The Melanchthon House in Wittenberg is located near the Collegium Augusteum and the Luther House along Collegienstraße, one of the main roads of the medieval city centre of Wittenberg. The three-storey building was built in 1536 by John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, as a typical Renaissance town house and is an architectural gem. With its striking gable, the Renaissance structure is considered among the most beautiful in the city.
John Frederick I wanted to use the house to encourage Philipp Melanchthon – ‘Germany’s teacher’ and the most important protagonist of the Wittenberg Reformation after Martin Luther – to remain at his university. The house offered space for Melanchthon’s family and for students.
The rather narrow, three-storey building is crowned by a three-zone, arched, crow-stepped gable. The entrance is a round arch portal with sitting niches. A garden behind the house invites visitors to linger. From 2010 to early 2013, the house was repaired and extended through addition of a modern new structure. This step succeeded in freeing the monument of functions such as cash desk, museum shop and sanitary and technical systems. It also permitted enlargement of the exhibition space; for the first time, visitors to the house now have an opportunity to explore Melanchthon House in a largely barrier-free tour.
Philipp Melanchthon lived on the property at today’s Collegienstraße 60 from his arrival in Wittenberg, in 1518. He initially lived in a modest half-timbered house, at first as a bachelor and then, beginning in 1520, together with his wife. John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, had recognised that he needed to provide Melanchthon – one of the most important professors at the elector’s university – with an adequate home in order to keep him in the city and at the university. The elector commissioned the new house in 1535; he provided 500 guilders, and the university provided another 250 guilders for its construction.
Work was begun in 1536 and was completed in three years’ time. The name of the supervising architect remains unknown. In any case, he had mastered the formal vocabulary of the modern architecture of his time, which was based on Italian models. Portals and decorative gables incorporating round arches – like those of the Melanchthon House – are to be found in somewhat earlier or contemporary structures in Dresden, Halle, and Torgau, for example.
This new home offered abundant space for the Melanchthon family. In 1556, the house was connected to the old ‘Jungfernröhrwasser’ system, which provided it with drinking water. The house remained in use as a residence for professors after Melanchthon’s death. Craftsmen later moved into the house. The building’s inhabitants made few structural changes over the centuries. The gateway was purchased in about 1620 and rooms were built above it on the side facing the street. Around the beginning of the 18th century, the stairway was relocated to its current position. As a whole, however, the Melanchthon House can be accurately described as the most ‘authentic’ of all the Reformation memorials in Wittenberg.
The Melanchthon House was extensively restored in 1897, in commemoration of Melanchthon’s 400th birthday. In 1954, when the house was handed over to the municipality, it was subjected to a large-scale campaign in accordance with strict modern conservation practice. In 1967, the house, together with the Renaissance garden behind it, was opened as a Melanchthon memorial museum. The house was renovated in 1997 to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Protestant reformer and humanist, and again in 2010-2013.
The unique value of the Melanchthon House is based mainly on the fact that it was specifically designed as a scholar’s home for one of the main protagonists of the Reformation, Philipp Melanchthon. As such, it bears witness to the social, scientific, economic and architectural setting of the Reformation. The internal arrangement of the rooms is original, with Melanchthon’s study on the first floor; on the second floor is a large room that was used for student accommodations, known as the ‘scholars’ room’. The House retains much of the character of the 16th century, as its original appearance has remained practically unchanged since that time.
Luther and Melanchthon are inseparable protagonists of the comprehensive thinking behind the Protestant Reformation – as the actions, writings and iconography of the entire Reformation imagery attest. Although the house remained in constant use as a residence after Melanchthon’s death, all of its owners paid heed to the structure’s value as a memorial and did not undertake any significant alterations; from the early 19th century, it has intentionally been presented as a memorial site.