Baroque Painting and the Counter-Reformation



This course looks at Baroque painting from seventeenth century Rome and how it advanced the agenda of the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism in Northern Europe, a period called the Counter-Reformation. After the Council of Trent when images had been enshrined as a primary communications channel between the dogma of the Church and the minds of the masses across Europe, paintings were invested with a new dimension to depict simple religious subjects invested with extraordinarily complex emotional subjects. Baroque paintings commissioned by the Catholic Church were designed to play on the viewer’s emotions- whether that was inspiring pity through scenes of extraordinary sufferings or gruesome martyrdoms or to reveal a glimpse of the heavens themselves, or at least how the best artists of the day were able to create the illusion of infinite depth on church and palace ceilings alike. In any case, art took center stage in the seventeenth century, and unparalleled resources were put into artworks which were intended to be seen by more people than any of the masterpieces of the former era had been; this course is not only an introduction to Baroque painting, it is also the first chapter in the modern history of mass communications.