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Reformation and Counter Reformation: Catholic and Protestant Art. Durer, Albrecht Self-Portrait at 28 1500 Oil on panel Alte Pinakothek, Munich. Reformation vs. Counter-Reformation High Renaissance in Northern Europe: Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece Catholicism vs Protestantism Albrecht Durer

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reformation and counter reformation catholic and protestant art
Reformation and Counter Reformation:Catholic and Protestant Art

Durer, AlbrechtSelf-Portrait at 281500 Oil on panelAlte Pinakothek, Munich


Reformation vs. Counter-Reformation

High Renaissance in Northern Europe: Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece

Catholicism vs Protestantism

Albrecht Durer

Pieter Breughel

The Counter Reformation

St. Peter’s Cathedral


El Greco

the high renaissance in northern europe
The High Renaissance in Northern Europe:

Visualizing Sickness and Salvation:

The complex Isenheim Altarpiece consists of a wooden shrine with gilded and polychromed statues and two pairs of movable wings that open at the center, on which Matthias Grünewald painted eight scenes (four on each pair) dealing with the themes of dire illness and miraculous healing. Emphasis is given to Saint Anthony. The exterior panels of the closed altarpiece shows the Crucifixion and emphasizes Christ's pain and suffering.

replacing church practices with personal faith
Replacing Church Practices With Personal Faith

The Protestant Reformation grew out of dissatisfaction with Church leadership and the perception that popes and upper-level clergy were too concerned with temporal power and material wealth. Because of inadequate support and leadership, movements such as the Modern Devotion, comprised of the lay religious order the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life, placed new emphasis on personal religious rituals and encouraged a more direct spiritual communion with God.

ninety five theses and lutheranism
Ninety-five Theses and Lutheranism

Dissatisfaction with the Church led to Martin Luther issuing his Ninety-Five Theses, in which he listed objections to Church practices. Luther argued that the ecclesiastical structure of the Catholic Church had no basis in the Bible. He maintained that salvation was not earned by people but was attained through God's bestowal of his grace. Only faith in Christ, guided by Scripture, could ensure salvation. Luther advocated the Bible as the sole foundation for Christianity and the source of all religious truth.

calvinism anabaptism and the anglican church
Calvinism, Anabaptism, and the Anglican Church

Because the Scriptures were open to different interpretations, differences arose among the various Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin. The followers of these reformers became known as Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists. Other groups emerged, such as the Anabaptists, descendants of which include the Mennonites and the Amish. The Catholic Counter-Reformation was intended to counteract the popularity of Protestantism.

holy roman empire including germany
Holy Roman Empire (Including Germany)

Divergent Views on Religious Imagery Catholics and Protestants differed on the role of visual imagery in religion. Catholics embraced church decoration as an aid to communicating with God; whereas Protestants believed such imagery could lead to idolatry and distracted viewers from communicating directly with God. Because of this, Protestant churches were relatively bare. However, Protestants did use art, and especially prints, as a teaching tool.

catholicism vs protestantism
Catholicism vs. Protestantism:

Lucas Cranach's Allegory of Law and Grace is a small woodcut print produced after the Reformation began. It shows the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.

LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER, The Law and the Gospel, ca. 1530. Woodcut, 10 5/8" x 12 3/4". British Museum, London.


This 1512 work by Albrecht Dürer shows peasants at market. Peasants often had to sell produce that they may well have needed themselves in order to pay the rents and fees they owed to their lords. German peasants usually lived in thatch houses with dirt floors. Wooden chimneys covered with clay kept them warm without burning down their humble homes. Often, any animals a peasant family owned slept in the house with them. (Mosaic)

From Albrecht Dürer. "Market Peasants." 1512.

albrecht d rer last supper 1523 woodcut 8 3 8 x 11 13 16 british museum london
ALBRECHT DÜRER, Last Supper, 1523. Woodcut, 8 3/8" x 11 13/16". British Museum, London.

Supporting the Lutheran Cause: Dürer's simple and straightforward woodcut of the Last Supper alludes to Lutheran doctrine that the sacrament of Communion was a commemorative event.

emphasizing the bible
Emphasizing the Bible:

Dürer conveyed Lutheran ideas in his painting Four Apostles by giving prominence to John the Evangelist and by showing Peter and John both reading from the Bible. Dürer also included quotations from each of the Four Apostles' books in the German of Luther's translation of the New Testament on the frames of each panel.

ALBRECHT DÜRER, Four Apostles, 1526. Oil on panel, each panel 7' 1" x 2' 6". Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

a protestant portrait of intellect
A Protestant Portrait of Intellect:

Dürer's Lutheran sympathies are also apparent in his engraved portrait of the Protestant scholar Philipp Melanchthon

ALBRECHT DÜRER, Philipp Melanchthon, 1526. Engraving, 6 7/8" x 5 1/16". British Museum, London.

elevating the art of engraving
Elevating the Art of Engraving:

Dürer's finely detailed engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil is both idealized and naturalistic.

