Katharina von Bora was the wife of Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century German Reformer. This life-size bronze statue was made by German sculptor Nina Koch in 1999 for its site outside the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg, Germany.
Koch draws on the likeness of Katharina from the famous double portrait of Luther and his wife painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1529. The smooth bronze casting of her aquiline features and upper body, contrast with the rougher textures of her dress and coat below the waist, where green oxidized patches of bronze create an impression of brocade. Katharina strides forward, giving a modern prominence to the shape of her lower body, which sixteenth-century dresses, layered with petticoats, tended to disguise more than display. Her left hand swings forward, drawing attention to the wedding ring on her index finger.
A highly competent, intelligent woman, Katharina was a pioneer in a ‘new’ kind of Christian marriage in the Western Church. Formerly a Benedictine nun, she had fled her nunnery in the early years of the Reformation, and married Luther in 1525. They lived in the Lutherhaus, which had earlier housed Augustinian monks studying at the University of Wittenberg, including the young Luther himself. The fact that, prior to the Reformation, clergy were required to be celibate (as would remain the case for Roman Catholic clergy after the Reformation) meant that there was no ready-made model of how to be a pastor’s wife. Katharina and Martin were among those who were having to negotiate this for the first time.
In this context, ‘A good wife who can find?’ (Proverbs 31:10) can be read not just as a man’s question. It became a question for a generation of women seeking how best to exemplify ‘goodness’ in their new vocations; ‘finding’—and founding—new models for how to be wives.
www.nina-koch.de/Stadraum [accessed 26 April 2018]
Stjerna, Kirsi Irmeli. 2009. Women and the Reformation (Malden: Blackwell), pp. 49–70
10A good wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
13She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from afar.
15She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her maidens.
16She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17She girds her loins with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates,
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers girdles to the merchant.
25Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.