Katharina von Bora by Nina Koch

Nina Koch

Katharina von Bora, 1999, Bronze, 170 x 60 x 80 cm, Lutherhaus, Wittenberg, © Nina Koch imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

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Breaking New Ground

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Ursula Weekes

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.

 

References

www.nina-koch.de/Stadraum [accessed 26 April 2018]

Stjerna, Kirsi Irmeli. 2009. Women and the Reformation (Malden: Blackwell), pp. 49–70