Catholic art is art related to the Catholic Church. This includes visual art (iconography), sculpture, decorative arts, applied arts, and architecture. In a broader sense, also Catholic music may be included. Expressions of art may or may not attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form Catholic teaching. Catholic art has played a leading role in the history and development of Western art since at least the 4th century. The principal subject matter of Catholic art has been the life and times of Jesus Christ, along with people associated with him, including his disciples, the saints, and motives from the Catholic Bible.
The earliest surviving artworks are the painted frescoes on the walls of the catacombs and meeting houses of the persecuted Christians of the Roman Empire. The Church in Rome was influenced by the Roman art and the religious artists of the time. The stone sarcophagi of Roman Christians exhibit the earliest surviving carved statuary of Jesus, Mary and other biblical figures. The legalisation of Christianity with the Edict of Milan (313) transformed Catholic art, which adopted richer forms such as mosaics and illuminated manuscripts. The iconoclasm controversy briefly divided the Western Church and the Eastern Church, after which artistic development progressed in separate directions. Romanesque and Gothic art flowered in the Western Church as the style of painting and statuary moved in an increasingly naturalistic direction.
The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century produced new waves of image-destruction, to which the Catholic Church responded with the dramatic, elaborate emotive Baroque and Rococo styles to emphasise beauty as a transcendental. In the 19th century the leadership in Western art moved away from the Catholic Church which, after embracing historical revivalism was increasingly affected by the modernist movement, a movement that in its "rebellion" against nature, counters the church's emphasis on nature as a good creation of God.
Christian art is nearly as old as Christianity itself. The oldest Christian sculptures are from Roman sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 2nd century. As a persecuted sect, however, the earliest Christian images were arcane and meant to be intelligible only to the initiated. Early Christian symbols include the dove, the fish, the lamb, the cross, symbolic representation of the Four Evangelists as beasts, and the Good Shepherd. Early Christians also adapted Roman decorative motifs like the peacock, grapevines, and the good shepherd. It is in the Catacombs of Rome that recognizable representations of Christian figures first appear in number. The recently excavated Dura-Europos house church on the borders of Syria dates from around 265 AD and holds many images from the persecution period. The surviving frescoes of the baptistry room are among the most ancient Christian paintings. We can see the "Good Shepherd", the "Healing of the paralytic" and "Christ and Peter walking on the water". A much larger fresco depicts the two Marys visiting Christ's tomb.
In the 4th century, the Edict of Milan allowed public Christian worship and led to the development of a monumental Christian art. Christians were able to build edifices for worship larger and more handsome than the furtive meeting places they had been using. Existing architectural formulas for temples were unsuitable because pagan sacrifices occurred outdoors in the sight of the gods, with the temple, housing the cult figures and the treasury, as a backdrop. As an architectural model for large churches, Christians chose the basilica, the Roman public building used for justice and administration. These basilica-churches had a center nave with one or more aisles at each side and a rounded apse at one end: on this raised platform sat the bishop and priests, and also the altar. Although it appears that early altars were constructed of wood (as is the case in the Dura-Europos church) altars of this period were built of stone, and began to become more richly designed. Richer materials could now be used for art, such as the mosaics that decorate Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and the 5th century basilicas of Ravenna, where narrative sequences begin to develop.
Much Christian art borrowed from Imperial imagery, including Christ in Majesty, and the use of the halo as a symbol of sanctity. Late Antique Christian art replaced classical Hellenistic naturalism with a more abstract aesthetic. The primary purpose of this new style was to convey religious meaning rather than accurately render objects and people. Realistic perspective, proportions, light and colour were ignored in favor of geometric simplification, reverse perspective and standardized conventions to portray individuals and events. Icons of Christ, Mary and the saints, ivory carving, and illuminated manuscripts became important media – even more important in terms of modern understanding, as nearly all of the few surviving works, other than buildings, from the period consist of these portable objects.
The dedication of Constantinople as capital in 330 AD created a great new Christian artistic centre for the Eastern Roman Empire, which soon became a separate political unit. Major Constantinopolitan churches built under the Emperor Constantine and his son, Constantius II, included the original foundations of Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Apostles. As the Western Roman Empire disintegrated and was taken over by "barbarian" peoples, the art of the Byzantine Empire reached levels of sophistication, power and artistry not previously seen in Christian art, and set the standards for those parts of the West still in touch with Constantinople.
This achievement was checked by the controversy over the use of graven images, and the proper interpretation of the Second Commandment, which led to the crisis of Iconoclasm or destruction of religious images, which racked the Empire between 726 and 843. The restoration of orthodox iconodulism resulted in a strict standardization of religious imagery within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Byzantine art became increasingly conservative, as the form of images themselves, many accorded divine origin or thought to have been be painted by Saint Luke or other figures, was held to have a status not far off that of a scriptural text. They could be copied, but not improved upon. As a concession to Iconoclast sentiment, monumental religious sculpture was effectively banned. Neither of these attitudes were held in Western Europe, but Byzantine art nonetheless had great influence there until the High Middle Ages, and remained very popular long after that, with vast numbers of icons of the Cretan School exported to Europe as late as the Renaissance. Where possible, Byzantine artists were borrowed for projects such as mosaics in Venice and Palermo. The enigmatic frescoes at Castelseprio may be an example of work by a Greek artist working in Italy.
The art of Eastern Catholicism has always been rather closer to the Orthodox art of Greece and Russia, and in countries near the Orthodox world, notably Poland, Catholic art has many Orthodox influences. The Black Madonna of Częstochowa may well have been of Byzantine origin – it has been repainted and this is hard to tell. Other images that are certainly of Greek origin, like the Salus Populi Romani and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, both icons in Rome, have been subjects of specific veneration for centuries.
