The Reformation – 500
Western European Graphic Art. 15th–20th Century
The exhibition “The Reformation – 500. Western European Graphic Art. 15th–20th Century” will be on show at the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE in Riga (6 Dome Square) from 21 January to 12 March 2017.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation Movement will be celebrated around the world in 2017. Although we know of other separate attempts to reform the Christian religion in previous centuries, the 31st October 1517 is still symbolically considered to be its beginning. On this day Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, turning radically against the trading of indulgences. He wanted to encourage academic discussion on the absolution of sins and did not suspect, at that time, that division in the church would continue for centuries due to the influence of political and economic circumstances.


To commemorate the beginning of this Reformation Movement commenced by Luther, the Latvian National Museum of Art (LNMA), the National Library of Latvia (NLL), and the University of Latvia (UL) have developed a considerable programme, in which the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE’s exhibition is the opening event. Each of the institutions, in its area of expertise, is creating its own story about the Reformation and the period from the Reformation until today, revealing its reflection within society, culture, science, books and art.


The Art Museum RIGA BOURSE’s exhibition is presenting not only Luther’s era and society, but also reflecting various types of Protestantism and their expressions in different centuries and cultural spaces, through the prism of 15th–20th century Western European graphics. Each of the five centuries is marked by an artist of the particular time, revealing the characteristic trends in sacred art in the context of the particular country. These are only some of the visualized points of reference in the 500-year history, which makes no claims on the complete picture of events, but encourages the identification of differences in the various centuries.


Undoubtedly, the central figure in the exhibition is theologist, priest, professor at Wittenberg University, and church reform ideologist Martin Luther, which is why the core of the exhibition is formed of German art, revealing a section from different centuries. Parallel to this, pages of graphics provide an opportunity to look at events in the Netherlands, Great Britain and France. The exhibition is not just about the Lutheran Church, but about the development trends of religious and sacred art in the cultural space, against the background of the Anglican and the Huguenot or Reformed Church with their postulates and particular attitude towards the presence of visual art.


The exhibition begins with the pre-Reformation period in Germany, which is revealed in the works by 15th century German artist Martin Schongauer (1445–1491) which are dedicated to the cult of the Virgin and scenes of holy life, showing the difference between the choice of themes in the tradition of the Reformation and the Catholic tradition. Luther’s period is shown by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), Albrecht Dürer (1481–1528), Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8–1543), Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473–1531), Erhard Altdorfer (post 1480 – post 1561) and other artists from the Reformation period, which include individual Albrecht Dürer illustrations of Sebastian Brant’s (1457/1458–1521) Ship of Fools published in Latin in 1497.


17th century Calvinist traditions are reflected in graphics by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) and Adriaen van Ostade, (1610–1685); the 18th century and the Anglican Church is presented through William Hogarth (1697–1764) and the art works representing his school, in which criticism and satire predominate; the 19th century’s period of German Romanticism – Gustav König’s (1808–1869) scenes from M. Luther’s life, the latter part of the 19th century’s French Mysticism by Gustave Doré (1832–1883) in Bible illustrations, and the 20th century – through Otto Dix’s (1891–1969) harsh and allegory saturated protest against the horrors of war. In following the interpretational differences of analogous themes in various cultural environments, the exhibition allows the viewer to evaluate five hundred years of experience and pose the question to themselves – where are we today?


The exhibition brings together the collections of the Latvian National Museum of Art and the National Library of Latvia and for the first time in Latvia, Thomas Emmerling’s (Germany / Romania) comprehensive collection of graphics, which includes the works of the above mentioned Martin Schongauer, Gustave Doré and Otto Dix. Whereas, the part of the exposition with works from the LNMA (including Gotha Album and art from Holland’s Golden Era) and the NLL’s collections (Albrecht Dürer et al), present Reinhold Philipp Schilling’s (LNMA) and Peter Böttger’s (NLL) bequests, so it could be said that this exhibition is a summary of three wonderful collections from different centuries.



Daiga Upeniece, Head of the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Latvian National Museum of Art



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