Full title: Luther Posting his Theses on the Church Door of Wittenberg – Portraits are introduced of Tetzel, Luther’s father and mother, and sister, of Catherine Bora, Lucas Cranach, etc., etc.
Size: 49½ inches by 78 inches
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1864
Current owner: Bob Jones University Museum and Art Gallery, Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.A.
Original caption: ‘On the 31st of October, 1517, at noon on the day preceding the festival of All Saints, Luther etc.’
An image is available on the Bob Jones University Museum and Art Gallery website.
This painting was twice as large as the previous year’s Brick Court, and Crowe’s diaries reveal that it was worked on for a year before its exhibition. It is not known when it was first sold, but F.W. Cosen put it up for auction at Christie’s London in 1890, where it was bought by Sir F.T. Mappin for £86 2s 0d. The painting was sold again at Christie’s in 1910, this time reaching £110 5s 0d. It is currently part of the collection at the Bob Jones University Museum and Art Gallery, Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.A., under the title Wittenberg, October 31, 1517. It was purchased by the gallery in 1970 following an auction at the Central Picture Galleries, New York. Postcards and photographic reproductions of the work are available from the Gallery.
The Times, 30 Apr 1864:
This is by many degrees the most important work, in scale and number of figures, yet attempted by Mr. Crowe. It is very commendable for the absence of vulgar exaggeration and melodramatic, ever-changing emotion and expression, is soberly and knowingly coloured, and well drawn and composed.
Athenaeum, 7 May 1864:
We do not remember an Exhibition where so many young and yet well-known artists established their reputation on such satisfactory grounds as in the case in the present display … Mr. E. Crowe is one of those artists who seem to have set themselves firmly in the way of success. He has never painted so well, notwithstanding a little slightness here and there, than in Luther Posting his Theses on the Church-Door of Wittenberg (360) … The background is reproduced from a sketch made on the spot … The effect is sunlight, and the whole picture is brightly painted; some points of the drawing might be improved.
Illustrated London News, 21 May 1864:
The most elaborate picture Mr. Crowe has painted, and also the best …
Art Journal, 1864, p. 159 [Royal Academy Review]:
The studious and faithful chroniclers of history are increasing in number and augmenting in diligence … E. CROWE, by his picture of the present year, ‘Luther posting his Theses on the Church Door of Wittenberg’ (360), will sustain, if not extend, the reputation he has already made. The scene, which is striking, the artist has effectively put upon canvas … Mr. Crowe, if he had been in the service of the pope, could scarcely have satirised Luther more cruelly … We must exclude, then, the principal figure in Mr. Crowe’s picture from commendation; excepting this one mistake, which is fortunately not absolutely fatal, we can declare the composition, both in management and execution, satisfactory.
Art Journal, June 1864:
His greatest essay in painting is the Luther of the present year… His work shows the artist to be on the high road to distinction, and that he stands in the front ranks of those who are seeking for, and ought to have, early admission among the members of our chief Art-institution.
Francis Turner Palgrave, ‘The Royal Academy of 1864’, re-published in Essays on Art (Macmillan & Co., 1866):
Like Mr. Hodgson, Mr. Crowe has also made a step forward. His drawing is a great advance upon what satisfied the world of art twenty years ago before the Westminster Hall competitions gave us a start; and his colouring, although not so tender and transparent as Mr. Hodgson’s, is as vigorous and firm. His principal picture – Luther posting his anti-indulgence theses on a church door – cannot, we are sure, satisfy so thoughtful an artist in regard to the central personage. Perhaps the Luther should have been brought nearer the eye; as it is, he is an ineffective and inappropriate figure. Tetzel on one side, on the other side the honest German citizens who sympathize with Luther’s onslought against abuses and hypocrisies, are animated and characteristic.