Although the influence has often been resisted, especially in Russia, Catholic art has also affected Orthodox depictions in many respects, especially in countries like Romania, and in the post-Byzantine Cretan School, which led Greek Orthodox art under Venetian rule in the 15th and 16th centuries. El Greco left Crete when relatively young, but Michael Damaskinos returned after a brief period in Venice, and was able to switch between Italian and Greek styles. Even the traditionalist Theophanes the Cretan, working mainly on Mount Athos, nevertheless shows unmistakable Western influence.
The Catholic theological position on sacred images has remained effectively identical to that set out in the Libri Carolini, although this, the fullest medieval expression of Western views on images, was in fact unknown during the Middle Ages. It was prepared circa 790 for Charlemagne after a bad translation had led his court to believe that the Byzantine Second Council of Nicaea had approved the worship of images, which in fact was not the case. The Catholic counterblast set out a middle course between the extreme positions of Byzantine iconoclasm and the iconodules, approving the veneration of images for what they represented, but not accepting what became the Orthodox position, that images partook in some degree of the nature of the thing they represented (a belief later to resurface in the West in Renaissance Neo-Platonism).
To the Western church images were just objects made by craftsmen, to be utilized for stimulating the senses of the faithful, and to be respected for the sake of the subject represented, not in themselves. Although in popular devotional practice a tendency to go beyond these limits has often been present, the church was, before the advent of the idea of collecting old art, usually brutal in disposing of images no longer needed, much to the regret of art historians. Most monumental sculpture of the first millennium that has survived was broken up and reused as rubble in the re-building of churches.
In practical matters relating to the use of images, as opposed to their theoretical place in theology, the Libri Carolini were at the anti-iconic end of the spectrum of Catholic views, being for example rather disapproving of the lighting of candles before images. Such views were often expressed by individual church leaders, such as the famous example of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, although many others leant the other way, and encouraged and commissioned art for their churches. Bernard was in fact only opposed to decorative imagery in monasteries that was not specifically religious, and popular preachers like Saint Bernardino of Siena and Savonarola regularly targeted secular images owned by the laity.
While the Western Roman Empire's political structure collapsed after the fall of Rome, the Church continued to fund art where it could. The most numerous surviving works of the early period are illuminated manuscripts, at this date all presumably created by the clergy, often including abbots and other senior figures. The monastic hybrid between "barbarian" decorative styles and the book in the Insular art of the British Isles from the 7th century was to be enormously influential in European art for the rest of the Middle Ages, providing an alternative path to classicism, transmitted to the continent by the Hiberno-Scottish mission. At this period the Gospel book, with figurative art confined mostly to Evangelist portraits, was usually the type of book most lavishly decorated; the Book of Kells is the most famous example.
The 9th century Emperor Charlemagne set out to create works of art appropriate to the status of his revived Empire. Carolingian and Ottonian art was largely confined to the circle of the Imperial court and different monastic centres, each of which had its own distinct artistic style. Carolingian artists consciously tried to emulate such examples of Byzantine and Late Antique art as were available to them, copying manuscripts like the Chronography of 354 and producing works like the Utrecht Psalter, which still divides art historians as to whether it is a copy of a much earlier manuscript, or an original Carolingian creation. This in turn was copied three times in England, lastly in an Early Gothic style.
Ivory carvings, often for book covers, drew on the diptychs of Late Antiquity. For example, the front and back covers of the Lorsch Gospels are of a 6th-century Imperial triumph, adapted to the triumph of Christ and the Virgin. However they also drew on the Insular tradition, especially for decorative detail, whilst greatly improving on that in terms of the depiction of the human figure. Copies of the scriptures or liturgical books illustrated on vellum and adorned with precious metals were produced in abbeys and nunneries across Western Europe. A work like the Stockholm Codex Aureus ("Gold Book") might be written in gold leaf on purple vellum, in imitation of Roman and Byzantine Imperial manuscripts. Anglo-Saxon art was often freer, making more use of lively line drawings, and there were other distinct traditions, such as the group of extraordinary Mozarabic manuscripts from Spain, including the Saint-Sever Beatus, and those in Girona and the Morgan Library.
We know Charlemagne had a life-size crucifix with the figure of Christ in precious metal in his Palatine Chapel in Aachen, and many such objects, all now vanished, are recorded in large Anglo-Saxon churches and elsewhere. The Golden Madonna of Essen and a few smaller reliquary figures are now all that remain of this spectacular tradition, completely outside Byzantine norms. Like the Essen figure, these were presumably all made of thin sheets of gold or silver supported by a wooden core.
Romanesque art, long preceded by the Pre-Romanesque, developed in Western Europe from approximately 1000 AD until the rise of the Gothic style. Church-building was characterized by an increase in height and overall size. Vaulted roofs were supported by thick stone walls, massive pillars and rounded arches. The dark interiors were illumined by frescoes of Jesus, Mary and the saints, often based on Byzantine models.
Carvings in stone adorned the exteriors and interiors, particularly the tympanum above the main entrance, which often featured a Christ in Majesty or in Judgement, and the large wooden crucifix was a German innovation right at the start of the period. The capitals of columns were also often elaborately carved with figurative scenes. The ensemble of large and well-preserved churches at Cologne, then the largest city north of the Alps, and Segovia in Spain, are among the best places today to appreciate the impact of the new larger churches on a city landscape, but many individual buildings exist, from Durham, Ely and Tournai Cathedrals to large numbers of individual churches, especially in Southern France and Italy. In more prosperous areas, many Romanesque churches survive covered up by a Baroque makeover, much easier to do with these than a Gothic church.
Few of the large wall-paintings that originally covered most churches have survived in good condition. The Last Judgement was normally shown on the western wall, with a Christ in Majesty in the apse semi-dome. Extensive narrative cycles of the Life of Christ were developed, and the Bible, with the Psalter, became the typical focus of illumination, with much use of historiated initials. Metalwork, including decoration in enamel, became very sophisticated, and many spectacular shrines made to hold relics have survived, of which the best known is the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral by Nicholas of Verdun and others (ca 1180–1225).
