Martin Luther - The 1534 Bible

Martin Luther - The 1534 Bible – Taschen Verlag – Cl I: 58 (b) und (c)  – Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek (Weimar, Germany)

Wittenberg (Germany) — 1534

Saved undamaged from a massive fire in 2004: the most valuable surviving copy of the complete Luther Bible, magnificently adorned with 128 colored woodcuts, some from the hand of Lucas Cranach the Elder

  1. The vernacular translation of the Bible by Martin Luther (1483–1546) forms the foundation of New High German

  2. It was completed in 1534 and quickly spread thanks to the recent invention of the printing press

  3. Opaque blue, green, and red paint was used to color the woodcuts, some of which were illuminated with gold

Martin Luther - The 1534 Bible

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  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Martin Luther - The 1534 Bible

Although by no means the first translation of the Bible into German, Martin Luther drew from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew sources in order to create a translation in the language of the modern people. He did this by spending time in nearby towns and markets listening to people speak with one another. Combined with the recent invention of the printing press, the Luther Bible made waves across Europe and inspired other theologians to make vernacular translations of their own. The result was a model for the development of New High German. This cultural treasure from the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, the highlight of its prestigious collections, is the most precious and artful of the 60 surviving copies of the first complete edition of the Luther Bible, which was published in 1534. What sets it apart is the quality of its 128 woodcuts, which have been painted with deep shades of blue, green, and red as well as being occasionally illuminated with gold. 28 of the woodcuts originated from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder and some of those decorated with gold are even said to have been made by Cranach himself. Thankfully, this gem was saved from destruction when the library caught fire and remains undamaged today.

Luther Bible of 1534

Few historical figures have had as far-reaching of an impact as Martin Luther (1483–1546). The most important figure of the Protestant Reformation is one of the most important figures in the history of Germany and the German language because of his translation of the Bible so that it could be understood by the laity. After the New Testament was first published in 1522, a complete edition containing the Old and New Testaments with Apocrypha followed in 1534. Of the 60 surviving copies of the first complete edition, the specimen housed in the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar is unquestionably the finest. Its 128 woodcuts have been richly colored with blue, red, and green; some have even illuminated with gold. The splendid print must have been commissioned by a wealthy patron, but none has been identified and nothing is known about its ownership history before it was acquired by the library in 1815.

Luther’s Historic Translation

Luther was not the first to translate the Bible into German but what distinguishes his translation is that it did not use the Latin Vulgate as a source but drew from the original Hebrew and Greek. He also spent time in various towns and markets listening to the language of the common people to ensure that they, his target audience, would be able to comprehend his translation. His German language Bible inspired other theologians across Europe to create their own vernacular translations, but also doomed the continent to generations of religious warfare. Nonetheless, Luther’s translation is considered by many to be his greatest work with far-reaching religious, linguistic, and cultural significance.

A Luxury Print

The Luther Bible would never have had the influence it did without the recent invention of the printing press and about 200,000 copies were printed during Luther’s lifetime. However, the era of cheap printed books was a long way off and even an unbound copy of the complete Bible cost a month’s wages for the average laborer. As such, the common man only encountered the Luther Bible second hand through churches, pastors, and schools. The first complete edition from 1534 was printed by Hans Lufft (1495–1584) in Wittenberg, who also produced this special unicum and would print 100,000 copies of the Bible altogether. Aside from a title page for the Old Testament depicting Joshua created by Lucas Cranach the Elder (ca. 1472–1553), a close friend of Luther’s, the rest of the 128 engravings originated from the so-called Master MS. 62 of are illustrations measuring 10.8 x 14.7 cm, 41 illustrations for the Old Testament and 21 for the New Testament, while the rest consist of decorative and historiated initials. Luther is reported to have personally participated in the design of the woodcuts.


Alternative Titles
Luther Bibel von 1534
Biblia, das ist, Die gantze Heilige Schrifft deudsch
Bible de Luther de 1534
Martin Luther - Die Bibel von 1534
Size / Format
1674 pages / 31.5 × 21.0 cm
128 large, colorful, partly full-page woodcuts and numerous imaginative initials
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Detail Picture

Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible

The Imprisonment of Jeremiah

After prophesying that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, the already unpopular Jeremiah is cast into a cistern and left to die. Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of King Zedekiah’s eunuchs, makes an appeal on the prophet’s behalf and changes the King’s mind, who orders Ebed-Melech to take 30 men and some rope to retrieve Jeremiah, but it does not save Jerusalem from destruction. Today, “Jeremiad” is used to describe a work prophesying the downfall of a society because of some moral failure.

Martin Luther - The 1534 Bible – Taschen Verlag – Cl I: 58 (b) und (c)  – Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek (Weimar, Germany)
Single Page

Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible

The Second and Third Trumpets

In the upper register, sailors in carracks, some seemingly shaking their fists at the second angel, reel from the impact of a massive meteor. It is described as “something like a great mountain burning with fire”, which turns a third of the sea to blood (depicted on the left), kills a third of the sea creatures, and destroys a third of the ships. (Rev. 8:8–9).

Below, similar events occur on land as the bodies of richly dressed villagers litter the ground. “Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.” (Rev. 8:10–11)

Martin Luther - The 1534 Bible – Taschen Verlag – Cl I: 58 (b) und (c)  – Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek (Weimar, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch

Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: Slipcase
Commentary: 1 volume by Stephan Füssel
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Canvas cover; Old and New Testament each in a separate volume
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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