Reformation and religious conflict
Martin Luther established the twin pillars of the Protestant Reformation: the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the Bible as the sole authority in religious affairs. But by 1555 Lutheranism had lost much of its momentum outside of Scandinavia. Protestantism fragmented into different sects opposed to Catholicism but divided over the interpretation of the sacraments and religious practices. Among these, Calvinism had a clarity of doctrine and a fervor that made it attractive to a whole new generation of Europeans.
At the same time, Catholicism was also experiencing its own revival. New religious orders based on reform, a revived and reformed papacy, and the Council of Trent, which reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine, gave the Catholic Church a renewed vitality.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, the religious division (Catholics versus Protestant) was instrumental in beginning a series of religious divisions and wars:
- The English Reformation 1509-47
- The French Wars of Religion 1562-98
- The 30 Years War 1618-48
- a revolt of the Netherlands against the Catholic King Philip II of Spain (1568-1648)
- conflict between Philip II and Elizabeth I of England, which led to the failed attempt of the Spanish armada to invade England in 1588.
The English Reformation was initiated by King Henry VIII (1509–1547), who wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she had failed to produce a male heir. Henry had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine. Anne was unwilling to be only the king’s mistress and the king desired to have a legitimate male heir. The king requested the Catholic pope grant him a divorce, but the request was denied. So, he obtained an annulment of his marriage in England’s own ecclesiastical courts
Anne Boleyn had become pregnant and he had secretly married her in January 1533 to legitimize the expected heir. In May, as archbishop of Canterbury and head of the highest ecclesiastical court in England, Thomas Cranmer ruled that the king’s marriage to Catherine was ‘‘null and absolutely void’’ and then validated Henry’s marriage to Anne. At the beginning of June, Anne was crowned queen. Three months later, a child was born. Much to the king’s disappointment, the baby was a girl, whom they named Elizabeth.
In 1534, Parliament completed the break of the Church of England with Rome by passing the Act of Supremacy, which declared that the king was ‘‘taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England.’’ This meant that the English monarch now controlled the church and the authority of the Catholic Pope was no longer recognized. The Anglican Church, a form of Protestant faith became dominant in England after much conflict ensued on Protestant/Catholic lines. The Catholic dominance ended with the execution of Queen Mary (the first daughter of Henry V in 1558), ordered by half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I.
The English Reformation was not as bloodily violent as the religious wars on continental Europe, where millions died. But it does show that the religious divisions were inseparable from political conflict and the quest for power. In the case of Henry V, the conflict was partly one of state power over religious power, but also one of maintaining power (Henry V wanted to ensure a male successor to continue the Tudor rule).
By the 17the century the concept of a united Christendom, held as an ideal since the Middle Ages, had been destroyed by the religious wars and divisions.
What emerged was a system of European nation-states in which a growing concern for power and dynamic expansion led to larger armies and greater conflict. War remained an endemic feature of Western civilization.
In those states called absolutist, strong monarchs assisted by aristocracies centralized power. Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, was the model for other absolutist rulers. His palace of Versailles, where the nobles were entertained and controlled by ceremony and etiquette, symbolized his authority and was the envy of other European rules.
This street perspective gives an indication of the massive size of the palace, maybe comparable with the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Note the baroque opulence of the design, lots of flourishes in gold and an intricate tiled floor.
The Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, reinforces the impression of grandeur and luxury. Everything gleams goldenly, reflecting the luminous Sun King, Louis XIV (1661-1714)
Strong monarchy also prevailed in central and eastern Europe, where three new powers made their appearance: Prussia, Austria, and Russia.
Peter the Great attempted to westernize Russia, especially militarily, and built Saint Petersburg, a new capital city, as his window on the west.
There were exceptions to the trend of absolutism. In England, conflict between the Stuart kings, who were advocates of divine-right monarchy, and Parliament led to civil war and the creation of a republic and then a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell.