Gothic art emerged in France in the mid-12th century. The Basilica at Saint-Denis built by Abbot Suger was the first major building in the Gothic style. New monastic orders, especially the Cistercians and the Carthusians, were important builders who developed distinctive styles which they disseminated across Europe. The Franciscan friars built functional city churches with huge open naves for preaching to large congregations. However regional variations remained important, even when, by the late 14th century, a coherent universal style known as International Gothic had evolved, which continued until the late 15th century, and beyond in many areas. The principal media of Gothic art were sculpture, panel painting, stained glass, fresco and the illuminated manuscript, though religious imagery was also expressed in metalwork, tapestries and embroidered vestments. The architectural innovations of the pointed arch and the flying buttress, allowed taller, lighter churches with large areas of glazed window. Gothic art made full use of this new environment, telling a narrative story through pictures, sculpture, stained glass and soaring architecture. Chartres cathedral is a prime example of this.
Gothic art was often typological in nature, reflecting a belief that the events of the Old Testament pre-figured those of the New, and that that was indeed their main significance. Old and New Testament scenes were shown side by side in works like the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, and the decoration of churches. The Gothic period coincided with a great resurgence in Marian devotion, in which the visual arts played a major part. Images of the Virgin Mary developed from the Byzantine hieratic types, through the Coronation of the Virgin, to more human and intimate types, and cycles of the Life of the Virgin were very popular. Artists like Giotto, Fra Angelico and Pietro Lorenzetti in Italy, and Early Netherlandish painting, brought realism and a more natural humanity to art. Western artists, and their patrons, became much more confident in innovative iconography, and much more originality is seen, although copied formulae were still used by most artists. The book of hours was developed, mainly for the lay user able to afford them – the earliest known example seems to have written for an unknown laywoman living in a small village near Oxford in about 1240 – and now royal and aristocratic examples became the type of manuscript most often lavishly decorated. Most religious art, including illuminated manuscripts, was now produced by lay artists, but the commissioning patron often specified in detail what the work was to contain.
Iconography was affected by changes in theology, with depictions of the Assumption of Mary gaining ground on the older Death of the Virgin, and in devotional practices such as the Devotio Moderna, which produced new treatments of Christ in andachtsbilder subjects such as the Man of Sorrows, Pensive Christ and Pietà, which emphasized his human suffering and vulnerability, in a parallel movement to that in depictions of the Virgin. Many such images were now small oil paintings intended for private meditation and devotion in the homes of the wealthy. Even in Last Judgements Christ was now usually shown exposing his chest to show the wounds of his Passion. Saints were shown more frequently, and altarpieces showed saints relevant to the particular church or donor in attendance on a Crucifixion or enthroned Virgin and Child, or occupying the central space themselves (this usually for works designed for side-chapels). Over the period many ancient iconographical features that originated in New Testament apocrypha were gradually eliminated under clerical pressure, like the midwives at the Nativity, though others were too well-established, and considered harmless.
In Early Netherlandish painting, from the richest cities of Northern Europe, a new minute realism in oil painting was combined with subtle and complex theological allusions, expressed precisely through the highly detailed settings of religious scenes. The Mérode Altarpiece (1420s) of Robert Campin, and the Washington Van Eyck Annunciation or Madonna of Chancellor Rolin (both 1430s, by Jan van Eyck) are examples.
In the 15th century, the introduction of cheap prints, mostly in woodcut, made it possible even for peasants to have devotional images at home. These images, tiny at the bottom of the market, often crudely coloured, were sold in thousands but are now extremely rare, most having been pasted to walls. Souvenirs of pilgrimages to shrines, such as clay or lead badges, medals and ampullae stamped with images were also popular and cheap. From the mid-century blockbooks, with both text and images cut as woodcut, seem to have been affordable by parish priests in the Low Countries, where they were most popular. By the end of the century, printed books with illustrations, still mostly on religious subjects, were rapidly becoming accessible to the prosperous middle class, as were engravings of fairly high-quality by printmakers like Israhel van Meckenem and Master E. S..
For the wealthy, small panel paintings, even polyptychs in oil painting were becoming increasingly popular, often showing donor portraits alongside, though often much smaller than, the Virgin or saints depicted. These were usually displayed in the home.
Renaissance art, heavily influenced by the "rebirth" (French: renaissance) of interest in the art and culture of classical antiquity, initially continued the trends of the preceding period without fundamental changes, but using classical clothing and architectural settings which were after all very appropriate for New Testament scenes. However a clear loss of religious intensity is apparent in many Early Renaissance religious paintings – the famous frescoes in the Tornabuoni Chapel by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1485–90) seem more interested in the detailed depiction of scenes of bourgeois city life than their actual subjects, the Life of the Virgin and that of John the Baptist, and the Magi Chapel of Benozzo Gozzoli (1459–61) is more a celebration of Medici status than an Arrival of the Magi. Both these examples (which still used contemporary clothes) come from Florence, the heart of the Early Renaissance, and the place where the charismatic Dominican preacher Savonarola launched his attack on the worldliness of the life and art of the citizens, culminating in his famous Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497; in fact other preachers had been holding similar events for decades, but on a smaller scale. Many Early Renaissance artists, such as Fra Angelico and Botticelli were extremely devout, and the latter was one of many who fell under the influence of Savonarola.
The brief High Renaissance (c. 1490–1520) of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael transformed Catholic art more fundamentally, breaking with the old iconography that was thoroughly integrated with theological conventions for original compositions that reflected both artistic imperatives, and the influence of Renaissance humanism. Both Michelangelo and Raphael worked almost exclusively for the Papacy for much of their careers, including the year of 1517, when Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses. The connection between the events was not just chronological, as the indulgences that provoked Luther helped to finance the Papal artistic programme, as many historians have pointed out.
