History of the World in Objects and Art

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History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline
A Hotbed of Crime and Fornication

Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses" and schism

Cranach Lucas the Elder 
Martin Luther Preaching

General view of the altar predella in St Mary's Church, Wittenberg

Trouble was brewing in Europe: abuse of authority, ostentation, debauchery and bribery. Or so some Christians viewed the state of affairs around 1500.They considered the Pope the devil incarnate and his Church a bastion of lust, stupidity, greed and corruption. The sermons of the Dominican Johann Tetzel were water on the critics' mill. In 1517 Tetzel proclaimed that the Pope had granted him such authority that he could grant absolution even to someone who confessed he had fathered the child of the Virgin Mary — that is, if the sinner was to pay.

For some time now pulpits had been resounding with sermons offering remission of sins for money and a direct path to Heaven without a detour through Purgatory. The sermons preached by Johann Tetzel, however, were the ones that provoked Martin Luther, an Augustine monk and professor of theology at Wittenberg. In mounting a challenge, Luther said it was utter nonsense to think God could be bought. He held that the only thing one could do for one's salvation was to believe in God and live accordingly. Luther was in a rage when he wrote out his "Ninety-Five Theses". He is said to have nailed them to the portal of Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October 1517. All that has been conclusively proved by historians, however, is that he sent his "Theses" to his bishop on the Saturday that marks the beginning of the Reformation.

Luther's goal was a theological debate; the authorities would have none of it. But thousands of copies of the "Theses" had been made and distributed, thanks to the new technology of printing, and a popular movement coalesced around them. It was too late for the ancient Church: the Reformation became a revolution, scourging pilgrimages and liturgical practises as "senseless foolery". Led by Luther's rhetoric which was sometimes eloquent and religious, sometimes violent and vulgar, the Reformers went quickly from demanding the abolition of priestly celibacy to a thorough re-casting of the Church. And the movement assumed a political and social dimension, propagated under the slogan: "freedom of Christian people". Together with the Humanist movement, the Reformation effected cultural change on a hitherto unprecedented scale.

Luther had a broad following: he was joined by merchants, peasants, craftsmen and princes. Supported by the princes, Luther was able to stand up to the Pope and the Emperor. Among hisfollowers was the Northern Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. At the Wittenberg Court, Cranach became a personal friend of the Reformer. Cranach executed several portraits of Luther, among them one for St Mary's Church, Wittenberg. It portrays Luther in his office as preacher there. In much of northern Europe, the ancient Church was no match for Luther's movement. After the Schism with Rome had taken place, Protestantism was ready to grow into a world-wide movement.

Queen of Angels and Men
Visiting Dresden, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821—1881) could hardly tear himself away from The Sistine Madonna. He kept returning to the Gemaldegalerie where it hung to spend hours in front of it. Vasari, the Founding Father of art history, said of the artist: "How generous and benevolent Heaven may on occasion show itself to be by showering one man with the infinite riches of its treasures, all the grace and rare gifts otherwise distributed over a long period of time among many individuals, can be clearly seen in the beauty and grace of Raphael." Dostoyevsky may have had similar feelings about the painting and the artist. On his last day in Dresden, he pulled up a chair in front of the painting so that he might be closer to the Madonna's face: "What beauty, innocence and sadness in that heavenly countenance, what humility and suffering in those eyes. Among the ancientGreeks the powers of the divine were expressed in the marvellous Venus de Milo; the Italians, however, brought forth the true Mother of God — the Sistine Madonna." The author of Crime and Punishment (1866) went so far as to claim that, compared to this masterpiece, other representations of the Virgin resemble bakers' wives or other pedestrian, petty-bourgeois women.

A major Italian artist by 1500, Raphael was commissioned at the age of thirty-nine to work on the design of the new St Peter's in Rome. The young architect had already painted The Sistine Madonnafor the high altar of San Sisto in Piacenza, where the relics of Pope Sixtus 11 (martyred in 258) had been kept since the ninth century. The Sistine Madonna hung in the church until 1755, when it came into the possession of the Prince Elector, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. Before Dostoyevsky, German writers, such as August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Heinrich von Kleist and Franz Grillparzer, had been enthralled by the painting. The Sistine Madonna continues to enjoy wide acclaim to this day. In recent times, advertising and commerce have discovered the irresistible appeal of the two bored, mischievous angels on the lower edge of the picture plane. They appear on cups and napkins, letter paper and lampshades. Putti like these are a type of angel, which made their first appearance during the Renaissance. Deriving from the Italian word for "child" or "infant boy", the putto, with his chubby, sensual cheerfulness, is in the tradition of Eros or Cupid, the god of love. In ancient writings and representations, Eros was portrayed as a half-naked boy with wings, while his figure ranged from slim to plump. The child-like appearance of Italian putti is an expression of their innocence. In connection with the Virgin, they represent the immaculate purity of the Queen of angels and men.

The Sistine Madonna
Oil on canvas, 265 x 196 cm
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden
Money Makes the World Go Round

Trade and coins in early modern times

The term "trade" was first used in the modern sense in ancient Egypt. From the fourth millennium ВС, the land of the Pharaohs maintained trade links with other civilisations. These commercial ties consisted primarily of the bartering of goods, such as raw materials, hides, tools, even the brightcoloured feathers of exotic birds, valuable shells and, of course, precious stones. ThePersians were the ones to invent the mintage of coins. The bartering of goods gradually yielded to payment in currency, although the heyday of the coin did not arise until the Middle Ages, when importing goods became of primary importance. Suddenly Venetian, Genoese and Pisan ships were sailing across the Mediterranean to meet caravans bringing silk overland from China or spices from India. On returning to their home ports, the Italian manners sold their valuable cargoes to merchants. In the Holy Roman Empire, for instance, powerful mercantile enterprises sprang up everywhere. The Hanseatic League controlled trade to and from the North Sea and the Baltic coasts.

