Woodcut (“Sauritt des Papsts”) after Lucas Cranach the Elder, used by Christian Rödinger the Elder of Magdeburg, of the pope riding a sow, holding steaming excrement

Woodcut (“Sauritt des Papsts”) after Lucas Cranach the Elder, used by Christian Rödinger the Elder of Magdeburg. According to I. Gobry, it is a reproduction of a Cranach woodcut (no. 6) in Martin Luther’s 1545 polemic Abbildung des Bapstum (cf. Image de la papauté (Grenoble: Millon, 1997), p. 118). R.W. Scribner unpacks the symbolism of the image in the context of Luther’s intent to “discredit papal plans for a General Council of the Church”:

The pope rides on a sow, carrying a spiral of steaming excrement on his open palm. The Latin text at the top says this is how the pope holds a council in Germany. The German text states that the sow must allow itself to be ridden and spurred from both sides. There are two allusions here. Luther often spoke of Germany as the “papal sow”, to be force-fed with papal lies for the pope’s sole gain. There was also a popular riddle in circulation, and which appeared in print in 1541: “How do you ride a sow so that it does not bite? — Put dung on your hand, and when the sow smells it, it will chase it and not bite the rider.” The message, then, was that Germany may well seek a council from the pope, but all it could expect was lies and deceit. (Cf. For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 82-83.)

The image may also have anti-Semitic undertones, recalling satirical depictions of Jews riding on pigs (cf. R.W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany (London: Hambledon Press, 1987), p. 292).

Call Number: GC5 F5948 550e

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