ALBRECHT DÜRER, Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. Engraving, 95/8" x 73/8". Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Knight, Death, and the Devil

classical ideas in the north
Classical Ideas in the North:

Dürer's interest in classical ideas, as transmitted through Italian Renaissance artists, is seen in his engraving The Fall of Man (Adam and Eve), for which he studied the Vitruvian theory of human proportions. Adam and Eve are idealized figures who otherwise stand in a carefully observed landscape with detailed foliage and animals. The animals are believed to be symbolic references to the four humors.

ALBRECHT DÜRER, The Fall of Man (Adam and Eve), 1504. Engraving, approx. 10" x 71/2".

a painting of botanical accuracy
A Painting of Botanical Accuracy:

Dürer's precise watercolor study of a piece of turf is scientifically accurate.

ALBRECHT DÜRER, The Great Piece of Turf, 1503. Watercolor, approx. 16" x 121/2". Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna. Turf

breugel s religious paintings
Breugel’s Religious Paintings:

A Materialist View of Human Nature

The Adoration of the Kings. 1564. Oil on panel. National Gallery, London, UK. More

religious war
Religious War

'Dulle Griet' (Mad Meg). Detail. c. 1562. Oil on panel. Musée Mayer van der Bergh, Antwerp, Belgium.


Bruegel, Pieter Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) c. 1562Oil on panel 117.4 x 162 cm Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp


Pieter Bruegel the Elder.The Massacre of the Innocents. 1565-7. Oil on panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria


Bruegel, Pieter The Procession to Calvary 1564 Oil on canvas 124 x 170 cmKunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna


Pieter Bruegel the Elder.The Parable of the Blind. 1568. Oil on canvas. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

pieter bruegel observer of peasant village life
Pieter Bruegel: Observer of Peasant Village Life

Kermis / The Peasant Dance, ca. 1568


Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Head of the Old Peasant Woman. c. 1568. Oil on wood. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.


Bruegel, Pieter Peasant wedding c. 1568 Oil on wood 114 x 164 cm (45 x 64 1/2 in.) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

the counter reformation
The Counter Reformation

In answer to the growth of the Protestant movement, the Catholic Church instituted its own series of reforms that balanced real reform with a strident and conservative reaction to Protestantism. This movement was called the Counter-Reformation.

Organizations that included both clergy and lay people and encouraged a return to simple ethical living and piety. The most important of the reactionary movements was the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in the 1530's. The basis of the Society of Jesus was a return to the strictest and most uncompromising obedience to the authority of the church and its ecclesiastical hierarchy. (Hooker)

Counter-Reformation imperatives encouraged artists to produce art that moved viewers towards greater devotion and piety.


Welcoming the Pious in Rome:

The monumental piazza in front of Saint Peter's, designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini, is in the form of a vast oval embraced by two colonnades of huge Tuscan columns and joined to the façade of the church by two diverging wings. To counteract the excessive width of the façade of Saint Peter's, Bernini designed the diverging wings to counteract the natural perspective of the view and create the impression of the façade being narrower and taller.


A Soaring Bronze Canopy:

The four spiral columns of the gigantic bronze baldacchino erected by Bernini over the main altar recall those of the ancient baldacchino over the same spot in Old Saint Peter's.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, baldacchino, Saint Peter's, Vatican City, Rome, 1624–1633. Gilded bronze, approx. 100' high

baroque sculpture
Baroque Sculpture

In the Cornaro Chapel, Bernini employed a combination of architecture, sculpture, and painting to create an appropriate dramatic tension for the mystical drama of the ecstasy of Saint Theresa. The white marble group of swooning saint and smiling angel appears to float as a vision might in the cleverly illuminated central niche.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1645-1652.

caravaggio stark contrasts of light and dark
Caravaggio: Stark Contrasts of Light and Dark:

In his naturalistic treatment of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Caravaggio employs dramatic chiaroscuro effects (called tenebrism) with sharply lit figures seen emerging from a dark background. The dramatic spotlight-like light illuminates the figure of Saint Paul and at the same time serves as the divine source of his conversion.

Caravaggio, Conversion of Saint Paul, ca. 1601. Oil on canvas, approx. 7' 6" X 5' 9". Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.


Visualizing Transubstantiation:

In the Entombment, Caravaggio includes plebian figure types and dramatically contrasted darks and lights. The action takes place in the foreground, and the impression is that the men are laying the dead body of Christ onto the real altar in front of the painting.

Caravaggio, Entombment, ca. 1603. Oil on canvas, 9' 10 1/8" x 6' 7 15/16". Musei Vaticani, Pinacoteca, Rome.


From Tax Collector to Disciple:

Light also carries this double meaning in the dramatically lit commonplace setting of Caravaggio's Calling of Saint Matthew.

Caravaggio, Calling of Saint Matthew, ca. 1597-1601. Oil on canvas, 11' 1" X 11' 5". Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

el greco
El Greco

View of Toledo (1597) El Greco


A Martyr at Peace:

Francisco de Zurbarán was influenced by Caravaggio's naturalism and dramatic lighting effects. In his painting of Saint Serapion, he shows the coarse-featured saint emerging in bright light from a dark background.

Francisco De Zurbarán, Saint Serapion, 1628. Oil on canvas, 47 1/2" x 40 3/4". Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford


José de Ribera, Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, ca. 1639. Oil on canvas, approx. 7' 8" X 7' 8". Museo del Prado, Madrid.