Conflicted Heroes: the Reformation and the Hebrew Bible
Curated by Dr Randi Klebanoff
13 September – 08 November 2009
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Conflicted Heroes presents Christian depictions of heroes from the Hebrew bible (called the Old Testament by Christians) during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Reformation Europe, a period of radical social destabilization. Religious reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin split away from the Church that had dominated European life since the Middle Ages, forming new religious denominations collectively known as Protestantism.
Bible stories enjoyed a new popularity during the Protestant Reformation. Luther advocated access to translations of the bible for all believers, and the widespread growth of the print trade made copies of his and other translations widely available. Artists and publishers flooded the market with prints and illustrated bibles that made the bible more vivid and accessible.
Prior to the sixteenth century, European Christians interpreted the Hebrew bible primarily in terms of typology: the ways in which it foreshadowed the New Testament Gospels. In the sixteenth century, Christian artists began developing imagery from the Hebrew bible independent of this typological framework. Artists such as Lucas van Leyden and Maarten van Heemskerck greatly expanded the repertoire of stories in prints that were widely distributed throughout Europe. Their exploration of the Hebrew bible’s storytelling potential in this period paved the way for Rembrandt and others in the following century.
The artworks in Conflicted Heroes reveal the legacy of the period of the Reformation: struggles over issues of identity, an awareness of the instability of truth, and a keen sense of the conflicted nature of humanity. Artists presented include Rembrandt van Rijn, Lucas van Leyden, Hans Sebald Beham, and Pieter Lastman. The exhibition features prints and paintings loaned by private collectors, and from the collections of CUAG, the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and Agnes Etherington Art Centre.