Observations of Holbein’s Analogy of the Old and New Testament
The students of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON started a student journal last year, which is called Propter Christum. This year, they are continuing the journal as well as keeping a blog: propterchristum.blogspot.com. This post is from Tuesday, October 23rd.
In volume I, issue 2 of Propter Christum (link at the top-right side of our blog), the cover-graphic was Hans Holbein the Younger’s Allegory of the Old and New Testament. Not enough is known about Hans Holbein the Younger. Based on a painting his dad painted of him and his older brother, he was probably born around the year 1598. Born into a family of artists, and growing up in Augsburg, Holbein later went to Basle, where many artists and scholars, including Erasmus, were attracted in the early/mid 16th century. There has always been dispute over where Holbein fell theologically, but his Allegory of the Old and New Testament certainly implies a grasp of Lutheran theology. The following is a commentary on that painting, written by last year’s student editor, Andrew Preus. The editor does not assume to know Holbein’s entire theological intentions. These comments are simply observations. If you would like some copies of past or upcoming issues of Propter Christum, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hans Holbein the Younger summarizes the two basic teachings of Scripture in this one painting, that is, the law and the gospel. On the left is the Old Testament, with the fall into sin with Adam and Eve (PECCATUM), the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai (LEX), the consequence of sin underneath Adam and Eve, as you can see the skeleton signifying death (MORS), and the bronze serpent as only a shadow of the mystery of justification (MYSTERIUM IUSTIFICATIONIS). In the center is naked sin-sick man (HOMO) declaring the words from Romans 7:24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this guilty (obnoxio) body of death!” He sits under a tree which is dead on the left side (the Old Testament) but alive on the right side (New Testament).