Keywords: Reformation Propaganda, Catholic clergy, wolf hunt, demons, evangelists, papal greed,
Making comparisons between people and animals by portraying them as animals or with the heads of animals was used as a Propagandists tool during the Protestant Reformation. Protestant propaganda employed the greedy canine motif to represent the Catholic clergy in opposition to Christian ideals of charity, humbleness, and meekness. The Catholic clergy were depicted as ravenous wolves to arouse emotions and fears in their viewing audience at a time when there was real fear of wolves in sixteenth-century Germany. They used the motif to link their opponents to the Devil as the wolf was used as a symbol of evil.
In additional portrayals of anthropomorphised wolves wearing headdresses of the clergy, two prints show a wolf hunting scene in reverse with Christ’s flock portrayed hunting the papal wolves. In this way, the prints explore the theme of the world turned upside-down. This point is underscored with the image of Isaiah overlooking the scene beyond the net, who is holding onto his scroll that prophesised God turning the world upside-down (Isaiah 24.1-2) (Scribner, 1981, pp. 166-68). This theme is portrayed in the anonymous print, Das yetz vil unradts ist im land das thuond die wolff in geistes gwand (‘That there is so much Wrong-Doing in the Land that is the Doing of the Wolf in the Clothing of the Spirit’) printed in c.1520-30. It was also portrayed in a c.1600 print, Die schandtliche flucht der wolfischen Papisten, veriaght van den Schaffen Gottes (‘The wicked curse of the wolfish Papists, chased away by God’s sheep’).
The highly detailed broadsheets, with no single focal point, invite close looking. In the earlier broadsheet, the wolves are portrayed fleeing from sheep armed with pitchforks and swords tied around their waists. In the fashion of a typical wolf hunt, the wolves are being chased towards a net where an army of sheep with battle axes and swords await them on the left and right, partially obscured by trees. Sheep are also wearing unleashed collars with their nose to the ground, representative of sniffer dogs used for a typical wolf hunt. Two sheep are shown as having leapt onto wolves, biting into their fur akin to a hunting dog or wolf. Near the top right of the scene, a ram bucks a bishop in wolf form out of what closely resembles a monastery, casting him out. Although the exact date of the print is uncertain, the militarised scene could have been influenced by the religious wars of the 1530s. In 1530, Emperor Charles V waged war against Lutheranism and the establishment of the Schmalkaldic League in 1529 (Luther, 1974, p.136). Therefore this broadsheet could have been influenced by this internal discord.
In contrast, the highly detailed engraving from around 1600 depicts wolves sent fleeing from Christ’s flock, not into a net, but back towards the pope. The pope is not represented as a wolf in this print, but as Death surrounded by demons (The broadsheet was transcribed in modern German in Forster, 1977, pp. 142-143). He is depicted with his arms around the whore of Babylon who sits upon the seven-headed dragon of the apocalypse (Harms, 1980, p. 118). The pope is framed by rising flames, symbolising hellfire. The accompanying motifs indicate that the papal wolves are agents of the Devil. The broadsheet exhibits a more apocalyptic image than the earlier broadsheet. The latter print is darker with the inclusion of gruesome iconography of demons and monsters, reflecting the intensified anxieties of the time. However, in both these prints, the sheep are no longer just victims of the wolfish clergy but are shown with agency, fighting against the tyranny of Rome. As the sheep fight back against the papal wolves, the broadsheet references the iconography of sheep in the jaws of the papal wolves and turns it on its head.
The theme of reading the direct word of God from the Bible is demonstrated in the c.1520-30 print in which the leaders of the hunt on the bottom right where biblical authors bring the word of God, each clasping their biblical books. Leading this group was Moses with the Torah, Peter blowing on a trumpet, and Paul portrayed holding a pitched fork. Following them are the Evangelists Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John in their symbolic animal forms. The text states that they are bringing the word of God back to the shepherds (the papal wolves): ‘his word, as sent by Moses, so that the shepherd who guides God’s sheep on earth is warned here, that he should teach the right truth as it has been told to us by Christ’ (‘sin wort/wie vor den Mosen gsant/Off das der hirt gewarnet werd/der die schäffly gottes uff erd/Soldt leeren die rechten warheit/als sy uns Christus hat geseyt.’ translation by Gerda Dinwiddie). Therefore, the intended audience was literate Protestants who would spread the message of the direct word of God through the Bible alone.
