of the period: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Disputatio pro declaratione Virtutis indulgentiarumfirst edition
The “95 Theses,” Nuremberg, Hieronymus Höltzel, 1517

“Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.”

Click on the image to view the work in detail.


Disputatio pro declaratione Virtutis indulgentiarum

Martin Luther, the “95 Theses,” Nuremberg, 1517, first edition

Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” represented an upheaval in European Christianity by providing the development of Protestantism with a foundation.

Written in Latin in 1517, Luther’s famous theses did not aim to divide the Church. Intended for a limited circle of scholars, they were more like invitations to an academic and theological discussion. By criticizing the theological concepts of his day, the German friar, a doctor of theology from the Augustinian friary in Erfurt and later preacher at the parish church in Wittenberg, sought to spread a better image of the papacy.

His opposition to the sale of indulgences that Leo X had introduced to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was the result of his thinking about divine salvation. Probably posted on the doors of the All Saints’ Schlosskirche, or Palatial Church, in Wittenberg (the authenticity of the famous episode has never been attested), and sent to the archbishops of Mainz and Brandenburg, the theses were printed in Leipzig, Basel, and Nuremberg, where Hieronymus Höltzel was especially active.

Widely distributed, Luther’s theses were translated into German and spoken of from the pulpit, sparking a scandal in Germany. Only four complete copies of the first edition are known to exist today.

Another gem of the period: Le Roman de la Rose