After his death, the Stuart monarchy was restored, but a new conflict led to the overthrow of James II and the establishment of a new order. The landed aristocracy gained power at the expense of the monarchs, thus laying the foundations for a constitutional government in which Parliament provided the focus for the institutions of centralized power.
The Flourishing of European Culture
In the midst of religious wars and the growth of absolutism, European culture continued to flourish. The era was blessed with a number of prominent artists and writers.
After the Renaissance, European art passed through a number of stylistic stages. The artistic Renaissance came to an end when a new movement called Mannerism emerged in Italy in the 1520s and 1530s.
The Reformation’s revival of religious values brought much political turmoil. Especially in Italy, the worldly enthusiasm of the Renaissance gave way to anxiety, uncertainty, suffering, and a yearning for spiritual experience.
Mannerism reflected this environment in its deliberate attempt to break down the High Renaissance principles of balance, harmony, and moderation (the term Mannerism derives from critics who considered their contemporary artists to be second-rate imitators, painting ‘‘in the manner of’’ Michelangelo’s late style).
Italian Mannerist painters deliberately distorted the rules of proportion by portraying elongated figures that conveyed a sense of suffering and a strong emotional atmosphere filled with anxiety and confusion.
(Domenikos Theotocopoulos 1541–1614). (called ‘‘the Greek’’—El Greco) was from Crete, but after studying in Venice and Rome, he moved in the 1570s to Spain, where he became a church painter in Toledo. El Greco’s elongated and contorted figures, portrayed in unusual shades of yellow and green against an eerie background of turbulent grays, reflect the artist’s desire to create a world of intense emotion. Pictured here is his version of the Laocoon, a Hellenistic sculpture discovered in Rome in 1506. The elongated, contorted bodies project a world of suffering while the somber background scene of the city of Toledo and the threatening sky add a sense of terror and doom.
A new movement—the Baroque —eventually replaced Mannerism. The Baroque began in Italy in the last quarter of the sixteenth century and spread to the rest of Europe, where it was most wholeheartedly embraced by the Catholic reform movement, especially in Madrid, Prague, Vienna, and Brussels. Although it was resisted in France, England, and the Netherlands, eventually the Baroque style spread to all of Europe and to Latin America.
Baroque artists sought to bring together the Classical ideals of Renaissance art with the spiritual feelings of the sixteenth century religious revival. The Baroque painting style was known for its use of dramatic effects to arouse the emotions.
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. His paintings combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, which had a formative influence on Baroque painting.
Caravaggio employed close physical observation with a dramatic use of chiaroscuro (painting with great contrast in shadow and light). He made the technique a dominant stylistic element, darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light.
Caravaggio vividly expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture and death. He worked rapidly, with live models, preferring to forgo drawings and work directly onto the canvas.
His influence on the new Baroque style that emerged from Mannerism was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the “Caravaggisti” or “Caravagesques”, as well as tenebrists or tenebrosi (“shadowists”).
Baroque painting was known for its use of dramatic effects to heighten emotional intensity.
This style was especially evident in the works of the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577– 1640), a prolific artist and an important figure in the spread of the Baroque from Italy to other parts of Europe. In his artistic masterpieces, bodies in violent motion, heavily fleshed nudes, a dramatic use of light and shadow, and rich, sensuous pigments converge to express intense emotions.
This 1618 mythological painting concerns the rape of the daughters of King Leucippus of Messene by the demigods Castor and Pollux, as related by ancient poets such as Theocritus and Ovid. The powerful image indicates Rubens’ fascination for classical sculpture — this time inspired by Giovanni Bologna’s statue group The Rape of the Sabines, located in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Mysteriously, a cupid (an angel of love) holds the horse’s reins, while glimpsing mischievously out of the canvas, perhaps signalling the eventual fate of the daughters, who were to be happily married to the demi-gods.
