“December Testament”

German New Testament.
Das Newe Testament deutzsch.
Wittenberg: Melchior Lotter, the Younger, 1522. (BRA0930)

Although Martin Luther was not the first to translate the Bible into German, he was the first to translate the text from the original biblical languages. First printed at Wittenberg in September 1522, Luther’s German New Testament was considered a philological and literary masterpiece that exerted enormous influence on the development of modern German. This second edition, known as the “Dezembertestament,” is the earliest publication in Bridwell Library’s extensive collection of Protestant Bibles printed in numerous vernacular languages.

In addition to aggressively promoting the reading of biblical texts in the vernacular, the Protestant Reformation also introduced one of the most creative and controversial periods of printed Bible illustration. Martin Luther made effective use of translations enriched with woodcuts, beginning with his first translation of the German New Testament. For that edition he employed Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), one of the leading artists of the German Renaissance, to supply a rich program of woodcuts, including twenty-one full-page illustrations of the Apocalypse.

Luther’s “December Testament” appeared with the same set of woodcuts used in the first edition. The illustration of the Harlot of Babylon (Revelation 17-18), however, is an altered version of the woodblock that Cranach originally used to illustrate the September edition. In the earlier printing, the woodcut had a clear Protestant agenda, as Cranach emphasized the harlot’s identification with the Catholic Church by placing the triple tiara of the papacy upon her head. However, after warnings that this symbolism was too offensive, the book was reprinted with the papal tiara removed from this image.

Luther Bibles
“December Testament”