Satire on the Papacy

Artist: Melchior Lorck (Danish, Flensburg 1526–after 1588 Hamburg (?))

Date: 1555

Medium: Etching

Dimensions: Sheet: 8 x 5 in. (20.3 x 12.7 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1953

Accession Number: 53.677.5


This etching is one of a large group of harshly satirical depictions of the pope produced during the immediate aftermath of the Reformation. The caricatured pope is represented with three heads: the one in the middle bears the papal tiara, the one at left a turban, while the one at right is represented as that of an infant. Other features serve to underscore the covert, demonic nature that some Protestants attributed to representatives of the Catholic Church: one of his hands and one of his feet are depicted in a grotesque, nonhuman state, and a large lizardlike tail extends from beneath the papal robe. Affixed to the front of the robe is a broach with the insignia of a frog, a common symbol of false religion. The pope is shown handing a number of coins to a figure represented as a soldier, who holds a halberd that emits flames. Implied together with the hybrid character of the pope is that the church bribes for the benefit of military protection, and that its actions are driven by a devious, animalistic nature. This image, by an anonymous German artist, is representative of a genre of popular print critical of the Catholic Church, disseminated well into the seventeenth century in Germany and the Netherlands.