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Reformation Woodcut: The Devil and the Bagpipes

March 13, 2017


This is one of the most striking images to be seen among the vast number of broadsheets directed by the Reformers against the Roman Catholic church. The image of the Devil perched on the shoulders of a monk, whose head forms the bagpipe and through whose ears and nose he "plays his tune,” is pungent: the idea that monks were the instruments of the Devil was a common one and resulted in numerous woodcuts showing them as thinly disguised monsters. 


Scribner has commented that the enormous popularity of these prints must be associated with a proverb linking monks with the Devil which was in current use before the Reformation: "Misfortune has broad feet, said the peasant, as he saw the monk coming.”


Another impression of this woodcut in the Schloss-museum, Gotha, shows that the Devil's grimace on his belly is seen in profile to the right, rather than looking out at the spectator, which is the effect created here by the addition of eyes in black ink.


It also has eight lines of letterpress in the lower right corner, in which the Devil laments of a past age, presumably brought to a close by the reformers' activities, when he was able to play his 'pipes'; although he is sure that man's sinful and cunning nature will put an end to his grief before long: 


"Vor zeytten Pfiff ich hin and her 

Aus solchen Pfeiffen dicht und mer 

Vil fabel Trewm und fanthasey

Ist yetsundt auß und gar entzwey 

Das ist mir leyd auch schwer und bang 

Doch hoff ich es wer auch nit lang

Die weyl die welt so furwitz ist

Sündtlich dürchisch vol arger list.”


Is Luther the Monk in this Woodcut?


I know that prints of this woodcut are currently on sale from a variety of vendors, usually offered as, 'Luther Caricatured as the Devil's Bagpipes.’ In fairness, the drawing of the monk looks like a ‘spitting image’ of Luther.


However, while there is a C16th woodcut copy of this print with twenty-one lines of letterpress [below], these lines also convey an anti-Catholic sentiment in their description of the Devil, who infiltrated all the monastic orders in his search for an unscrupulous cleric, until he eventually found 'Friar Nose' (Bruder Nasen) whom he transformed into his instrument. 


"The widespread circulation of a broadsheet such as this makes it possible that a copy of it could also have been used as a potent tool against the reformers (it has been noted that this could be construed as a caricature of Luther as he was himself a monk); however, no such print is known with the addition of a suitable anti-Lutheran text."




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