Most fifteenth-century pictures from this period were religious pictures. This is self-evident, in one sense, but “religious pictures” refers to more than just a certain range of subject matter; it means that the pictures existed to meet institutional ends. The Church commissioned artwork for three main reasons: The first was indoctrination, clear images were able to relay meaning to an uneducated person. The second was ease of recall, depictions of saints and other religious figures allow for a point of mental contact. The third is to incite awe in the heart of the viewer, John of Genoa believed that this was easier to do with image than with words. Considering these three tenants, it can be assumed that gold was used to inspire awe in the mind and heart of the beholder, where later during the Protestant Reformation the ability to render gold through the use of plain pigments displayed an artist’s skill in a way that the application of gold leaf to a panel does not
The Protestant Reformation was a holocaust of art in many parts of Europe. Although Lutheranism was prepared to live with much existing Catholic art so long as it did not become a focus of devotion, the more radical views of Calvin, Zwingli and others saw public religious images of any sort as idolatry, and art was systematically destroyed in areas where their followers held sway. This destructive process continued until the mid-17th century, as religious wars brought periods of iconoclast Protestant control over much of the continent. In England and Scotland destruction of religious art, most intense during the English Commonwealth, was especially heavy. Some stone sculpture, illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows (expensive to replace) survived, but of the thousands of high quality works of painted and wood-carved art produced in medieval Britain, virtually none remain.
In Rome, the sack of 1527 by the Catholic Emperor Charles V and his largely Protestant mercenary troops was enormously destructive both of art and artists, many of whose biographical records end abruptly. Other artists managed to escape to different parts of Italy, often finding difficulty in picking up the thread of their careers. Italian artists, with the odd exception like Girolamo da Treviso, seem to have had little attraction to Protestantism. In Germany, however, the leading figures such as Albrecht Dürer and his pupils, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Altdorfer and the Danube school, and Hans Holbein the Younger all followed the Reformers. The development of German religious painting had come to an abrupt halt by about 1540, although many prints and book illustrations, especially of Old Testament subjects, continued to be produced.
Italian painting after 1520, with the notable exception of the art of Venice, developed into Mannerism, a highly sophisticated style, striving for effect, that concerned many churchman as lacking appeal for the mass of the population. Church pressure to restrain religious imagery affected art from the 1530s and resulted in the decrees of the final session of the Council of Trent in 1563 including short and rather inexplicit passages concerning religious images, which were to have great impact on the development of Catholic art. Previous Catholic Church councils had rarely felt the need to pronounce on these matters, unlike Orthodox ones which have often ruled on specific types of images.
The decree confirmed the traditional doctrine that images only represented the person depicted, and that veneration to them was paid to the person themselves, not the image, and further instructed that:
...every superstition shall be removed ... all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust... there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God. And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy Synod ordains, that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image, in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except that image have been approved of by the bishop ...
Ten years after the decree Paolo Veronese was summoned by the Inquisition to explain why his Last Supper, a huge canvas for the refectory of a monastery, contained, in the words of the Inquisition: "buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and other such scurrilities" as well as extravagant costumes and settings, in what is indeed a fantasy version of a Venetian patrician feast. Veronese was told that he must change his painting within a three-month period – in fact he just changed the title to The Feast in the House of Levi, still an episode from the Gospels, but a less doctrinally central one, and no more was said. But the number of such decorative treatments of religious subjects declined sharply, as did "unbecomingly or confusedly arranged" Mannerist pieces, as a number of books, notably by the Flemish theologian Molanus (De Picturis et Imaginibus Sacris, pro vero earum usu contra abusus ("Treatise on Sacred Images"), 1570), Cardinal Federico Borromeo (De Pictura Sacra) and Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti (Discorso, 1582), and instructions by local bishops, amplified the decrees, often going into minute detail on what was acceptable. One of the earliest of these, Degli Errori dei Pittori (1564), by the Dominican theologian Andrea Gilio da Fabriano, joined the chorus of criticism of Michelangelo's Last Judgement and defended the devout and simple nature of much medieval imagery. But other writers were less sympathetic to medieval art and many traditional iconographies considered without adequate scriptural foundation were in effect prohibited (for example the Swoon of the Virgin), as was any inclusion of classical pagan elements in religious art, and almost all nudity, including that of the infant Jesus. According to the great medievalist Émile Mâle, this was "the death of medieval art".
Baroque art, developing over the decades following the Council of Trent, though the extent to which this was an influence on it is a matter of debate, certainly met most of the Council's requirements, especially in the earlier, simpler phases associated with the Carracci and Caravaggio, who nonetheless met with clerical opposition over the realism of his sacred figures.
Subjects were shown in a direct and dramatic fashion, with relatively few abstruse allusions. Choice of subjects was widened considerably, as Baroque artists delighted in finding new biblical episodes and dramatic moments from the lives of saints. As the movement continued into the 17th century simplicity and realism tended to reduce, more slowly in Spain and France, but the drama remained, produced by the depiction of extreme moments, dramatic movement, colour and chiaroscuro lighting, and if necessary hosts of agitated cherubs and swirling clouds, all intended to overwhelm the worshipper. Architecture and sculpture aimed for the same effects; Bernini (1598–1680) epitomises the Baroque style in those arts. Baroque art spread across Catholic Europe and into the overseas missions of Asia and the Americas, promoted by the Jesuits and Franciscans, highlighting painting and/or sculpture from Quito School, Cuzco School and Chilote School of Religious Imagery.
New iconic subjects popularized in the Baroque period included the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary; the definitive iconography for the latter seems to have been established by the master and then father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, the painter and theorist Francisco Pacheco, to whom the Inquisition in Seville also contracted the approval of new images. The Assumption of Mary became a very common subject, and (despite a Caravaggio of the subject) the Death of the Virgin became almost extinct in Catholic art; Molanus and others had written against it.
