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Influence of the Council of Trent on Sacred Art
In 1517, Martin Luther originated the Protestant Reformation, a schism against the Catholic Church and papal authority. As Luther’s teachings gained popularity,the Reformation became a threat to the Roman Catholic Church. The Church reacted to this threat with a Counter-Reformation which began in 1545 when Pope Paul III assembled the Council of Trent in Trento and Bologna, Italy. This council would redefine the Church.
Luther Disapproved of Religious Objects and Sacred Art
The two most important factors which formed the counter-reformation were a growth in the corruption within the Roman Catholic Church and sacred art, which Luther saw as indicating a spiritual deterioration. Early Renaissance painting commissioned by the Church or its Christian followers, gradually became less religious. Art had become more focused on the middle-class and their life than on the actual sacred subjects, and nonspiritual priorities began to make their way as focal. Influential painters, such as Andrea Mantegna and Botticelli were utilizing their creative gifts on works with considerable nudity. Other artists were embracing a new style, called Mannerism, which became known for its unrealistic qualities and were not understood by the masses.
The Catholic Church, the Greatest Patron of the Arts
The Catholic Church was the greatest patron of the arts and was, therefore, able to dominate its style. Art should illustrate the ideas of the Church, offering illustrations of humility, obedience, praise, and adoration. Any art that would detract from a focus upon these spiritual virtues was not acceptable. Nudity and art which focused upon the human body were forbidden. This decree issued censorship as well as provided guidelines for what type of art the Church preferred and accepted.
Baroque Era Begins
The Catholic Church began to challenge Protestant attacks on the saints and Our Blessed Mother by clearly focusing on the Virgin Mary. Paintings and other religious articles would show her innocence, kindness, charity and the grief she experienced by the suffering of her Son. Jesus also became a popular subject, with paintings clearly representing His suffering and crucifixion for the sake of humanity. The Catholic Church wanted these pieces to be full of emotion and detail. This pushed art into the Baroque era where realism and emotion dominated art style.
The Baroque style became very popular in Europe. Many non-Catholic artists adopted this style and the realism and detail can be shown in their work. It is fair to say that the Catholic Church motivated this evolution of art style and it all started with the council of Trent.
There are many famous artists from the Baroque period whose work represent every aspect the Catholic Church had wanted. Among them, probably the most well-known and favorite is Caravaggio who was first commissioned by a Catholic cardinal to paint for the church of San Luigi de Francesi. Caravaggio was criticized because his religious works were so realistic and dramatic but this is exactly what the Church wanted; prayer via sacred art, and it succeeded.
For information on the Council of Trent and Baroque architecture ~ http://www.sacredarchitecture.org/articles/charles_borromeo_and_catholic_tradition