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The Art of Persuasion: Religious Imagery and the Catholic Reformation


Module description

In this course we will examine the debates surrounding the use of religious imagery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, within political, historical and artistic contexts, so as to evaluate how sacred art was enlisted by the Catholic Church from the Renaissance through to the Baroque. Against the background of the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent, we will look at a range of imagery in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture and architecture, as well as projects which employ all three, to consider how religious and political meaning were conveyed and viewer responses elicited. We will look at works by artists as diverse as Titian, Michelangelo, Rubens and Bernini, and consider altarpieces, church facades, tomb monuments and vault decorations. With an emphasis on Italy, we will focus on a series of specific themes in order to understand the function of imagery in relation both to devotional practice and to broader issues of patronage and propaganda. Topics for discussion will include the cults of saints and relics, the centrality of the Virgin Mary in Catholic devotion and the altar as locus of salvation. 

The course will be taught as a series of seminars and you will be expected to give a presentation and to participate in class discussion.