The Evolution of Art

The shift in thought experienced by Europe from 1348 to 1789 comes across through the transitions that occurred in the arts. The highly religious, two-dimensional art pieces of the Middle Ages gave way to the individualistic and accurate pieces of the Renaissance. One such piece comes from Rembrandt who often painted portraits, self-portraits, and scenes from the Bible. A common practice of Rembrandt and a multitude of other Renaissance period artist was to place a self-portrait within a religious scene. The Catholic Church frowned upon this, while Rembrandt felt it showed his spiritual presence in scenes such as the Crucifixion of Christ. Regardless, the inclusion of self-portraits and patrons in religious artwork during the Renaissance displays the growth of the individual.

Rembrandt Raising of the Cross
Rembrandt, Raising of the Cross (1633)

The Catholic Church did not disapprove of all Renaissance-inspired artwork. Instead, they encouraged the talents of the era to paint religious scenes and figures in a way not yet seen. The newfound attention to detail allowed for a closer connection between art and its audience. Peter Paul Rubens answered the Church’s call and painted a multitude of Saint portraits and altarpieces, making him an ally and asset of the Church during the Counter-Reformation.

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Peter Paul Rubens, The Miracles of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1618-19)

Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini received patronage from the Catholic Church for his architectural work and sculpting. One such sculpture, pictured below, depicts Saint Teresa’s spiritual encounter with an angel. The Church employed artists like Rubens and Bernini to add to their elaborate collections of religious artworks, which they felt enhanced the religious experiences of the Catholic Church’s members.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstacy of St. Teresa (1651)

The three artists explored above produced Baroque art inspired by the spread of the Renaissance across Europe. Patronage by nobility made individualism’s growth far more substantial, while Catholic appreciation for the movement’s products enhanced its spread in a changing society.


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