From Renaissance to Counter Reformation

During the 16th century, the Renaissance also made its entry in the north. Dutch and Flemish artists in particular, as Bartholomäus Spranger, later Emperos Rudolph's court painter in Prague, had travelled to Italy to perfect their art there. In a way the world had not hitherto seen, art imparted complex thoughts at a high intellectual level. The figures of Antiquity lent themselves to this in an ideal way. The more complicated the contents of a work of art,the higher its esteem. Particular appreciation was given to erotic scenes— they flatter the eye of the connoisseur. Frequently, the painter took classical themes as an occasion to show off his talent in the form of sophisticated nudes.

Around 1550, the whole of Europe was characterised by the schism between Catholics and Protestants. The two camps were opposed to each other beyond reconciliation. Protestant criticism was aimed at the excessive cult of the saints as well as the decay of morals noticeable in many clergymen. The doctrine of the sacraments and papacy are rejected. The Roman Church reacted to this by convening the Council of Trent where the contested doctrines were reaffirmed. Comprehensive reforms followed. The Church considered to be a combatant for truth. An elite troop in the real sense of the word is the Jesuit Order, whose members see themselves as the spiritual soldiers of Christ. In this struggle, art, too, becomes a weapon, an ideal instrument for the dissemination of faith. Dramatic pictures show the biblical scenes and legends of the saints that are often painted from prints.


In the Catholic camp, the Habsburg dynasty gained leadership. Around 1600, Archduke Ferdinand who became Emperor in 1619 set out for a merciless campaign against the Reformation in Inner Austria, glorified by his court painter, Giovanni Pietro de Pomis.

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