In the 18th Century, secular Baroque developed into the still more flamboyant but lighter Rococo style, which was difficult to adapt to religious themes, although Gianbattista Tiepolo was able to do so. In the later part of the century there was a reaction, especially in architecture, against the Baroque, and a turning back to more austere classical and Palladian forms.
By now the rate of production of religious art was noticeably slowing down. After a spate of building and re-building in the Baroque period, Catholic countries were mostly clearly overstocked with churches, monasteries and convents, in the case of some places such as Naples, almost absurdly so. The Church was now less important as a patron than royalty and the aristocracy, and the middle class demand for art, mostly secular, was increasing rapidly. Artists could now have a successful career painting portraits, landscapes, still lifes or other genre specialisms, without ever painting a religious subject – something unusual hitherto unusual in the Catholic countries, though long the norm in Protestant ones. The number of sales of paintings, metalwork and other church fittings to private collectors increased during the century, especially in Italy, where the Grand Tour gave rise to networks of dealers and agents. Leonardo da Vinci's London Virgin of the Rocks was sold to the Scottish artist and dealer Gavin Hamilton by the church in Milan that it was painted for in about 1781; the version in the Louvre having apparently been diverted from the same church three centuries earlier by Leonardo himself, to go to the King of France.
The wars following the French Revolution saw large quantities of the finest art, paintings in particular, carefully selected for appropriation by the French armies or the secular regimes they established. Many were sent to Paris for the Louvre (some to eventually be returned, others not) or local museums established by the French, like the Brera in Milan. Suppression of monasteries, which had been under way for decades under Catholic Enlightened despots of the Ancien Régime, for example in the Edict on Idle Institutions (1780) of Joseph II of Austria, intensified considerably. By 1830 much of the best Catholic religious art was on public display in museums, as has been the case ever since. This undoubtedly widened access to many works, and promoted public awareness of the heritage of Catholic art, but at a cost, as objects came to be regarded as of primarily artistic rather than religious significance, and were seen out of their original context and the setting they were designed for.
The 19th Century saw a widespread repudiation by both Catholic and Protestant churches of Classicism, which was associated with the French Revolution and Enlightenment secularism. This led to the Gothic Revival, a return to Gothic-influenced forms in architecture, sculpture and painting, led by people such as Augustus Pugin in England and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in France. Across the world, thousands of Gothic churches and Cathedrals were produced in a new wave of church-building, and the collegiate Gothic style became the norm for other church institutions. Medieval Gothic churches, especially in England and France, were restored, often very heavy-handedly. In painting, similar attitudes led to the German Nazarene movement and the English Pre-Raphaelites. Both movements embraced both Catholic and Protestant members, but included some artists who converted to Catholicism.
Outside these and similar movements, the establishment art world produced much less religious painting than at any time since the Roman Empire, though many types of applied art for church fittings in the Gothic style were made. Commercial popular Catholic art flourished using cheaper techniques for mass-reproduction. Colour lithography made it possible to reproduce coloured images cheaply, leading to a much broader circulation of holy cards. Much of this art continued to use watered-down versions of Baroque styles. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was a new subject of the 19th century, and new apparitions at Lourdes and Fátima, as well as new saints, provided new subjects for art.
Architects began to revive other earlier Christian styles, and experiment with new ones, producing results such as Sacre Coeur in Paris, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Byzantine influenced Westminster Cathedral in London. The 20th century led to the adoption of modernist styles of architecture and art. This movement rejected traditional forms in favour of utilitarian shapes with a bare minimum of decoration. Such art as there was eschewed naturalism and human qualities, favouring stylised and abstract forms. Examples of modernism include the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, and Los Angeles Cathedral.
The early adoption of modernist styles at the dawn of 21 century continued with the trends from the 20th century. Artists began to experiment with materials and colours. In many cases this contributed to simplifications which led to resemblance to the early Christian art. Simplicity was seen as the best way to bring pure Christian message to the viewer.
Common themes of Catholic art:
Life of Jesus:
The Protestant Reformation during the 16th century in Europe almost entirely rejected the existing tradition of Catholic art, and very often destroyed as much of it as it could reach. A new artistic tradition developed, producing far smaller quantities of art that followed Protestant agendas and diverged drastically from the southern European tradition and the humanist art produced during the High Renaissance. The Lutheran churches, as they developed, accepted a limited role for larger works of art in churches, and also encouraged prints and book illustrations. Calvinists remained steadfastly opposed to art in churches, and suspicious of small printed images of religious subjects, though generally fully accepting secular images in their homes.
In turn, the Catholic Counter-Reformation both reacted against and responded to Protestant criticisms of art in Roman Catholicism to produce a more stringent style of Catholic art. Protestant religious art both embraced Protestant values and assisted in the proliferation of Protestantism, but the amount of religious art produced in Protestant countries was hugely reduced. Artists in Protestant countries diversified into secular forms of art like history painting, landscape painting, portrait painting and still life.Bernward Doors
The Bernward Doors (German: Bernwardstür) are the two leaves of a pair of Ottonian or Romanesque bronze doors, made c. 1015 for Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany. They were commissioned by Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim (938–1022). The doors show relief images from the Bible, scenes from the Book of Genesis on the left door and from the life of Jesus on the right door. They are considered a masterpiece of Ottonian art, and feature the oldest known monumental image cycle in German sculpture, and also the oldest cycle of images cast in metal in Germany.Catholic Art Association
The Catholic Art Association (CAA) was founded in 1937 by Sister Esther Newport as an organization of artists, art educators and others interested in Catholic art and its philosophy. The CAA published the Catholic Art Quarterly, sponsored annual conventions, and hosted workshops until the organization dwindled and eventually dissolved in 1970.Catholic Art Quarterly
The Catholic Art Quarterly (originally the Christian Social Art Quarterly and later Good Work) was the official bulletin of the Catholic Art Association (CAA). Beginning in 1937 under the guidance of founding editor Sister Esther Newport, the magazine was published quarterly for thirty-two years.Christian art
Christian art is sacred art which uses themes and imagery from Christianity. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of religious image, and there have been major periods of iconoclasm within Christianity.
