A view of the Lutherstube [Luther’s Chamber] in the Veste Coburg, an important fortress in Upper Franconia. The chamber takes its name from the fact that Martin Luther stayed there for almost half a year in 1530. In the painting by Georg Konrad Rothbart (1817-1896), though, we only catch a glimpse of the room through the Gothic revival door of the adjoining Reformatorenzimmer [Reformer’s Room]. All we see of the Lutherstube is just a bit of the floor and part of a window niche with an old-fashioned upholstered chair in it. Framed by the elaborate doorway, the empty chair takes up the centre of the composition and becomes the focal point of the viewer’s attention. Given the painting’s subject, the chair almost seems to become a stand-in for the chamber’s former occupant, its emptiness a visual sign of Luther’s absence in the painter’s own time.
But Luther is actually present in the image, too: His portrait can be seen in the top left corner, on the wall of the Reformatorenzimmer in the foreground. Through the juxtaposition between the portrait and the empty chair, the painter creates an interesting tension between presence and absence. Rothbart may not have been the greatest artist of his generation, but in this case at least, he finds a rather brilliant solution to the task of depicting a room which is now basically just an empty space, but somehow still preserves the memory of an important historical figure.
P. S.: The slightly blurry portrait of Luther visible in the painting is actually one of several historicizing portraits of Reformers decorating the Reformatorenzimmer – and was painted by the very same Rothbart in 1844. Here is a full view of it: