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12 / Conflict and Resistance

Calvinist Iconoclasm
Calvinist Iconoclasm
Artist / Origin Franz Hogenberg (German, ca. 1540– ca. 1590)
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1566
Material Etching
Dimensions H: 16 ½ in. (41.9 cm.), W: 22 in. (55.88 cm.)
Location Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Credit Courtesy of Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY/Photo by Christoph Irrgang

expert perspective

Freyda SpiraAssistant Curator of Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Additional Resources

Besançon, Alain. The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm. Translated by Jane Marie Todd. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Crew, Phyllis Mack. Calvinist Preaching and Iconoclasm in the Netherlands 1544–1569. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Eire, Carlos M.N. War against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Freedberg, David. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Koerner, Joseph Leo. The Reformation of the Image. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Calvinist Iconoclasm

» Franz Hogenberg (German, ca. 1540– ca. 1590)

For John Calvin, leader of a major Protestant reform movement in sixteenth-century Europe, art was about imitation and illusion.

Images, according to Calvin, held no religious relevance. Worse, images could lead to idolatry, the worship of the picture rather than the thing that it represented. In the summer of 1566, spurred on by the sermons of Calvinist preachers, zealous mobs descended on churches in the Netherlands, intent on ridding them entirely of their imagery. Many churches were literally white-washed.

Published in Michael Aitsinger’s 1588 De Leone Belgico, Hogenberg’s etching records this wave of Calvinist iconoclasm. In the print, guards stand before a church as iconoclasts seek out and destroy all forms of religious art within. Members of the mob are shown chopping up church furnishings, altarpieces, and panel paintings. They smash statues, lights, and stained glass windows. Others pull down the statues of saints from the tops of the columns running along the nave. Although its subject matter is the desecration of the house of God, Hogenberg’s etching is equivocal. To the left of the church, finely dressed on-lookers remark on the happenings taking place inside, while others stroll by without even noticing the destruction. However, to the right, the mob’s assault extends into the street, where participants begin to plunder local shops. Hogenberg shows both order and disorder in the events, which were prompted by conflicting attitudes about art and religion and helped to precipitate the Dutch Revolt against Spanish Catholic rule in the Netherlands.

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