The Counter Reformation in Art and Society in Italy

  • The Counter Reformation in Art and Society in Italy

            We will now begin our study of the Baroque in Western European culture. The term Baroque was originally coined in the late 1700s as a derogative term to describe certain types of artwork emerging in the rough period of 1600-1750. In the last 100 years, the world Baroque has lost its pejorative meaning and has been expanded to designate all works of art created during this period. Thus, the term Baroque for our purposes refers to a historical period and a multiplicity of styles. Furthermore, Baroque art is in some ways a continuation of Renaissance interests that respond to new historical circumstance, such as the counter-reformation in Catholic areas and absolutism throughout the west.

            As we have seen, the Reformation began in 1517 with Luther’s posting of his 95 theses. By 1545 much of Northern Europe had become Protestant, and in response the Catholic church sought to address the need for reform. This is not to suggest that there had not been impulses for reform before the Reformation. However, the Reformation created the opportunity and enough incentive to address issues of corruption. Catholic rulers held control in places like Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Belgium retained were; while Protestant powers had sway over England, Scotland, Scandinavia, and most of Switzerland and the Netherlands.            Today we will begin our look at the Baroque in Catholic countries where art supplemented the Counter-Reformation’s attempts to stamp out Protestant “heresy” through the Inquisition. In a positive campaign, Catholic artists sought to enlist and intensify personal conviction. Our first subject is Italian Baroque art, which became, as the ambitious Pope Alexander VII said, a “theatre.” The shapes of churches, sculptures, decorations, and lighting were all calculated to create maximal emotional. They often used a rationally contrived stage to create the experience of the irrational, spiritual experience.

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