Instead of representing biblical authors, yet still paralleling the earlier broadsheet with their halos, the c.1600 print portrays a winged angel following the rams by blowing a Longhorn while holding a palm branch. The branch symbolised the commemoration of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem where people welcomed him holding palm branches and declared him the king of Israel (John 12.12-13) – symbolically a triumph over the tyrannical Roman empire (Scribner, 1981, pp. 63-5; Ferguson, 1959, p. 36). Within the context of this print, the palm branch represents the triumphant of Christ’s flock. This point is underscored by the horn the angel is blowing with a flag with an ‘x’ on it. This was the Greek letter (chi) for Christ (Ferguson, 1959, p. 150). Therefore, the papal wolves were characterised as Christ’s antithesis.
The two broadsheets further parallel each other with the depiction of God amongst the clouds. In the c.1520-30 woodcut, God is portrayed pointing to a sheep holding a flag with an image of the sun god, Helios or Apollo, evident from his crown that represents radiating light (Earls, 1987, p. 22). The depiction of the pagan god served as an emblem of Christ (Battistini, 2002, p. 192). Similarly, in the c.1600 engraving, rather than being a casual observer pointing down towards the scene, God is shown pointing a sword towards the fleeing wolves where flames reap their vengeance. A wolf fleeing with stolen treasures attached to its back receives the full brunt of the flames. An indulgence certificate is easily discerned amongst the treasures with papal wax seals dangling from it, which points to the greed of the papacy. This symbol of greed was underscored by the thieving wolf – who also served as a symbol of greed. The depiction of stolen treasures along with the indulgence certificate conflates the two in the same way that Marin Luther called the selling of indulgences robbery (Luther, 1974, pp. 142-43). As the wolf with the indulgence certificate runs in the direction of the pope, it also possibly refers to thesis 32 of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses (1517): ‘Anyone who thinks that owning an indulgence certificate can guarantee their salvation will end up in Hell along with those who taught them to think that way (Luther, 1996, p. 15).’
Underneath the horde of fleeing wolves lie the broken papal keys of temporal power and spiritual authority. Therefore, the battle lines were drawn between the sheep and wolves. The papal wolves had angered God and therefore were ‘othered’ in these oppositional prints of good versus evil. The theme of good versus evil and light versus darkness is also evident in this engraving with the depiction of the angel and Christ’s flock depicted against a light landscape versus the wolves who were driven into the darkness along with the Death pope and demons. The scene is complemented by owls in the sky that symbolise the devil and are fleeing doves that symbolise purity and the holy ghost (Ferguson, 1959, pp. 16-7, 22).
Battistini, Matilde, Symbols and Allegories in Art, trans. Stephen Sartarelli, Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002.
Earls, Irene, Renaissance Art: A Topical Dictionary, New York: Greenwood Publishing, 1987.
Ferguson, George, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Forster, Leonard, Kleine Schriften zur deutschen Literatur im 17 Jahrhundert, Amserdam: Rodopi, 1977.
Harms, Herausgegeben von Wolfgang, Deutsche Illustrierte Flugblätter des 16 und 17. Jahrhunderts, volume 2, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1980.
Luther, Martin, ‘Dr. Martin Luther’s Warning to his Dear German People, 1531,’ trans. Martin H. Bertram,’ in J. M. Porter (ed.), Luther: Selected Political Writings, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974, pp. 133-49.
Luther, Martin, ‘Luther’s 95 Theses (1517),’ in William G. Naphy (ed.), Documents on the Continental Reformation, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1996, pp. 14-16.
Scribner, Robert W. For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.