Print Wars in Europe during the Sixteenth Century

Martin Luther (author), Lucas Cranach the Elder (engraver), Passional Christi und Antichristi, Wittenberg, 1521, A ii v°- A iij. This work sets side-by-side images from episodes in the life of Christ and the Pope, for the purpose of showing that the latter was none other than the Antichrist. Left page: Christ, beaten and mocked, receives a crown of thorns. Right page: The Pope, venerated by bishops and abbots, receives a tiara.

Print played a central role in political and religious conflicts in Europe during the sixteenth century. Both Protestant reformers and defenders of the Catholic Church saw it as an effective instrument for raising awareness, informing the population, and garnering its support. The politicization of religious conflicts promoted the production and diffusion of texts that justified uprisings against authorities, explained the actions of these authorities, and formulated political theories. The publication campaigns organized by genuine specialists in writing became an indispensable element for any kind of mobilization. While the print runs were relatively modest in comparison to the vast majority of the illiterate population, print exerted an important influence, as it targeted the elites who possessed the power of action and who could serve as intermediaries towards oral forms of information diffusion.