In reaction to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church assembled the Council of Trent to counter many of the accusations that Protestants made against the Catholic Church and to try and woe back many of the followers that left the church. Pope Paul III convened the Council of Trent in 1545 and the Council disbanded in 1563. While it appears that the Council met for 18 years, discussions were actually held for four and a half years during three separate meetings.
During the last session held in December 1561, the Council of Trent defined the role assigned to art to further the mission of the Catholic Church. In opposition to iconoclasm, the Roman Catholic Church not only welcomed, but supported the use of religious imagery to support their teachings. In fact one passage of the decree demands that
“by means of the histories of the mysteries of our Redemption, portrayed by paintings or other representations, the people is instructed, and confirmed in remembering, and continually revolving in mind the articles of faith; as also that great profit is derived from all sacred images, not only because the people are thereby admonished of the benefits and gifts bestowed upon them by Christ, but also because the miracles which God has performed by means of the saints, and their salutary examples, are set before the eyes of the faithful; that so they may give God thanks for those things; may order their own lives and manners in imitation of the saints; and may be excited to adore and love God, and to cultivate piety.”
From this declaration, art took a turn that embraced
- Dramatic use of color, with dramatic contracts between light and dark/light and shadow
- Images that invoked emotions to stir the viewer into participating emotionally into the piece
- An overlapping of figures and elements to create tension
A noted piece that incorporates all of these principles is within the Jesuit Church of Gesù in Rome. Gionvanni Battista Gaulli (known as il Baciccio) was commissioned to decorate the interior of the church in 1672. Bacicco was a student of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a well-noted Baroque Roman artist. With Bernini’s help, Baciccio’s career flourished.
Baciccio’s Triumph of the Name of Jesus covers most of the nave ceiling of the Church of the Gesù. The work uses the technique of trompe-l’œil to create an illusion that the ceiling is open at the center and the damned are being cast down to hell. Figures spill over the edge of the frame to move into the space normally thought to be reserved for the viewer.
I see Triumph of the Name of Jesus as a classic piece of Baroque art. The technique of tenebrism draws our draws me into the piece. The lighter area emitting from IHS (the first three letters of the Greek spelling of the Holy Name of Jesus) giving the illusion that the piece is never-ending within the light. The expression of reverence on the figures the ascend to light counter the expressions of anguish on the figures that are falling from grace. The fallen figures fall outside the framework of the piece to give the illusion that they are falling onto the audience below. The emotion of never sharing in God’s glory pierces to the heart.
Difference Between the Periods
My last blog shared how Cranach used art to share Martin Luther’s theory on the plan of salvation, which is counter to the Roman Catholic Church’s plan of salvation. Cranach used art and the printing press to further Luther’s teachings to broader audiences.
Cranach’s works, in comparison to Baciccio’s, are simplistic pieces that may convey a message, albeit without the emotions to drive the message. His pieces are heavy on symbolism. The woodcutting to the right, Indulgences, depicts the Pope Leo X as the lion in the center of the picture. Without someone helping to interpret the piece the work may not get its message across clearly. Whereas, Baciccio’s Triumph of the Name of Jesus provokes emotions without interpretation to the meaning of the piece, Jesus is the way to salvation.
C.N. Trueman, “The Council of Trent”. historylearningsite.co.uk/the-counter-reformation/the-council-of-trent/. The History Learning Site, 17 March 2015. 17 December 2015. Accessed on February 11, 2016.
Stephen Beale, “Lessons from the Council of Trent”. catholicexchange.com/lessons-trent. December 4, 2013. Accessed on February 11, 2016.
Rudolf Wittkower, “The Council of Trent and the Arts: Rom 1585-1621”. witcombe.sbc.edu/art-theory-baroque-Fall-2008/style3.html. Accessed on February 11, 2016.
“Giovanni Battista Gaulli.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. encyclopedia.com/topic/Giovanni_Battista_Gaulli.aspx. Accessed February 11, 2016.
Father Ryan Erlenbush, “What does HIS stand for? The meaning of the Holy Name of Jesus.” The New Theological Movement. newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2012/01/what-does-ihs-stand-for-meaning-of-holy.html. January 3, 2012. Accessed on February 14, 2016.