The Printing Press’ Resounding Impact

Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith, first constructed the Printing Press in 1439 and just 13 years later began production of the Gutenberg Bible. The production of these bibles marked the beginning of the printing press’ distribution of knowledge throughout Europe, which significantly accelerated the spread of Renaissance culture. Immediately, the press exponentially increased the production of printed works and the price of such works decreased.

However, the printing press’ influence on the spread of the Protestant Reformation-perhaps more profound than the proliferation of Renaissance ideals-resulted in a Catholic Church unable to quickly respond to challenges to its power. Although the Church stoked the fire of movements like that of Hans Behem, depicted in Richard Wunderli’s Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen; Martin Luther evaded the Church by leaning on the strength of the printing press. Luther’s political support in Europe quickly grew as he wrote to Christian nobles about the Catholic Church’s relentless exploitation of Germans, and the use of the printing press ensured the accessibility of his revolutionary ideas. Martin Luther’s  assertion that Salvation came from faith alone, not through works as the Church taught, was popular amongst Europeans. However, without the wide distribution of Martin Luther’s critique on the Church, Luther’s echoing call for reform would have quickly become a whisper easily silenced.

Albrecht Dürer's "Sketch of a Printer"
Albert Dürer’s Sketch of a printer, pictured above, shows the German Renaissance artist’s respect for the printing press’ influence on the growth of the intellectual movement that gave birth to his art. With his paintings predominantly displayed in private collections across Europe, Dürer determined his reputation with printmaking which secured his long-lasting influence on future Renaissance artists. The printing press placed secular artwork in the hands of average citizens that otherwise only gazed upon the occasional religious piece.

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