Rubens sometimes used his art to make social/political commentary. He worked during the time of Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), the origins of which originated from the animosity between Protestants and Catholics and was perpetuated by struggles for political power. Nearly all European states were pulled in; the fighting involved Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. See the painting below.
The main figure of the image is the god of war, Mars, who has departed the open temple of Janus — which in times of peace was closed, according to Roman custom — and he grips a shield and blood smeared sword, threatening the surrounding people. Mars is encouraged by the Fury of War, Alecto, accompanied by two monsters that symbolise Plague and Famine, while Venus unsuccessfully attempts to restrain her lover. A woman on the left personifies wretched Europe, while there are also personifications of Fecundity, Harmony, Maternity and Charity, who all are known to thrive under peace. A terrified mother grasps her child to her breast, indicating that procreation and charity are threatened by War, which inevitably destroys everything. An architect lies on his back, his instruments held uselessly in his hand, suggesting that creative works that were used to ornament a city are now razed to the ground in this time of conflict.
The great works of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653) are part of the Baroque tradition. Born in Rome, she studied painting under her father’s direction. In 1616, she moved to Florence and began a successful career as a painter. At the age of twenty-three, she became the first woman to be elected to the Florentine Academy of Design.
In the 17th century she was internationally renowned as a portrait painter and even the king of England had her come and stay in London so she could paint his portrait.
In modern times, her fame rests on a series of pictures of heroines from the Old Testament (the first and older part of the Christian bible).
Most famous is Judith Beheading Holofernes, a dramatic rendering of the biblical scene in which Judith slays the Assyrian general Holofernes to save her besieged town from the Assyrian army.
Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes. Artemisia Gentileschi painted a series of pictures portraying scenes from the lives of courageous Old Testament women. In this painting, a determined Judith, armed with her victim’s sword, struggles to saw off the head of Holofernes. Gentileschi realistically and dramatically shows the gruesome nature of Judith’s act. The image of women being represented here is strong and violent and quite a rebuke to the male sexism of the period. In fact, Gentileschi was herself, to say the least, a strong woman who took her rapist to court, trying to have him convicted. She did not succeed, but the very fact that she attempted to do so shows her outstanding individual power and strength. Also, the fact that she was a rape victim helps us make sense of this series of painting with its female heroines enacting violent justice against men.
Baroque art and architecture also reflected the search for power that was so important to the seventeenth century ethos. Baroque churches and palaces were magnificent and richly detailed, as we have seen in the example of Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles. Kings and princes wanted other kings and princes as well as their subjects to be in awe of their power.
The Italian architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) celebrated the power of the church in his baroque architecture and sculpture.
Bernini designed Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and also the vast colonnade enclosing the piazza in front of it.
Bernini’s work exemplifies the grandeur of Baroque power-architecture. St Peter’s signifies the power of the Catholic Church through its massive proportions, luxuriously ornate style and classical features (including the repetitions of columns).
In his most striking sculptural work, the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, Bernini depicts a moment of mystical experience in the life of the sixteenth-century Spanish saint. The elegant draperies and the expression on her face create a sensuously real portrayal of physical ecstasy.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, France replaced Italy as the cultural leader of Europe.
French Classicism maintained the classical values of the High Renaissance, including clarity, simplicity, balance, and harmony. The art reflected the shift in seventeenth-century French society from chaos to order. Though it rejected the drama of the Baroque, French Classicism continued the portrayal of noble subjects, especially those from Classical antiquity.
Nicolas Poussin (1594– 1665) exemplified these principles in his paintings. His choice of scenes from Classical mythology, the orderliness of his landscapes, the postures of his figures copied from the sculptures of antiquity, and his use of brown tones all reflect French Classicism of the late seventeenth century.
Brilliant Dutch painting paralleled the supremacy of maritime and finance-based Dutch commerce in the seventeenth century. Wealthy patricians and burghers of Dutch urban society commissioned works of art for their guild halls, town halls, and private dwellings. Neither Classical nor Baroque, Dutch painters were primarily interested in the realistic portrayal of secular everyday life.
