Jesuits Portrayed with Dog-Heads in Protestant Polemical Prints

Keywords: Jesuits, Dominicans, Martin Luther, Reformation, Order of Jesus, Counter-Reformation

The Jesuits became an especial target in the Protestant polemical campaign as they became a significant and influential order of the Catholic Church, particularly during the Counter-Reformation period. While artists used various animals to mock the Catholic clergy, the dog and the wolf were popular, as they had biblical resonance and cultural familiarity. Although the floppy-eared dog resembles a beloved pet, it was not meant to be interpreted as any less ruthless than the portrayal of a wolf-headed clergy. Jesuits were particularly singled out for the depiction of the floppy-eared dog. It could signal that the Jesuits appear like a harmless pet on the outside in that they took vows of poverty, chastity, and were forbidden for holding office or benefices within the Church, thus avoiding corruption (Morris, 2002, p. 89).

Anonymous, Der Jesuitter sampt ihrer Gesellschafft Trew und Redligkeit, 1632,
Engraving, 36.8 x 27.3 cm, Munich, Bayerische StaatBibliothek

The allegory of false piety and revelation is evident in an anonymous broadsheet entitled Der Jesuitter sampt ihrer Gesellschafft Trew und Redligkeit (‘The Jesuit, together with his company, Loyalty and Honesty’), printed in 1632. The Jesuit clasping his rosary beads with his hands crossed before his chest looks towards the Dominican with reverence, guiding the viewer’s eye to the second figure. The Dominican priest holds an open Bible and gazes emotionlessly into the distance while holding a sceptre of authority in a stance that is formal and commanding (Hall, 2008, p. 283). However, these formal and ceremonial figures hide their true nature. With the turning of the small paper flaps that cover their heads, the Jesuit resembles a dog with its floppy ears, while the Dominican appears to be a wolf with its pointed ears and characteristic sheep in its jaws referencing Matthew 7.15-16 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’. The accompanying text describes how God sees people for what they truly are:

God lives and still sees all things, be they large, high, or slight. He does not despise the prayer of the poor, because he looks deeply into that which is hidden […] Even if the godless one rises up high, and if the punishment takes a little time […] for whoever deals with deception and ruse, will not flourish for long.” (‘ob schon der Gottlos hoch auffsteigt/Und sich die Straff etwas verzeucht […] Denn wer mit Btrug und List umbgeht/Derfelb nicht lang in flore steht […] Gott lebt und siht noch alle Ding/Sie sind gleich gros/hoch odr gering/Der Armin Gebet veracht er nicht/Weil er tieff ins verborgen sicht.’ Translation by Gerda Dinwiddie)

Anonymous, Der Jesuitter sampt ihrer Gesellschafft Trew und Redligkeit, 1632,
Engraving,  36.8 x 27.3 cm,
Munich, Bayerische StaatBibliothek

Their clerical robes and rosary beads with crucifixes that symbolise piety are portrayed as a disguise hiding their true nature. Martin Luther had called out the superficiality of clerical dress by stating:

The pope or bishop anoints, shaves heads, ordains, consecrates, and prescribes garb different from that of the laity, but he can never make a man into a Christian or into a spiritual man by so doing (Luther, 1947, p. 40).

In this way, the clergy would not be able to hide their true nature for long.

The contrast between the dog-headed Jesuit with the wolf-headed Dominican priest demonstrates the different uses of the canine motif in Reformation broadsheets. The Jesuit is portrayed gazing almost adoringly at the Dominican. He is shown kneeling, evident from the intricate folds at the bottom of his gowns. For this reason, it appears that the Dominican wolf was presented higher in the hierarchy. The Jesuit presents as a submissive dog before the alpha wolf. While the wolf was an animal to be feared, it also possessed the medieval idea of nobility attributed to predatory animals. Although dogs are also carnivorous, they are domesticated, and as servants of man, were regarded as positioned lower in hierarchy even though they were considered more useful (Salisbury, 2000, pp. 52, 56). This portrayal of the two orders signified the new order of the Jesuits in comparison to the old Dominican order. Dominicans still had a strong presence throughout the Reformation with their numbers doubling during the sixteenth century (Bireley, 1998, p. 27).