Once the era of overseas discovery and exploration was well underway, trade became a global matter. At that time, paper money (a Chinese invention) was used in Europe merely as a receipt for monies tendered, and the material value of coins still corresponded to their nominal value. Yet money looked different depending on where one went. Only money changers were able to determine the value of a coin by looking at it through a magnifying glass and by placing it on the scales to find out its exact gold or silver content. For this reason money changers were an indispensable part of life in the great trade centres and market towns. Even the man in the street required their services. Without the money changers a soldier who wanted a tankard of beer in the town where he was garrisoned would have had to drink water if he had carried only the currency of his native city. Flemish painter Quentin Massys observed a money changer at work in Antwerp. At that time the city was the main port of the Low Countries, and bustled with economic activity. Money changers enjoyed high status. Nevertheless, they were always suspected of being stingy, avaricious and of charging exorbitant interest. Perhaps the wife of the money changer depicted is contemplating a prayer book in the pious hope that she and her husband will not be led into temptation by the lure of riches....

Quentin Massys
The Moneylender and his Wife
Musee du Louvre, Paris

The Protestant Reformation

The Spanish Conquest of Mexico

From its beginnings in 15th-century Anatolia (in modern Turkey), the Ottoman Empire grew to control a vast territory, stretching eastwards to Iraq and the western borders of Iran. The sultans inspired respect and fear throughout Christian Europe.
After the creation of the Ottoman Empire under the northern Anatolian ruler Osman I, the empire expanded under his successors. Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was captured in 1453 under Sultan Mehmet II. Egypt, the Hejaz region in Arabia with its holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as Iraq fell to the Ottomans soon after. The empire was at its peak in the 16th century, during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. At this time, the

Ottomans were famed for their wealth, much of which was built on trade, and their military prowess. Although the Ottoman Empire existed in some form until the early 20th century, its decline began during the rule of Suleyman's son, Selim. His weak leadership encouraged corruption within the government. Public support diminished and the empire lost land to encroaching European powers. By the end of World War I it had ceased to exist.

The Battle of Panipat

Lasting for more than 200 years, the Persian Safavid Empire was known for its fine arts and crafts—especially its poetry and architecture. However, the Safavid era was also a time of religious transformation, as Shia Islam was implemented in Iran.
The Safavid dynasty laid the foundation of modern Iran. Although it was named for the descendants of Sufi leader San al-Din, the dynasty began with the rule of Isma'il I, who came to power in 1501. He brought all of Iran under his control, and the territory grew to encompass parts of modern Iraq, including Baghdad.

A new capital was established at Isfahan, replacing the two previous capitals of Tabriz and Qazvin. Isfahan became a thriving city renowned for its beautiful architecture. At the same time, there was growing wealth, much of it related to silk. This was produced by the local Armenian community, which held a monopoly on the trade. Arts, such as manuscript painting and poetry, also flourished.


It was in the realm of religion that Isma'il made the longest-lasting impact. He decreed that the Shia form of Islam should be the established religion at a time when this variant was a smaller sect in a largely Sunni area, although he was not the first to do so; Shia had been the official religion in Fatimid Egypt around the 10th century. However, Isma'il's policy was unpopular in other parts of the Muslim world. At the same time, the Safavids were under pressure from the Ottoman Turks, who mounted an invasion in 1514, leading to more than a century of intermittent warfare. The Safavids also had to fight against the Uzbeks, who were attacking from the northeast.

Shah Abbas I came to power in 1588. He made an uneven peace with the Ottomans in 1590 by giving away territory in order to focus on fighting the Uzbeks. The Safavids eventually defeated the Uzbeks, and then the Turks once again in 1603, who were forced to renounce all the territory they had seized, keeping the Safavid Empire intact for another century.

Although the work of the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjawi, popularly known as Nizami, predated the establishment of the Safavid dynasty, it remained an important part of Iran's written culture for hundreds of years. His writings in Persian synthesized many earlier poetic traditions, while setting a new standard that ensured his work became influential across Iran and beyond.

The respect Nizami garnered is evident from the fact that many illuminated manuscript versions were made of his greatest work, Khamsa, or The Five Poems. The earliest surviving copy dates from 1362, while the manuscript shown here dates from 1584. The poems in this version are illustrated with 39 full pages of paintings and
illuminations—these were both highly prized visual art forms and continued to be during the Safavid period. The text itself consists of five long masnavi, or poems, which are made up of around 30,000 couplets. These poems are animated by vivid imagery and innovative use of language.


Believed to have been born into a prosperous family, Nizami was orphaned at an early age. He spent most of his life in the town of Ganja (in modern Azerbaijan), in the Caucasus. Nizami drew inspiration from the extensive and rich Persian poetic traditions as well as tales from folklore. Azerbaijani oral folk literature, including dastans (stories), legends,
and proverbs are skillfully used in Nizami's creations. Though Nizami was not a court poet, he dedicated his poems to the rulers of the time, as was the custom. Refusing royal patronage gave him greater freedom to express himself as a storyteller.


The first work in the Khamsa, which is called "The Treasure of Mysteries," is a philosophical poem, though it is inspired by mysticism. The other four poems, love stories, are also mystically inspired and serve as mystical allegories. Many scholars believe that Nizami may have been a Sufi—a form of Islamic mystic—and his abiding interest in this mystical aspect of the religion is often reflected in his work.

The Battle of Mohacs