Reformation Imagery: Gender and Gender Roles

Queen Dorothea was Denmark’s first Lutheran queen. In the 1560s, she commissioned two family trees to decorate her chapel at Sønderborg Castle. Here her own and Christian III’s ancestors are depicted four generations back. Family trees like these were a way for royals and aristocrats to publicise their noble origins

There were basically two models to choose from in visualising lineage: ancestry or heritage. Dorothea chose ancestry, presumably because women figured as prominently as men. The ancestry of both men and women is charted and given equal weight – unlike the heritage model, which only follows the male line from father to son. In the ancestral model, women are equal to men. This equality is expressed visually in the way the different couples relate to each other: they converse, touch each other and embrace. Men and women occupy an equal amount of space: they are the same height, and their coats of arms and inscription plaques are the same size.

The family tree displays the Lutheran marriage ideal. For Luther, married couples were not on an equal footing but had equal worth. Men and women had different roles to play, but within God-given areas in which they each had authority. The God-given was thus part of a patriarchal society in which the man was superior to the woman, but in which the partnership between man and wife was central.