Images of Jesus and narrative scenes from the Life of Christ are the most common subjects, and scenes from the Old Testament play a part in the art of most denominations. Images of the Virgin Mary and saints are much rarer in Protestant art than that of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Christianity makes far wider use of images than related religions, in which figurative representations are forbidden, such as Islam and Judaism. However, there is also a considerable history of aniconism in Christianity from various periods.Christian culture
Christian culture is the cultural practices common to Christianity. With the rapid expansion of Christianity to Europe, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Egypt, Ethiopia, and India and by the end of the 4th century it had also become the official state church of the Roman Empire. Christian culture has influenced and assimilated much from the Greco-Roman Byzantine, Western culture, Middle Eastern, Slavic, Caucasian, and possibly from Indian.Western culture, throughout most of its history, has been nearly equivalent to Christian culture, and many of the population of the Western hemisphere could broadly be described as cultural Christians. The notion of "Europe" and the "Western World" has been intimately connected with the concept of "Christianity and Christendom" many even attribute Christianity for being the link that created a unified European identity. Historian Paul Legutko of Stanford University said the Catholic Church is "at the center of the development of the values, ideas, science, laws, and institutions which constitute what we call Western civilization."Though Western culture contained several polytheistic religions during its early years under the Greek and Roman Empires, as the centralized Roman power waned, the dominance of the Catholic Church was the only consistent force in Western Europe. Until the Age of Enlightenment, Christian culture guided the course of philosophy, literature, art, music and science. Christian disciplines of the respective arts have subsequently developed into Christian philosophy, Christian art, Christian music, Christian literature etc. Art and literature, law, education, and politics were preserved in the teachings of the Church, in an environment that, otherwise, would have probably seen their loss. The Church founded many cathedrals, universities, monasteries and seminaries, some of which continue to exist today. Medieval Christianity created the first modern universities. The Catholic Church established a hospital system in Medieval Europe that vastly improved upon the Roman valetudinaria. These hospitals were established to cater to "particular social groups marginalized by poverty, sickness, and age," according to historian of hospitals, Guenter Risse. Christianity also had a strong impact on all other aspects of life: marriage and family, education, the humanities and sciences, the political and social order, the economy, and the arts.Christianity had a significant impact on education and science and medicine as the church created the bases of the Western system of education, and was the sponsor of founding universities in the Western world as the university is generally regarded as an institution that has its origin in the Medieval Christian setting. Many clerics throughout history have made significant contributions to science and Jesuits in particular have made numerous significant contributions to the development of science. The cultural influence of Christianity includes social welfare, founding hospitals, economics (as the Protestant work ethic), natural law (which would later influence the creation of international law), politics, architecture, literature, personal hygiene, and family life. Christianity played a role in ending practices common among pagan societies, such as human sacrifice, slavery, infanticide and polygamy.Christians have made a myriad contributions to human progress in a broad and diverse range of fields, both historically and in modern times, including the science and technology, medicine, fine arts and architecture, politics, literatures, music, philanthropy, philosophy, ethics, theatre and business. According to 100 Years of Nobel Prizes a review of Nobel prizes award between 1901 and 2000 reveals that (65.4%) of Nobel Prizes Laureates, have identified Christianity in its various forms as their religious preference. Eastern Christians (particularly Nestorian Christians) have also contributed to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Ummayad and the Abbasid periods by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic. They also excelled in philosophy, science, theology and medicine.Cultural Christians are secular people with a Christian heritage who may not believe in the religious claims of Christianity, but who retain an affinity for the popular culture, art, music, and so on related to it. Another frequent application of the term is to distinguish political groups in areas of mixed religious backgroundsDormition of the Mother of God
The Dormition of the Mother of God (Greek: Κοίμησις Θεοτόκου, Koímēsis Theotokou often anglicized as Kimisis; Bulgarian: Успение на Пресвета Богородица, "Uspenie na Presveta Bogoroditsa", Russian: Успение Пресвятыя Богородицы, Uspenie Presvetia Bogoroditsi; Georgian: მიძინება ყოვლადწმიდისა ღვთისმშობელისა), Albanian: Fjetja e Shën Marisë, is a Great Feast of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which commemorates the "falling asleep" or death of Mary the Theotokos ("Mother of God", literally translated as God-bearer), and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven. It is celebrated on 15 August (28 August N.S. for those following the Julian Calendar) as the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Dormition not on a fixed date, but on the Sunday nearest 15 August.
The death or Dormition of Mary is not recorded in the Christian canonical scriptures.
Hippolytus of Thebes, a 7th- or 8th-century author, claims in his partially preserved chronology to the New Testament that Mary lived for 11 years after the death of Jesus, dying in AD 41.The term Dormition expresses the belief that the Virgin died without suffering, in a state of spiritual peace. This belief does not rest on any scriptural basis, but is affirmed by Orthodox Christian Holy Tradition. It is testified to in some old Apocryphal writings, but neither the Orthodox Church nor other Christians regard these as possessing scriptural authority.Ecce Homo (Martínez and Giménez, Borja)
The Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) in the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, Spain, is a fresco painted circa 1930 by the Spanish painter Elías García Martínez depicting Jesus crowned with thorns. Both the subject and style are typical of traditional Catholic art.While press accounts agree that the original painting was artistically unremarkable, its fame derives from a good faith attempt to restore the fresco by Cecilia Giménez, an untrained elderly amateur, in 2012. The intervention transformed the painting and made it look similar to a monkey, and for this reason it is sometimes known as Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey).Esther Newport
Sister Esther Newport, S.P., (1901–1986) was an American painter, sculptor and art educator who founded the Catholic Art Association and served as the founding editor of the Christian Social Art Quarterly.Gothic art
Gothic art was a style of medieval art that developed in Northern France out of Romanesque art in the 12th century AD, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, and much of Southern and Central Europe, never quite effacing more classical styles in Italy. In the late 14th century, the sophisticated court style of International Gothic developed, which continued to evolve until the late 15th century. In many areas, especially Germany, Late Gothic art continued well into the 16th century, before being subsumed into Renaissance art. Primary media in the Gothic period included sculpture, panel painting, stained glass, fresco and illuminated manuscripts. The easily recognizable shifts in architecture from Romanesque to Gothic, and Gothic to Renaissance styles, are typically used to define the periods in art in all media, although in many ways figurative art developed at a different pace.
