Hello, yellow

Posted on 13th June 2022 by simonbeattie

An etching from Augsburg, 1717, printed on yellow silk

In his A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor writes that ‘you can hardly turn on the radio or open a newspaper these days without being bombarded by yet another anniversary – a hundred years since this, two hundred years since that.  Our popular history seems to be written increasingly in centenaries, all generating books and exhibitions, T-shirts and special souvenir issues, in a frenzy of commemoration.  Where did this habit of anniversary festivities begin?  The answer takes us to the great struggle for religious freedoms played out across northern Europe in the seventeenth century.  The first of all these modern centenary celebrations seems to have been organised in Germany, in Saxony in 1617; the event it was commemorating had taken place a hundred years earlier.  In 1517, the story goes, Martin Luther picked up a hammer and nailed what was effectively his religious manifesto – his ninety-five theses – to a church door; in doing so he triggered the religious turmoil that would become the Protestant Reformation’ (p. 467).  MacGregor goes on to describe a woodblock print from Leipzig in 1617.  The present print illustrated above fast-forwards another hundred years, to the bicentenary of the Reformation, with an etching on coloured silk printed in Augsburg. The artist–engraver Elias Baeck (1679–1747) presents an emblematic image, a printed key underneath, with the commemorative column of the title in the centre surrounded by vignettes depicting, inter alia, Luther nailing up his theses and the Augsburg Confession of 1530.  It is dedicated to Jacob Fuhrmann, Raymond Feuerstein, and Heinrich Beeg, the Zechpfleger—citizens appointed by the city council of Augsburg to oversee the finances—of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Cross, the first Protestant church building in the city (1652/3).

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