Protestant vs Catholic art


This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.

This exhibition will compare and contrast several different pieces of art from the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. In particular, it will take a closer look at how Catholic art responded to the Protestant Reformation by depicting those teachings which were being challenged. Thus the art that is contained within this exhibition comes from the late Renaissance and Baroque era. However, it will not simply examine the differences between these two categories of art but also delve deeper to analyze the content and attempt to understand the religious beliefs that created these differences we see.  For while each of these two categories of art represent the theological views of two different religions, both played a vital role in the development of Western Art. 

The Night Watch, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1642, From the collection of: Rijksmuseum
This first piece by Rembrandt depicts a common theme in Protestant art, the lack of religious subject matter. Many Protestants felt the scenes of everyday life were more important, especially since most Protestant religions rejected any images of saints or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus it is included here to demonstrate the change in art that the Reformation had brought about. Included with this piece is a brief video that provides some cultural and historical background to this exhibition by explaining the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This information is important to understanding the meaning behind the following works of art.
The milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, Around 1660, From the collection of: Rijksmuseum
Here again we see an image that consciously leaves out all reference to religious matter. Instead, Vermeer depicts a very simple scene of everyday life: a humble milkmaid performing her household chores. This subject matter of common everyday scenes is one of the main characteristics of Protestant art as it embodied the individualized relationship between the believer and God which was very important to many Protestants. This characteristic can be seen in many of the works contained within this exhibition. (See source:
Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566-1569, From the collection of: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
In this work as in the two before it, we once again see an image completely devoid of all religious influence. Instead the scene is of a very humble wedding of two peasants. This embodies a second important characteristic of Protestant art, namely the belief that there is no need for any ecclesiastical authority to act as a mediator between the believer and God. Thus even though this painting depicts a wedding, it intentionally ensures there are no clergy present. Bruegel also ensures the wedding is not taking place in a church but in the home of the common people. (see source:
Adam and Eve in paradise (The Fall), Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531, From the collection of: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
This work, depicting the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve, provides a counterpoint to the characteristics of Protestant art we have seen thus far. For while it is still a Protestant work of art, it openly depicts a biblical theme which breaks from the common characteristic of protestant art in avoiding any subject matter that has to do with religion. Thus we see here that while there are main characteristics to Protestant art, there are also variations due to the different religious sects which quickly formed. Furthermore, each sect had their own unique set of beliefs regarding religious art.
The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, Murillo, Bartolomé Estéban, 17th century, From the collection of: Dulwich Picture Gallery
Now that we have seen these examples of common themes within Protestant art and the religious beliefs that produced them, it is necessary to examine works of art produced by the Counter-Reformation. This first work is primarily different from the works examined thus far due to the fact that its subject matter is very religious. This represents a major theme of Counter-Reformation art which namely was to depict those aspects of Church teaching that were being challenged by Protestants. In particular this painting seeks to depict the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, a theme that was popular in Catholic Italian and Spanish painting (See source:
(Front), From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
This piece, which depicts Christ cleansing the Jewish temple of money changers and merchants, embodies the theatrical and action-filled style that was very typical of Baroque art. This piece was also very symbolic for Catholics during the Counter-Reformation. For in addition to depicting religious subject matter, Bernardino Mei is using this biblical story to symbolize the cleansing that the Catholic Church was undergoing during this time as it sought to remove the corruptions which had led to the Reformation. In this sense the subject matter of this piece could be considered a from of iconography as the artist is using its original meaning to represent something new. (See source:
Crowning of Saint Catherine, Peter Paul Rubens, 1631, From the collection of: The Toledo Museum of Art
This piece depicts a subject matter that has not yet been examined in the exhibit. While it is still focused on depicting a religious scene like all the other Counter-Reformation pieces we have viewed, it is important because it shows the heavenly hosts welcoming Saint Catherine. The significance of this lies in the fact that Protestants rejected all aspect of the Catholic Church's belief in honoring saints. Thus, Rubens is depicting Saint Catherine as being welcomed into heaven and by doing so is reaffirming this Catholic teaching that was being challenged.
St Sebastian, Bellucci, Antonio, c.1716-18, From the collection of: Dulwich Picture Gallery
Here again we see religious subject matter that focuses on depicting and glorifying the Catholic Church's belief in saints. In particular, Bellucci is attempting to show that Saint Sebastian is sharing in Christ's suffering on the cross. Thus this work of art, as did the previous piece, is attempting to give meaning and beauty to a particular part of Catholic teaching, a theme that we have seen throughout the numerous pieces of Catholic art depicted within this exhibition.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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