The earliest Gothic art was monumental sculpture, on the walls of Cathedrals and abbeys. Christian art was often typological in nature (see Medieval allegory), showing the stories of the New Testament and the Old Testament side by side. Saints' lives were often depicted. Images of the Virgin Mary changed from the Byzantine iconic form to a more human and affectionate mother, cuddling her infant, swaying from her hip, and showing the refined manners of a well-born aristocratic courtly lady.
Secular art came into its own during this period with the rise of cities, foundation of universities, increase in trade, the establishment of a money-based economy and the creation of a bourgeois class who could afford to patronize the arts and commission works resulting in a proliferation of paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Increased literacy and a growing body of secular vernacular literature encouraged the representation of secular themes in art. With the growth of cities, trade guilds were formed and artists were often required to be members of a painters' guild—as a result, because of better record keeping, more artists are known to us by name in this period than any previous; some artists were even so bold as to sign their names.National Museum of Catholic Art and History
The National Museum of Catholic Art and History is a museum in Washington, D.C., focusing on Roman Catholic art. It was formerly located in East Harlem, Manhattan, New York City. It was founded by Christina Cox in 1995.Cox opened the first Catholic museum in the United States after receiving a standard blessing from then-Pope John Paul II. The museum has received support from the Archdiocese of New York although there is no connection between the two. Following controversy regarding the museum's status as a charity and its collection of funds, the archdiocese sought unsuccessfully to have the word "Catholic" removed from the museum's name.The museum's collection aims to cover the many facets of Catholic art, although in 2003 Joseph Berger wrote that it lacked a unifying theme, relying instead on donated works.The museum's original location was in the Olympic Towers on Fifth Avenue, near St. Patrick's Cathedral, a location that allowed the museum to take advantage of Christmas celebrations in the neighborhood. The museum moved several times, including to locations near Radio City Music Hall. In 2002, faced with increasing rents, the museum moved to E. 115th Street, the former home of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine which had recently been spared significant damage from a fire. The museum received around four million dollars in grants from New York State, in the hopes that it would help revitalize East Harlem.The museum was credited with helping to shape and develop the so-called "new Harlem" that was evolving as a result of increased money and the gentrification of the neighborhood. Following an $8 million renovation, the museum also planned an exhibit on the history of East Harlem, acknowledging the role of the church that housed it in the formerly Italian neighborhood that is now known as Spanish Harlem.The museum announced on 17 May 2010 that it was closing, and hoped to move to Washington, D.C. On January 27, 2012 the museum filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation) in the Southern District of New York as case number 12-10331. The Voluntary Petition listed assets of less than $50,000 and liabilities of $1 million to $10 million.In 2012 the museum began moving to its new location on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C. Since 2011, it has solicited contributions to re-open As of June 2016 the museum has not re-opened or announced a date for re-opening.Queen of Heaven in Catholic art
The depiction of the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven has been a popular subject in Catholic art for centuries.
Early Christian art show Mary in an elevated position. She carries her divine son Jesus in her hands, or holds him. After he ascended into heaven to reign in divine glory, Mary, his mother, assumed into heaven and participates in his heavenly glory. One of the themes in the depiction of the Virgin as queen is Coronation of the Virgin, often built on the third phase of the Assumption of Mary in which following her Assumption, she is crowned as the Queen of Heaven. Narrative pictures of the Coronation of the Virgin may often be distinguished from allegorical pictures of the Queen of Heaven by the appearance in them of events from the last days of the Virgin on Earth, such as the deathbed and the Apostles and friends weeping for her.The earliest known Roman depiction of "Santa Maria Regina", depicting the Virgin Mary as a queen, dates to the 6th century and is found in the modest church of Santa Maria Antiqua (i.e. ancient St. Mary) built in the 5th century in the Forum Romanum. Here the Virgin Mary is unequivocally depicted as an empress. As one of the earliest Roman Catholic Marian churches, this church was used by Pope John VII in the early 8th century as the see of the bishop of Rome. Also in the 8th century, the Second Council of Nicaea decreed that such pictures of Mary should be venerated.The Virgin as queen was a recurring theme in many books composed in her honor in 13th century France. In the Speculum beata Maria she was at once queen of Heaven where she was enthroned in the midst of angels, and queen of Earth where she constantly manifested her power. The concept was carried over to art that decorated churches, e.g. the west porch of Chartres Cathedral and in the Porte Sainte-Anne at Notre Dame, Paris where she is seated in regal state, as well as in a window at Laon Cathedral.
