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The paper "Reformation and the Arts" aims to discuss the Protestant Reformation—its key early events and issues—and its causes. Then the paper will describe the Counter-Reformation and, using examples, discuss the impact of each on the visual arts…
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Reformation and the Arts Discuss the Protestant Reformation—its key early events and issues—and its Causes. Then describe the Counter-Reformation. Then, using examples, discuss the impact of each on the visual arts.
The great schism in the Catholic Church during the Renaissance period would eventually lead to the Reformation as believers saw the church moving away from their ideal of God. Reformers such as Martin Luther formed separate sects outside the church to correct what they perceived as heresy. In an attempt to keep the followers in the church, the Catholic religion undertook their own self-reformation, which came to be known as the Counter-Reformation. One aspect of their disagreement was over the portrayal of their visual art. The resulting factions created different artistic styles, though their outcome would be counter productive to their original intent.
The church had fallen under negative scrutiny during the fourteenth century and was marked by material excesses by church leaders while oppressing the lower clergy. Humanism and the Renaissance ideas were cultivated in Rome and their perceived abuses became the target of newly empowered city-states. The decline of papal power and material corruption of the church during the 14th and 15th centuries set the stage for the first severe blow to the church, the papal schism in 1378 (Kirsch 1911). However, the most popular symbolic blow came when Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in 1517 (Bates 1999, Luther 1915). The Theses called for a dramatic overhaul of the church and began the Reformation.
The Counter-Reformation is the period of "Catholic revival from the pontificate of Pope Pius IV in 1560 to the close of the Thirty Years War, 1648" (Pollen 1908). During this period the church tried to rebuke the Lutherans and Protestants for their stand on the subservience of Church to State, the marriage of the clergy, and doctrinal error (Pollen 1908). However, the church underwent little fundamental change, did not alter the State constitutions, or generate any great enthusiasm by its members.
One noticeable change the church underwent was the portrayal of its visual arts. The church had moved away from art dominated by religious figures and had begun to portray man as the center of spiritualism as in Michelangelos Creation of Adam circa 1500. Reformers believed this elevated man to a state of spiritual arrogance and wanted art to represent only religious figures. The church did do some movement back toward commissioning strictly religious art during the Counter-Reformation (Nosotro 2005).
The Reformation movement, against the humanist movement, did not portray only divinity in their art as one might expect. According to Nosotro (2005), "While Protestant artists occasionally painted scenes from the Bible, they often painted ordinary people performing every-day activities [...] simple scenes from nature [and] portrait-painting became popular". Though they wanted to remove the material excesses away from the church, their art reflected the humanism of mankind and was little different from pre-Reformation times.
This ambiguous approach to the visual arts by the Reformation can be explained by analyzing their audience. While the wealthy church could commission art of its choosing, the Reformers had to serve the desires of their patronage. These were often wealthy patrons that demanded imposing and garish works to satisfy their local and family pride (Spelman 1951 p. 172).
References
Bates, L. (1999, August 2). Martin Luther 1483-1546. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from http://www.educ.msu.edu/homepages/laurence/reformation/Luther/Luther.htm
Kirsch, J. (1911). The Reformation. In Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 12). New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12700b.htm
Luther, M. (1915). Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the power and efficacy of indulgences. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company. (Original work published 1517) Retrieved January 26, 2007, from http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/ninetyfive.txt
Nosotro, R. (2005). Art of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation . Retrieved January 26, 2007, from http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw20reformationart.htm
Pollen, J. H. (1908). The Counter-Reformation. In Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. IV). New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04437a.htm
Spelman, L. P. (1951). Luther and the arts [Electronic version]. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 10(2), 166-175. from JSTOR. Read More
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