The works of Hans Holbein, probably more than those of any other Renaissance artist, were directly affected by the events of the Protestant Reformation. During the High Renaissance in Italy around the beginning of the sixteenth century, a time of social, political, and religious unrest was also brewing. Reformers within the Catholic Church felt the church was becoming very distorted and worldly. The reformers were concerned with their own sins and salvation, not the pleasures of the world. Martin Luther (1483-1546), the first Protestant reformer, travelled to Rome in 1510. He was also very disappointed to see the worldliness of the church. The final insult was the sale of indulgences, where people could purchase their way into Heaven. Pope Julius was a leading force behind these sales as he wanted to use the money to help rebuild St. Peter’s. This idea infuriated people in the north, and those within the church who were looking for reform. People couldn’t just “buy” their way into heaven. Luther, by studying the Bible, came to believe that salvation came from faith alone in Jesus Christ and that the Bible should be central in the lives of individuals and the church. Being a friar himself, he wanted the indulgence issue and others to be debated. Since he was a professor and doing what the university community normally would do for matters of discussion, he posted his 95 Theses on the university’s bulletin board – the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. Luther did not expect any reaction outside of the university community, but the theses quickly spread throughout Germany. Thus began the Protestant Reformation, which would turn Europe into a blood bath and have an enormous impact on the political, religious, social, and artistic world, which people had grown accustomed to for the past few centuries.
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Pulsifer, Jean, "Hans Holbein the Younger – The Interweaving of His Life and Works with the Events of the Protestant Reformation" (2012). Academic Symposium of Undergraduate Scholarship. Paper 19.