Run Don’t Walk: ‘Martin Luther’s Reformation’ at the Morgan Library in New York

Calling all Mockingbirds! Attention, all Mockingbirds! Run Don’t Walk to the Martin Luther exhibition at […]

Mockingbird / 10.10.16

Calling all Mockingbirds! Attention, all Mockingbirds!

Adam and Eve in excellent company

Adam and Eve in excellent company

Run Don’t Walk to the Martin Luther exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York. And first let’s get a couple of details straight. The Morgan is at the corner of 36th Street and Madison Avenue, which is exactly six blocks south of Grand Central Station. You can check out the opening hours on line, and the Morgan is only closed Mondays. Also, it’s a great place to go to the bathroom — always an issue in New York — and the cafe is excellent, and never crowded. Plus, the museum shop has the best art-postcards in Manhattan.

Basically, the Morgan Library is as wonderful, in its own way, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art; but unlike the Met, the Morgan is not crowded.

The exhibition is called “Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation”. My wife and I had thought to go next week, but then Melina Smith, Mockingbird supreme, went on opening day! Her photograph of the first thing you see when you walk in the room — “When You Walk in the Room” (Searchers, 1965) — which is two extraordinary wooden Renaissance figures of Adam and Eve — made us change our plans.

Now this is almost all material to which I’ve made a lifetime pilgrimage, in both heart and head. Most of the documents (but not all), most of the paintings (but not all), most of the engravings and drawings (but not all), some of the artifacts (definitely not all) were familiar. But it’s all here. Almost everything you’ve ever wanted to see is here.

Let me give you some examples:

The Lucas Cranach painting of “The Law and the Gospel” (sometimes entitled “The Old Testament and New Testament”) is a core theological classic. But did you know that Peter Dell reproduced it in wood in the 1530s? It’s a little more grim, a little more grisly, yet also more theatrical, in wood than it is in oils. This piece was completely new to me.


Did you know that Luther’s chasuble, which he probably wore as a priest prior to the Reformation breakthrough of 1516 and 17, still exists. That’s the Merseburg Cathedral Chasuble — which is now on display at the Morgan. Blow me away! In general I try to avoid wearing a chasuble — “She’s a Must to Avoid” (Herman’s Hermits, 1966) — but if I had to, the Merseburg chasuble is the one I’d choose. It’s so simply and theologically impressive.

Then there’s the original of Luther’s handwritten notes he wrote the night before his famous witness before the Diet of Worms. Luther’s handwritten notes — really, there, right in front of you. His Presidential Debate preps, you might say. Jim Munroe, who visited the exhibition the Saturday before I did, said that seeing Martin Luther’s actual signature, his actual writing, astonished him and moved him.


Two other things, and Jenem das Seine:

A painting is on display, which, again, was completely new to me. It depicts a medieval miracle in which the Rising and Risen Easter Christ appeared on the altar during the consecration of the Host, and made the altar look like a stone tomb, from which, merging corporeally with the Host, Christ rose up. The point being that the Miracle of Transubstantiation is the miracle of Christ’s Living Presence, His Resurrected Body, now. I like that!

I mean, if it were true, if one had actually witnessed such a vision, then we’d have to be Roman Catholics. Luther wanted to believe what the vision conveyed, and in a way did, sort of, to the day he died. What struck me about the painting is that it makes the direct visual correlation between the Bread of the Mass and the Real Presence of Christ. Not exactly the Thirty-Nine Articles, but hey.


Also, the exhibit shows you the metal pieces of type — the actual ones — that were used to print the first Reformation hymn book. They are tiny, they are all about “Ein fest’ Burg” — they were “Ein fest’ Burg” — and they are there. Details like this, wonderfully displayed, bring to life something that has probably not been an abstraction to me, but certainly can become one.

So run don’t walk to the Morgan. “Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation” is open through January 22nd, 2017.

Oh, and wait:

The chasuble in question

The chasuble in question

The German Government, which is one of the main entities behind “Word and Image”, has also helped in procuring the objects and documents for two parallel exhibitions on the same theme. The biggest one is in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It runs from October 30 through January 15, 2017. This exhibit will feature the pulpit — I believe, from Eisleben — from which Luther preached his last sermon. The second parallel exhibition is in Atlanta, at the Pitts Theology Library at Emory (Oct 30 – Jan 17). It is entitled “Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach and the Promise of Salvation”; and will feature (I believe) the original Cranach painting of ‘The Law and the Gospel’, from which the Peter Dell carved version at the Morgan is derived. Don’t you wish you could go to all three?

Finally, just for the record, your anonymous correspondent will preach on Reformation Sunday, October 30th, at Calvary/St. George’s in New York City. The St. George’s sermon will take place during the 10 o’clock service there (i.e., at 16th Street and Stuyvesant Square); the Calvary sermon, right after that, during the 11 o’clock service at Park Avenue and 21st Street. In this case, “Walk Don’t Run” (The Ventures, 1964). Hugs!