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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:52

Video transcript

(piano music) Man: We're in the Alte Pinakothek, a museum in Munich in Germany. We're looking at Albrecht Durer's monumental Diptych. It's actually two panels, The Four Apostles. Woman: This is such an interesting painting because it's at this very moment that the Protestant Reformation is taking place and Durer, the artist, converted to Protestantism. That is, he converted from Catholic, from being a follower of the Pope in Rome to being a follower of Martin Luther. Man: I'm not sure that that would be clear to just anybody looking at this painting. So how do we know that? Woman: Durer depicted in the foreground the two apostles who were the favorites of Martin Luther, Paul and John. And he is depicted behind John, the apostle who is most associated with the papacy, with the Pope, Peter. Man: He is the one that is holding that large gold key, which is the key to the Kingdom of heaven. Woman: Right there we have the Reformation because the Reformation was about Luther's idea that we go back to the Bible, to the original source, to learn about God and how to achieve salvation, not the church and its practices, but the word of God. Man: The idea that the average person would have to have heaven unlocked by the papacy was no longer relevant. We all had access to the Bible. Woman: Exactly. We could have a personal relationship with God by reading the Bible and through prayer. Man: So this is only 50 years after Gutenberg had invented the printing press in the West. The Bible was being printed and distributed. It was being translated by Luther actually into German. No longer only in Latin, but now in the common languages. Woman: Before that Bibles were only in the hands of the monks and the priests. We see Luther's translation of the Bible actually in this painting. At the bottom we see the words The Four Apostles. Man: Let's just go through this so we know who everybody is. On the left panel in red closest to us is John. We know it's John because of the sense of serenity that is so associated with him. We've already established that the man in back of him older, bald, and holding the key is Saint Peter. But on the right side in the foreground, that is Saint Paul. As we might expect, Paul is holding a book and he's holding a sword. Woman: Right he was killed by the sword and he held the book because he's also the author of the letters in the New Testament. Man: In the back of him is Saint Mark who can be seen holding a scroll. Woman: With Saint Paul we have another apostle who was important to Luther. It was Paul's words that inspired Luther. Paul wrote, "The just shall live by faith alone." It was by faith, not by good works, that one gets to heaven. This was the central idea of the Protestants. Man: But I want to spend a moment looking at what the artist achieved. What Durer achieved. These men are so powerful. There is such a sense of monumentality. Woman: They're each so different. With John there is a sense of calm as he reads. Man: Peter on the other hand is older and he seems to be reading almost over John's shoulder, looking at what John has been showing him, learning. Woman: And I think a sense of subservience to John too. Man: Well his attribute, the key, is almost forgotten. All of their attention is on that book. Woman: And in fact the Bible is open to a passage that reads, "In the beginning was the Word "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." So this idea of not looking to the church but of looking to the very word of God, and then on the right two very different personalities. Again Mark, who seems to be on the lookout for some kind of danger on the horizon. Man: Whereas Paul looks as if he has completely come to terms with the danger that he puts himself in. Woman: He looks defensive. Man: Almost a kind of anger. Woman: All of these different personalities speak in different ways to this incredible moment of conflict. Man: Well this was a tremendously dangerous moment. Luther is rebelling against the church. These are states that are breaking away from the church. Woman: And wars are going to be fought and people are going to die. People really had to decide which path to take to follow the churches path to salvation or follow the Protestants path to salvation. Think about it. The fate of one's very soul depended on this decision. Man: There were also practical considerations because Durer as an artist, by giving up the Catholic faith, was giving up the patronage of the church as well. Woman: That's right because one of the things Luther's followers said, and Luther himself, was concerned about was the roll of the image of the church. They were concerned that people were worshiping images instead of God. So the areas that converted to Protestantism in Europe, the church doesn't commission works of art. The church was the main patron of art. Man: In fact, this was not a commission. These two paintings were made by Durer on his own and he gave it to the town elders and they were placed in the town hall in Nuremberg. Woman: We have written into this painting the perilousness of the time that Durer lived. In those four passages below we have the writings of the four apostles warning of false prophets, warning that human beings could easily go astray, and the importance of listening to the word of God and not to human interpreters. There is something in that compressed space that these figures occupy that focuses us on that idea of these figures transmitting the word of God. Man: So what a moment. People's religious understanding is being reinvented and Durer here is reinventing the way painting would respond. (piano music)