October 19, 2017
School of Lucas Cranach, Fall and Redemption of Man, early 16th century, oil on canvas, 38 x 106 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Karel Waterman, 1962.
On this day in 1512, Martin Luther became a doctor of theology. His academic training, combined with his careful and faithful study of the bible, ignited within him a strong desire to clarify the Church’s beliefs about faith, grace, and salvation. Known now as the Father of the Reformation, then he was only Dr. Luther—theologian, priest, and monk, with a desire to know the will of God.
Rich in symbolic figures and narratives, this painting asserts Luther’s doctrine that salvation is obtained through faith in Christ and His grace, and rejects the Catholic belief that works determine salvation. At center, a young man—representing every man or woman—sits between Moses, representing the Mosaic law of ritual and actions as a means for salvation, and John the Baptist who indicates that faith in the Savior marks the pathway to heaven.
Throughout the painting, scriptural motifs from the Old and New Testaments emphasize the limitations of deeds alone and the redemptive power of grace. The allusion to the fall of Adam and Eve at left is contrasted with the figure of Christ on the right, rising from a grave and subduing death and sin. At the top of the painting, Moses obtains the law in a heavenly vision while on a mountaintop opposite, Mary receives the message that she will bear the Christ Child—the fulfillment of the New Law. The narrative of the Israelites and the brazen serpent contrasts with the angels declaring glad tidings to the shepherds and Christ suffering on the cross. The disparity between the verdant Tree of Life on the right and the barren expanses on the left further emphasizes that only faith in Christ’s mercy can assure salvation.