Words and Images: The Power of Faith in the Age of Reformation and Counter-Reformation
Dr Matthias Vollmer
Summer School – Online
Monday 26 – Friday 30 July 2021
The Protestant Reformation caused unprecedented religious upheaval in the history of Western Christianity. The visual arts in particular had to take on a new role. Protestants condemned the cult of veneration through relics and images, rejecting the appeal to emotion and the senses, and promoting the faculty of reason in receiving the Word of God instead. Early on, however, Martin Luther understood that visual displays had great didactic potential for many illiterate contemporaries and he set out to develop a Reformatory iconographic programme which eventually extended to altars, pulpits, galleries, epitaphs and liturgical devices. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) formulated the Catholic Church’s response to the challenge of Protestant Reformation. Every aspect of religious and devotional practice was reviewed, including the agency of art and architecture, and the role of the senses in inciting devotion and compassion became a central issue. In its attempt to win back the faithful, the Catholic Church embraced the sensuous, emphasising that art should be compelling in its narrative.