The subject matter of many Dutch paintings reflected the interests of this burgher society: portraits of themselves, group portraits of their military companies and guilds, landscapes, seascapes, genre scenes, still lives, and the interiors of their residences.
Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait.
This interest in painting scenes of everyday life is evident in the work of Judith Leyster (1609–1660), who established her own independent painting career. Like Gentileschi before her, it was a remarkable achievement for a woman in Europe. Leyster became the first female member of the painting Guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem, which enabled her to set up her own workshop and take on three male pupils. Musicians playing their instruments, women sewing, children laughing while playing games, and actors performing all form the subject matter of Leyster’s paintings of everyday Dutch life (see paintings below).
The finest golden Dutch painter was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606– 1669). During his early career, Rembrandt painted opulent portraits and grandiose scenes that were often quite colorful.
The Nightwatchmen above, is painted in more muted tones than some of his early works.
Rembrandt was prolific and successful, but he turned away from materialistic success to follow his own artistic path.
One of many self-portraits
Rembrandt shared the Dutch predilection for realistic portraiture.
As he grew older he refused to follow his contemporaries, whose pictures were largely secular; half of his own paintings depicted scenes from biblical tales. Since the Protestant tradition of hostility to religious pictures had discouraged artistic expression, Rembrandt stands out as the one great Protestant painter of the seventeenth century.
in the process of following his own artistic path he eventually he lost public support and died bankrupt.
An Age of popular theater
In England and Spain, writing reached new heights between 1580 and 1640. All of these impressive new works were written in the vernacular.
Except for academic fields, such as theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, and the sciences, Latin was no longer a universal literary language. The greatest age of English literature is often called the Elizabethan era because much of the English cultural flowering of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries occurred during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Elizabethan literature exhibits the exuberance and pride associated with England’s international exploits at the time. Of all the forms of Elizabethan literature, none expressed the energy and intellectual versatility of the era better than drama. And of all the dramatists, none is more famous than William Shakespeare (1564–1616).
Shakespeare was the son of a prosperous glovemaker from Stratford-upon-Avon. When he appeared in London in 1592, Elizabethans were already addicted to the stage. In Greater London, as many as six theaters were open six afternoons a week.
London theaters ranged from the Globe, which was a circular unroofed structure holding three thousand spectators, to the Blackfriars, which was roofed and held only five hundred. In the former, an admission charge of a penny or two enabled even the lower classes to attend; the higher prices in the latter ensured an audience of the well-to-do. Elizabethan audiences varied greatly, putting pressure on playwrights to write works that pleased nobles, lawyers, merchants, and even vagabonds.
William Shakespeare was a ‘‘complete man of the theater.’’ Although best known for writing plays, he was also an actor and shareholder in the chief company of the time, the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, which played in theaters as diverse as the Globe and the Blackfriars.
Shakespeare has long been recognized as a genius of the English language for his poetry and drama. His wonderful language was matched by an incredible insight into human psychology and the politics of Elizabethan England in his tragedies, histories and comedies.
As was common in the period, Shakespeare based many of his plays on the work of other playwrights and recycled older stories and historical material. Playwrights of the time wrote fast because the demand for new plays was great, so relying on existing stories made the process easier. In addition, plays based on already popular stories appear to have been seen as more likely to draw large crowds. There were also cultural reasons: Renaissance writers believed tragic plots should be grounded in history. For example, King Lear is probably an adaptation of an older play, King Leir, and the Henriad probably derived from The Famous Victories of Henry V. For plays on historical subjects, Shakespeare relied heavily on two principal texts. Most of the Roman and Greek plays are based on Plutarch‘s Parallel Lives , and the English history plays are indebted to Raphael Holinshed‘s 1587 Chronicles. This structure did not apply to comedy, and those of Shakespeare’s plays for which no clear source has been established, such as Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest, are comedies. Even these plays, however, rely heavily on generic commonplaces (common ideas of the time).
