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Robyn Gilles

on 24 March 2014

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Satire on Popery
The Lamentation
After Pope Clement VII had allowed the Protestant movement to spread rapidly through his failure to address the pressing threat to papal authority, Paul III—his successor—had to take control
. Paul III was a wealthy Roman nobleman and “the first pope to pursue church reform in response to the rise of Protestantism”
—this movement became known as the Counter-Reformation. Pope Paul III established a group of people to look into church corruption, convened the Council of Trent, regulated the training of clerics and introduced disciplinary reforms
. Repression and censorship were major themes of the Counter-Reformation, and the enforcement of religious unity found its way into the visual arts
. Traditional images of Jesus were permitted; however, new guidelines were established which limited subject matter within art pieces
. The Lamentation by Scipione Pulzone rejects Protestant principles and embraces the Catholic subject matter in focusing the message of the painting on Christ. As Jesus accounts for most of the composition, and as the faces are so detailed, it is clear that the image is supposed to focus on the lamenting of Christ’s death, and not distract with decorations as was characteristic of Protestant art. The lack of blood in the painting reflects the censorship enforced by the Catholic Church during this movement.
Creation of Adam
Creation of Adam
is one of the narrative scenes among Michelangelo’s collection of fresco paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel with the intention to glorifying the Catholic religion through art.
One of the most familiar sections of the ceiling,
Creation of Adam
, depicts God bringing Adam to life.
Michelangelo depicts both God and Adam in a heroic way, where Adam is meant to mirror God to show that he was modeled after him.
A reference to Pope Julius’ family name which means “of the oak” is represented in the bundle of oak leaves above which Adam is situated.
The oak leaves are also possibly symbolic of a passage in the Bible which reads “They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the Lord to show his glory” (Isaiah 61:3) as pointed out by Stokstad and Cothren.
Creation of Adam
demonstrates the artistic aggrandizement employed by the Catholic Church in order to endorse their religious beliefs.
The Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci
Tempera and oil on plaster
Milan, Italy
The Last Supper
Those who supported the Protestant Reformation had begun to develop a new artistic movement, depicting new subjects and adapting traditional subjects to reflect their belief in Protestant ideology
. In Bernaert van Orley’s appropriation of The Last Supper, consisting of four tapestries, Christ is at the center of the composition, with one arm around Saint John, and his other arm gesturing toward Judas. One feature of van Orley’s Last Supper which proposes a Protestant conception is the replacement of the traditional slaughtered lamb with a chalice of wine. Luther saw the concept of the sacrificing the lamb for Mass as an abomination, but did support the idea of sharing bread and wine
. Thus, van Orley placed bread on the table, and included an innkeeper subtly topping up a disciples cup with wine. As Protestantism was experiencing a decline in Christian iconography, the Roman Church fought back with the introduction of what came to be known as the Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation set out to denounce Lutheranism and reaffirm the traditional Catholic doctrine
. The Counter-Reformation would go on to revolutionize the visual art scene in Italy and Spain
Art and religion appear to follow interconnected timelines. Throughout history, art and artistic methods have undergone style changes which follow closely with religious trends. Artists have commonly used religion as inspiration for their art, which is evident in works like The Last Supper, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci,
and in Michelangelo’s marble depiction of Jesus after the Crucifixion, called
. Michelangelo’s
was commissioned for a representative of Rome, which is an example of how the Church used art as a method of unifying religion.
The purpose of this presentation is to examine the relationship between notable religious movements and the use of art to enforce or dispute belief. The relationship will be observed through pieces of artwork from significant points in religious history, covering the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and into the Enlightenment.
At the request of Duke Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo da Vinci painted The
Last Supper
above the dining hall of the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan.
One of the most referenced events in Christianity, the story of the Last Supper explains Jesus’ final night before he was crucified.
Da Vinci decided to depict the reactions of the 12 disciples following Jesus’ announcement that one of them would betray him.
Da Vinci captured the emotions of the disciples in a way which gives them human qualities, those of which viewers could identify with
, which was a significant factor in encouraging the Christian religion at the time. The
Last Supper
also symbolizes Jesus’ salvation for humankind, which is a major concept in the Christian Church system.
The importance of Jesus is clearly represented in this image, as he is situated in the center of the composition, acting as the vanishing point for the one-point perspective.
Jesus’ location, combined with the window in the background creating a “halo-like” light around him
, draws in the eye of the viewer, establishing the focal point of the image—an aspect of the art which expresses the adoration of Christ.
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling
The Protestant Reformation started in Germany but promptly made its way through Europe, rising in response to feelings of corruption within the Church, which resulted in a variation of Christian practice
. During the Protestant Reformation, expression through images became an effective tool to portray the Church in a negative light, revolutionizing art and characterizing a new artistic movement
. In 1555, a satirical German etching of the Pope called Satire on Popery emerged, depicting the Pope in a grotesque manner— with three heads, nonhuman body parts, and a tail. On the front of his robe is a broach with a frog on it, which symbolizes false religion
, a clear attack on the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, a major leader in the Protestant Reformation, criticized the church’s materialistic use of art
, and established the notion that allowed Protestants to put their own beliefs into their art
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Beginning in the late 17th century, the Age of Enlightenment transformed the way of thinking, brought on by the ideas of the Scientific Revolution
. Enlightenment thinking was characterized by the thought that humans were not ruled by God or the aristocracy, but that each individual should have equal rights “for the pursuit of freedom, happiness, and fulfillment”
. The idea behind Enlightenment thinking was that an individual must free themselves of religion in order to compose rational, moral thoughts. The Enlightenment period featured art with new subject matter, moving away from traditional representations of Christ. Enlightenment thinking was embraced throughout Europe, including Spain where Francisco de Goya had created The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters in 1796. The etching depicts a sleeping personification of “reason” surrounded by various demonic-looking animals. The etching promotes the idea of reason, in that it is important for people to have individual thoughts rather than be controlled by a higher power
The Last Judgment
Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the wall above the Sistine Chapel altar, which is 48 feet high, commissioned by Paul III in 1536
. Paul III also established the Commission for the Reformation of the Church in 1536, which acted as the foundation for the Catholic Church’s response to the rise of Protestantism, reasserting the fundamental values of the practices of the Roman Catholicism
. The painting depicts the Second Coming of Christ and God’s final judgment, wherein Jesus is surrounded by human souls are either rising or descending. Michelangelo reorganized the classic structure of the Last Judgment, creating a vortex of figures around Jesus as opposed to the traditional layout where saved are horizontally separated from the damned
. Centering the painting on Jesus was another trait of Counter-Reformation art— an attempt to refocus the viewer’s eye on Jesus, reinforcing ideas of Catholic belief. The painting was received as a “grim and constant reminder” that everyone would face judgment at the end of time
. The Last Judgment was criticized for nudity, and was later censored with bits of drapery being painted over the offensive nude areas
. The censorship evident in the Last Supper is reflective of the guidelines that were issued by Council of Trent which limited what could be represented in Christian art.