In the early 16th century, Protestant reformers began to discourage Marian art, and some like John Calvin or Zwingli even encouraged its destruction. But after the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century confirmed the veneration of Marian paintings for Catholics, Mary was often painted as a Madonna with crown, surrounded by stars, standing on top of the world or the partly visible moon. After the victory against the Turks at Lepanto, Mary is depicted as the Queen of Victory, sometimes wearing the crown of the Habsburg empire. National interpretations existed in France as well, where Jean Fouquet painted the Queen of Heaven in 1450 with the face of the mistress of King Charles VII. Statues and pictures of Mary were crowned by kings in Poland, France, Bavaria, Hungary and Austria, sometimes apparently using crowns previously worn by earthly monarchs – a surviving small crown presented by Margaret of York seems to have been that worn by her at her wedding to Charles the Bold in 1463. A recent coronation was that of the picture of the Salus Populi Romani in 1954 by Pius XII. The veneration of Mary as queen continues into the 21st Century, but artistic expressions do not have the leading role as in previous times.Rococo
Rococo ( or ), less commonly roccoco, or "Late Baroque", is a highly ornamental and theatrical style of decoration which combines asymmetry, scrolling curves, gilding, white and pastel colors, sculpted molding, and trompe l'oeil frescoes to create the illusions of surprise, motion and drama. It first appeared in France and Italy in the 1730s and spread to Central Europe in the 1750s and 1760s. It is often described as the final expression of the Baroque movement.The Rococo style began in France in the first part of the 18th century in the reign of Louis XV as a reaction against the more formal and geometric Style Louis XIV. It was known as the style rocaille, or rocaille style. It soon spread to other parts of Europe, particularly northern Italy, Bavaria, Austria, other parts of Germany, and Russia. It also came to influence the other arts, particularly sculpture, furniture, silverware and glassware, painting, music, and theatre.Sacred Art Museum of Tineo
Sacred Art Museum of Tineo ((in Spanish): Museo de Arte Sacro de Tineo) is a sacred art museum in Tineo, Asturias, Spain. The museum is located in a 14th-century Roman Catholic church (known as the Convento de San Francisco del Monte because it formerly belonged to a Franciscan community), and is accessible via the AS-217 road.
It is promoted by a neighborhood association consisting of the Museum's Promotion Committee and the Conde de Campomanes Cultural Association, amongst others. The museum's major sponsors include the Archdiocese of Oviedo and the Parrish of San Pedro de Tineo. The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, it is open between 10 AM and noon. It is closed on Monday and Wednesday.Sacred Heart
The devotion to the Sacred Heart (also known as the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sacratissimum Cor Iesu in Latin) is one of the most widely practiced and well-known Roman Catholic devotions, taking the heart of the resurrected Body as the representation of the love by Jesus Christ God, which is "his heart, pierced on the Cross", and "in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God's boundless and passionate love for mankind".This devotion is predominantly used in the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the high-church Anglicans, Lutherans and Eastern Catholics. In the Roman Catholic Church, the liturgical Solemnities of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi, or 19 days after Pentecost Sunday.The devotion is especially concerned with what the Church deems to be the long-suffering love and compassion of the heart of Christ towards humanity. The popularization of this devotion in its modern form is derived from a Roman Catholic nun from France, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, who said she learned the devotion from Jesus during a series of apparitions to her between 1673 and 1675, and later, in the 19th century, from the mystical revelations of another Roman Catholic nun in Portugal, Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart, a religious of the Good Shepherd, who requested in the name of Christ that Pope Leo XIII consecrate the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Predecessors to the modern devotion arose unmistakably in the Middle Ages in various facets of Catholic mysticism, particularly with Saint Gertrude the Great.Santo (art)
A santo (English: 'saint') is a piece of one of various religious art forms found in Spain and areas that were colonies of the Kingdom of Spain, consisting of wooden or ivory statues that depict various saints, angels, or Marian titles, or one of the personages of the Holy Trinity. A santero (female: santera) is a craftsperson who makes the image. Some santos which have gained greater public devotion among the faithful have also merited papal approval through canonical coronations. Santos remain a living tradition of religious iconography and folk art in Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and some other Caribbean islands, South and Central America, and the Southwestern United States, especially New Mexico.Silent preaching
Silent preaching (Latin: muta predicatio; Italian: muta predicazione) is a term used in Catholic Art to describe the use of religious images as a method of conveying devotional messages, teachings and religious concepts, beginning around the Renaissance in Italy.Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem which is believed to be the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The object of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion of Christ. It has become one of the most popular devotions and the stations can be found in many Western Christian churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic ones.
Commonly, a series of 14 images will be arranged in numbered order along a path and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This will be done individually or in a procession most commonly during Lent, especially on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his passion.The style, form, and placement of the stations vary widely. The typical stations are small plaques with reliefs or paintings placed around a church nave. Modern minimalist stations can be simple crosses with a numeral in the centre. Occasionally the faithful might say the stations of the cross without there being any image, such as when the pope leads the stations of the cross around the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday.Votive paintings of Mexico
Votive paintings in Mexico go by several names in Spanish such as “ex voto,” “retablo” or “lámina,” which refer to their purpose, place often found, or material from which they are traditionally made respectively. The painting of religious images to give thanks for a miracle or favour received in this country is part of a long tradition of such in the world. The offering of such items has more immediate precedence in both the Mesoamerican and European lines of Mexican culture, but the form that most votive paintings take from the colonial period to the present was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. As in Europe, votive paintings began as static images of saints or other religious figures which were then donated to a church. Later, narrative images, telling the personal story of a miracle or favor received appeared. These paintings were first produced by the wealthy and often on canvas; however, as sheets of tin became affordable, lower classes began to have these painted on this medium. The narrative version on metal sheets is now the traditional and representative form of votive paintings, although modern works can be executed on paper or any other medium.
Narrative votive paintings can be found by the thousands in many locations in Mexico although certain shrines and sanctuaries such as that of the Virgin of Guadalupe and in Chalma attract a very large number of these. Due their proliferation, especially in the 18th and 19th century, many older votive paintings have left the places they were deposited and found their way into public and private collections. The collecting of these was begun by Diego Rivera, whose work, along with those of a number of other painters past and present, has been influenced by them. Frida Kahlo's beautiful collection of ex votes is on public display in her family home, which she later shared with Rivera, her husband.
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