The plays tend to fall into three main stylistic groupings. The first major grouping of his plays begins with his histories and comedies of the 1590s. Shakespeare’s earliest plays tended to be adaptations of other playwrights’ works and employed blank verse and little variation in rhythm. However, after the plague forced Shakespeare and his company of actors to leave London for periods between 1592 and 1594, Shakespeare began to use rhymed couplets in his plays, along with more dramatic dialogue. These elements showed up in The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Almost all of the plays written after the plague hit London are comedies, perhaps reflecting the public’s desire at the time for light-hearted fare. Other comedies from Shakespeare during this period include Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It.
The middle grouping of Shakespeare’s plays begins in 1599 with Julius Caesar. For the next few years, Shakespeare would produce his most famous dramas, including Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. The plays during this period are in many ways the darkest of Shakespeare’s career and address issues such as betrayal, murder, lust, power and egoism.
The final grouping of plays, called Shakespeare’s late romances, include Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. The romances are so called because they bear similarities to medieval romance literature. Among the features of these plays are a redemptive plotline with a happy ending, and magic and other fantastic elements.
Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet is wonderful.
The theater was also one of the most creative forms of expression during Spain’s golden century.
As in England, actors’ companies ran the first professional theaters, which were established in Seville and Madrid in the 1570s. Soon a public playhouse could be found in every large town, including Mexico City in the New World. Touring companies brought the latest Spanish plays to all parts ofthe Spanish Empire.
Beginning in the 1580s, Lope de Vega (1562–1635) set the agenda for playwrights. Like Shakespeare, he was from a middle-class background. He was an incredibly prolific writer; almost one-third of his fifteen hundred plays survive, which have been characterized as witty, charming, action packed, and realistic.
Lope de Vega wrote his plays to please his audiences. In a treatise on drama written in 1609, he stated that the foremost duty of the playwright was to satisfy public demand.
Shakespeare is likely to have believed the same thing, since his livelihood depended on public approval, but Lope de Vega was considerably more cynical about it: he remarked that if anyone thought he had written his plays for fame, ‘‘undeceive him and tell him that I wrote them for money.’’
As the great age of theater in England and Spain was drawing to a close around 1630, a new dramatic era began to dawn in France that lasted into the 1680s. Unlike Shakespeare in England and Lope de Vega in Spain, French playwrights wrote more for an elite audience and were forced to depend on royal patronage.
Louis XIV used theater as he did art and architecture—to attract attention to his monarchy.
French dramatists cultivated a style that emphasized the clever, polished, and correct over the emotional and imaginative.
Many of the French works of the period derived both their themes and their plots from Classical Greek and Roman sources, especially evident in the works of Jean-Baptiste Racine (1639–1699
Like the ancient tragedians, Racine, who perfected the French neoclassical tragic style, focused on conflicts, such as between love and honor or inclination and duty, that characterized and revealed the tragic dimensions of life). In Phedre, which has been called his best play, Racine followed closely the plot of Hippolytus by the Greek tragedian Euripides.
Jean-Baptiste Moliere (1622–1673) enjoyed the favor of the French court and benefited from the patronage of King Louis XIV. Moliere wrote, produced, and acted in a series of comedies that often satirized the religious and social world of his time.
In Tartuffe, he ridiculed religious hypocrisy. His satires, however, sometimes got him into trouble. The Paris clergy did not find Tartuffe funny and had it banned for five years. Only the protection of the king saved Moliere from more severe harassment.
The seventeenth century was a period of transition toward the more secular spirit that has characterized modern Western civilization to the present. A key foundation for this spirit could be found than in the new view of the universe that was ushered in by the Scientific Revolution.
In the Scientific Revolution, the Western world overthrew the medieval, Aristotelian- Ptolemaic worldview and geocentric universe and arrived at a new conception of the universe: the sun at the center, the planets as material bodies revolving around the sun in elliptical orbits, andan infinite rather than finite world.
