The Ernestines.
A dynasty shapes Europe

This exhibition has already ended

The Ernestines. A Dynasty Shapes Europe” is the first cultural state exhibition to focus on the Ernestines, the dynasty of rulers whose support for the Reformation and Protestantism had an impact far beyond the borders of Thuringia.

From 24 April to 28 August 2016 the Thuringian State Exhibition introduces this dynasty that produced a number of important personalities, including electoral princes, dukes and kings. In their former royal cities of Weimar and Gotha, a number of superb exhibits provide an insight into over 400 years of Thuringian and European history and present a dynasty that shaped and influenced the destiny of their countries between the Reformation and the end of the monarchy. The exhibition thus brings the once powerful but latterly almost forgotten dynasty back into the spotlight.

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The Ernestines. A Dynasty Shapes Europe

Further information are available on the official Website of the Thuringian State Exhibition:


The Ernestines – Between Reformation and Revolution

On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation the Free State of Thuringia – a heartland of the Reformation – is dedicating its state exhibition to the ruling dynasty whose support for Martin Luther made the Reformation possible.

Frederick III, Elector of Saxony (1463–1525), known as Frederick the Wise, protected his subject and countryman, the reformer Martin Luther, from the very outset. In 1517 Luther’s 95 theses had attacked the shortcomings of the Catholic Church and set the Reformation in motion. When the Diet of Worms outlawed Luther from the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick arranged for him to be kidnapped and brought to Wartburg Castle to save him from the clutches of the Emperor.

Reformation ...

Nowadays, the word „Reformation” stands for a renewing movement in the early 16th century which was mostly pushed forward by Martin Luther in Germany.

Frederick’s successors, his brother John the Steadfast (1468–1532) and his son, John Frederick the Magnanimous (1503–1554), did much to protect and disseminate the Protestant faith in their territories between Altenburg and Eisenach. John the Steadfast drove the Reformation on, dissolving monasteries, conducting visitations of parishes and ordering priests to adhere to Wittenberg ritual.

For the Ernestines, their commitment to the Lutheran faith was a principal characteristic of their self-understanding. It would ultimately seal their fate. John Frederick the Magnanimous paid a heavy price for his support; as the leader of the Schmalkadic League, he was outlawed in 1546. In the Schmalkadic War that ensued, he and his Protestant troops suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Mühlberg on the River Elbe. While his life was spared, his family lost their electorship, which passed to Saxony’s Albertine lineage.

In all areas of their rule, the reformatory impulse was not restricted to faith and the Church, but was also manifested in the development of a comprehensive system of education for everyone. The Ernestines founded a new college in Jena to preserve the Lutheran faith. What would later become the city’s university was intended to be the new, true Wittenberg. Their residences, too, many of which are preserved in Central Germany to this day due to a long series of divisions of estates, were more than just places of princely representation.

The Ernestines sought to compensate for their loss of political importance through contributions to culture, offering sustained support for the arts, science and education. Ernestine princes gave an opportunity to the young Johann Sebastian Bach, helped raise the theatre in Meiningen to its international standing and in Johann Wolfgang Goethe they supported one of the outstanding literary figures of the day.


Thüringian State Exhibition 2016

Today, the Ernestines are a largely unknown dynasty that profoundly shaped the history of Thuringia, Germany and Europe for over 400 years. The state exhibition, organised by the Klassik Stiftung Weimar and the Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha presents the Ernestine dynasty in two cities and at four locations over a total of 4,000 square metres of exhibition space. The time frame covered ranges from 1485, the year of the Treaty of Leipzig, to the end of the monarchy in 1918. The state exhibition enjoys the patronage of His Majesty the King of the Belgians and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck. 

By dividing the exhibition between Weimar and Gotha, attention is drawn to two important former seats of Ernestine power. Steeped in history, these two cities provide a better insight than anywhere else into the development of the dynasty and the political and cultural impact it continues to have to this day.


In Weimar the exhibitions in the Neues Museum and in the City Castle take visitors through the three chapters of “Faith”, “Empire and Nation” and “Science”. A total of 20 stories bring the dealings and activities of the Ernestines to life in a narrative spanning all three themes.

City Castle of Weimar

The Reformation and its consequences are of central importance to the destiny and self-understanding of the Ernestines. Several stories on the theme of “Faith” are dedicated to the cataclysmic events of the 16th century that were so strongly influenced by the ruling dynasty. The City Castle with its castle chapel is closely connected to the political sermons of Martin Luther and the establishment of the new confession as the state religion in 1525.

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Klassik Stiftung Weimar

tuesday - sunday 10 am – 18 pm closed on mondays

Burgplatz 4

99423 Weimar

+49 (0) 3643 / 545-400

The reconstruction of Wartburg Castle as a national monument in the 19th century was also an instance of the Ernestines’ commitment to their role as the protector of “true Lutheranism”.

At the same time, this commitment is also symptomatic of the turbulent relationship of the Ernestines to the “Empire”. After the princes had supported Luther’s cause, the formerly close relationship with the Catholic House of Habsburg became characterised by political conflict, culminating in the Ernestines’ loss of their electorship and the larger part of their territories.

The chapter “Science” shows how patronage of the sciences was of central importance to Ernestine politics and formed a large part of their self-understanding. The foundation of the University of Jena as a college in 1548 was intended to create a new university on the territory for the cultivation and preservation of orthodox Lutheranism after the loss of the University of Wittenberg. In subsequent centuries it became a place of free science. In the age of Goethe university research experienced another boom in the twin towns of Weimar and Jena.


The part of the exhibition held in Gotha focuses on the themes of “Territory”, “Family” and the “Arts”. In the Ducal Museum and Friedenstein Castle in Gotha, one of the most significant sites of art and cultural history in Thuringia, visitors can enjoy magnificent rooms and halls and a rich art collection. To this day the building’s early Baroque architecture leaves a profound impression on visitors.

Ducal Museum (Image:

After the loss of electorship, Ernestine territory was limited to the Central German region. As a result of a savvy marriage policy, the dynasty split into up to ten additional lineages, which on the one hand led to the famous system of petty states, but on the other hand served as the basis of a unique diversity, since each lineage was determined to consolidate its rule by building new residences and palaces. The theme “Territory” thus offers an insight into these territorial transformations.

The chapter “Family” takes a look at the Ernestines’ skilful marriage policy, which allowed the aristocratic family to forge ties with princely dynasties throughout Europe. Some of the descendants, such as Queen Elisabeth II of England, still reign today.

The topic of the “Arts” examines the Ernestines’ intensive patronage of the arts and culture. It was particularly in this area that the network of individual courts and artistic exchange played a decisive role. This chapter presents in great detail the rich culture of the theatre, the establishment of important museum collections and the Ernestines’ contacts to painters, composers and sculptors.

Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1819-1901)

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Friedenstein Castle Gotha

Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am – 18 pm

Schloss Friedenstein Gotha

99867 Gotha

+49 (0)3621 8234-0

Schutzmacht Luthers und Förderer der Künste

Thüringen bereitet für 2016 eine Landesausstellung über das Fürstenhaus der Ernestiner vor. Die Kurfürsten und Herzöge aus der Dynastie der Wettiner haben über 400 Jahre lang die Geschichte Thüringens und Deutschlands maßgeblich mitgestaltet.