Satire on Popery
Anonymous German

Bernaert van Orley
Wool, silk, and silver–gilt thread
ca. 1520–30

Scipione Pulzone
Oil on canvas
Francisco de Goya

oak leaves
From the Renaissance depicting the glory of God, to the Reformation using satire to steer people away from Catholicism, to the Counter-Reformation trying to reinforce traditional Catholic belief, and into the Enlightenment where intellectuals began to think for themselves rather than follow divine instruction, art has always been used to influence religious belief. When looking at a famous painting like Michelangelo's
Last Supper
or Goya's
Sleep of Reason
, it is easy to only look at it's aesthetic beauty; however, it is important to understand the context of the time in which it was created in order to gain an appreciation for the work, especially in the context of religious "propaganda."
1. Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren,
Art History
(Boston: 2011, Prentice Hall), 634.
2. Catherine Sundt, “Religion and Power: The Appropriation of Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Viridiana and L'Ultima Cena,” Romance Notes 49 (2009): 71, doi: 10.1353/rmc.2009.0002.
3. Carmen Bambach, "Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)"
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
(New York: 2002, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), par. 4, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/leon/hd_leon.htm.
4. Stokstad and Cothren,
Art History
, 634.
5. Ibid.
6. Bambach, “Leonardo,” par. 4.
7. Ibid.
8. Stokstad and Cothren,
Art History
, 643.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Jacob Wisse, "The Reformation,”
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
(New York: 2002, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), par. 1, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/refo/hd_refo.htm.
14. Ibid.
15. "Satire on Popery [German],"
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
(New York: 2006, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), par. 1, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.677.5.
16. Wisse, “Reformation,” par. 2.
17. Ibid, par. 4.
18. Ibid.
19. "Bernaert van Orley and Pieter de Pannemaker: The Last Supper, from a set of four tapestries of the Passion, known as the Alba Passion,”
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
(New York: 2006, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), par. 2, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1975.1.1915.
20. Wisse, “Reformation,” par. 4.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Stokstad and Cothren,
Art History
, 666.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid.
28. Charles Burroughs, “The "Last Judgment" of Michelangelo: Pictorial Space, Sacred Topography, and the Social World,”
Artibus et Historiae
16 (1995): 55, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1483563.
29. Ibid.
30. Stokstad and Cothren,
Art History
, 666.
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. Stokstad and Cothren,
Art History,
34. Ibid.
35. Ibid, 938.

Bambach, Carmen. “Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519).”
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/leon/hd_leon.htm.

“Bernaert van Orley and Pieter de Pannemaker: The Last Supper, from a set of four tapestries of the Passion, known as the Alba Passion.”
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1975.1.1915.

Burroughs, Charles. “The "Last Judgment" of Michelangelo: Pictorial Space, Sacred Topography, and the Social World.”
Artibus et Historiae
16 (1995): 55-89. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1483563.

“Satire on Popery [Germany].”
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.677.5.

Stokstad, Marilyn, and Michael W. Cothren.
Art History.
Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011.

Sundt, Catherine. “Religion and Power: The Appropriation of Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Viridiana and L'Ultima Cena.”
Romance Notes
49 (2009): 71-79. doi: 10.1353/rmc.2009.0002.

Wisse, Jacob. “The Reformation.”
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/refo/hd_refo.htm.

Robyn Gilles
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