This new conception of the heavens was the work of a number of brilliant individuals:
- Nicolaus Copernicus, who theorized a heliocentric, or sun-centered,
- Johannes Kepler, who discovered that planetary orbits were elliptical;
- Galileo Galilei, who, by using a telescope and observing the moon and sunspots, discovered that the universe seemed to be composed of material substance;
- Isaac Newton, who tied together all of these ideas with his universal law of gravitation.
The contributions of each individual built on the work of the others, thus establishing one of the basic principles of the new science—cooperation in the pursuit of new knowledge.
With the changes in the conception of ‘‘heaven’’ came changes in the conception of ‘‘earth.’’
The work of Bacon and Descartes left Europeans with the separation of mind and matter and the belief that by using only reason they could in fact understand and dominate the world of nature.
The creation of scientific societies and learned journals spread its results. The Scientific Revolution was more than merely intellectual theories. It also appealed to nonscientific elites because of its practical implications for technology, economic progress and for maintaining the social order, including the waging of war.
The new ways of thinking created a more fundamental break with the past than that represented by the breakup of Christian unity in the Reformation.
The Scientific Revolution forced Europeans to change their conception of themselves. At first, some were appalled and even frightened by its implications. Formerly, humans on earth had viewed themselves as being at the center of the universe. Now the earth was only a tiny planet revolving around a sun that was itself only a speck in a boundless universe.
If it was just a speck it was nonetheless fascinating. Newton demonstrated that the universe was a great machine governed by natural Laws and that motion in the universe could be understood in terms of the law of gravitation.
There was a hunger among scientists to discover other laws. Were there not natural laws governing every aspect of human endeavor that could be found by the new scientific method? Thus, the Scientific Revolution leads us logically to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.
Enlightenment in the 18th century
The eighteenth century was a time of change but also of tradition. The popularization of the ideas of the Scientific Revolution, the impact of travel literature, a new skepticism, and the ideas of Locke and Newton led to what historians call the Age of Enlightenment.
Its leading figures were the intellectuals known as philosophes who hoped that they could create a new society by using reason to discover the natural laws that governed it.
Like the Christian humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they believed that education could create better human beings and a better human society. Such philosophes as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, Quesnay, Smith, Beccaria, Condorcet, and Rousseau attacked traditional religion as the enemy, advocated religious toleration and freedom of thought, criticized their oppressive societies, and created a new ‘‘science of man’’ in economics, politics, and education.
In doing so, the philosophes laid the foundation for a modern worldview based on rationalism and secularism.
Although many of the philosophes continued to hold traditional views about women, female intellectuals like Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft began to argue for the equality of the sexes and the right of women to be educated.
The Enlightenment appealed largely to the urban middle classes and some members of the nobility, and its ideas were discussed in salons, coffeehouses, reading clubs, lending libraries, and societies like the Freemasons.
Innovation in the arts also characterized the eighteenth century. The cultural fertility of the age is evident in:
- Rococo painting and architecture;
- the achievements of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart in music;
- the birth of the novel in literature;
- new directions in education and historical writing.
Although the philosophes attacked the established Christian churches, many Europeans continued to practice their traditional faith. Moreover, a new wave of piety swept both Catholic and Protestant churches, especially noticeable in Protestant Europe with the advent of Pietism in Germany and John Wesley and Methodism in England.
Thus, despite the secular thought and secular ideas that began to pervade the mental world of the ruling elites, most people in eighteenth-century Europe still lived by seemingly eternal verities and practices—God, religious worship, and farming. The most brilliant architecture and music of the age were religious.
And yet the forces of secularization were too strong to stop. In the midst of intellectual change, economic, political, and social transformations of great purport were taking shape and would lead to both political and social upheavals and even revolution. Those upheavals and revolutions will be the subject our lesson next week, the last for this semester.