Despite the hierarchical nature of their portrayal, the text does not interpret the dog-headed Jesuit as any less dangerous than his wolf counterpart. As the text states:

In sheep’s clothing they walk around, in their hearts they are wolves: The Jesuits’ black order has become quite doglike and murderous. The enemy of God’s words, of truth, describes that they are bloodthirsty: For one cannot, according to their will, fill them enough with our blood. Therefore, you cruel terrible animal, the devils’ false honour and adornment.’ (‘ob schon der Gottlos hoch auffsteigt/Und sich die Straff etwas verzeucht […] Denn wer mit Btrug und List umbgeht/Derfelb nicht lang in flore steht […] Gott lebt und siht noch alle Ding/Sie sind gleich gros/hoch odr gering/Der Armin Gebet veracht er nicht/Weil er tieff ins verborgen sicht. Translation by Gerda Dinwiddie).

The Jesuit’s bloodthirsty nature, however, was not intended to be interpreted in a literal sense as the surrounding text related to the teachings of the Jesuits: for example: ‘their teaching is pure sin’ (‘Ihre Lehre ist eitel Sünde.’) (Psal. 59). The text below also states: ‘you persecute His holy word so much’ and ‘God’s word you speak falsely.’ (‘Sein heiligs Wort verfolgst du sehr’ ‘Gottes Wort zeuch siu fälschlich an’ Translation by Gerda Dinwiddie). The broadsheet served as a warning against the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Jesuits more specifically as the text only mentioned the Dominicans once. The end of the broadsheet reminded its audience to read directly from scripture therefore it was designed for wide appeal amongst the German laity.

The Order of Jesus was established to defend Catholicism and saw themselves as the preeminent teachers of Christianity (O’Malley, 1993, p. 18). The Catholic Church’s success in maintaining Catholicism in Germany was attributed to the work of the Jesuits who targeted the education of youth and countering Protestant Propaganda, which made them a target of Protestant polemic during the second half of the sixteenth century (Jensen, 1992, p. 204; Smith, 2002, p. 3). Therefore, the use of the dog motif could reference the Jesuits being actors for the Catholic Church – to spread their word and their teachings. In this way, they were submissive to the Catholic Church rather than God Himself. The Jesuits differed from other orders as they vowed direct obedience to the pope (Jensen, 1992, p. 204). Obedience was central to the Order of Jesus (Höpfl, 2004, pp. 26-7). Therefore, their portrayal as dogs over wolves.

The depiction of Jesuits with the heads of dogs during the Counter-Reformation represented the desperation of the reformers to maintain their impact in the face of the influence of the Jesuits, who, through education were able to inhibit the spread of the Protestant message. The dramatic decline in the re-printings of Luther’s works from their initial peak during the early 1520s provides evidence of the wane in public interest in the Lutheran message (Edwards, 1988, p. 157).


Bireley, Robert, Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

Edwards, Jr. Mark U. ‘Statistics on Sixteenth-Century Printing,’ in Phillip N. Bebb and Sherrin Marshall (eds.) The Process of Change in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of Miriam Usher Chrisman, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1988, pp. 149-165.

Hall, James, Dictionary of Subject and Symbols in Art, Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 2008.

Höpfl, Harro, Jesuit Political Thought: The Society of Jesus and the State, c.1540–1630, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Jensen, De Lamar, Reformation Europe: Age of Reform and Revolution, Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992.

Luther, Martin, An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate 1520, trans. Charles Michael Jacobs, Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1947.

Morris, T.A. Europe and England in the Sixteenth Century, London: Routledge, 2002.

O’Malley, John W. The First Jesuits, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Salisbury, Joyce E. ‘Human Animals of Medieval Fables’, in Nona C. Flores (ed.), Animals in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays, New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 49-67.

Smith, Jeffrey Chipps, Sensuous Worship: Jesuits and the Art of the Early Catholic Reformation in Germany, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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