Renaissance Und Religion: Die Kunst Des Glaubens Im Zeitalter Raphaels

Article excerpt

JORG TRAEGER

Renaissance and Religion: Die Kunst des Glaubens im Zeitalter Raphaels Munich: Beck, 1997. 552 pp.; 17 color ills., 241 b/w. DM178.00; DM78.00 paper

Richard Trexler said it three decades ago: "The pagan Renaissance is no more." One hundred years of scholarship since Burckhardt had made it clear, Trexler declared, that "Renaissance man remained a Christian, even a pious one."1 Since then sociohistorical and anthropological approaches to the Renaissance have only confirmed the pervasive presence of religious traditions and institutions in the life of the period. Historians have argued that traditional piety was vital and functional right up until the Reformation, revising the traditional view of a corrupt and disintegrating Christian culture begging to be cleared away.2 Even historians of humanism, traditionally most inclined to celebrate the Renaissance as the cradle of modern secular values, have-especially since Charles Trinkaus's landmark In Our Image and Likeness of 1970-made it redundant to speak of a Christian humanism.3 Accordingly, historians of Renaissance art no longer chronicle the progress of art away from religion. Instead they show, over and over again-in studies of family chapels and confraternities, of political self-representation and civic ritual-the various ways in which art was embedded in the elaborate structures that joined religious, social, and political life. Those aspects of Renaissance culture thought to be the most proto-modern-the engagement in worldly politics, the emphasis on the body and sexuality, the celebration of the individual-all turn out to have been not only tolerated, but actively cultivated within a flexible and dynamic late medieval Christian culture. The result has been to confirm Lucien Febvre's sense of the "prises de la religion sur la vie," and to lend resounding authority to Jacques Ic Goffs proclamation of a "long Middle Ages. "4

All of this gives an untimely ring to Jorg Traeger's impassioned apology for Renaissance art as a religious art. It is as if one were to issue an urgent call for research into the patronage of Renaissance art. A resume of some of the achievements of the last thirty years would have served his purpose well enough, but Traeger has instead chosen to come out in full battle gear. The book, a heavily illustrated and handsome volume put out by the same publisher that produced Hans Belting's Bild und Kult, has all the heft of an epoch-making statement. The breathtaking introduction mounts a counterattack against the secularizing and paganizing interpretations of the Renaissance, which Traeger attributes to the overweening influence of Protestant and Jewish scholars in Renaissance studies. Thus Michelet and Burckhardt, influenced by the Protestant Hegel and followed by Nietzsche, chronicled the Renaissance liberation of mankind from the shackles of Christian culture. As for the "judische Beitrag," the Romantic poet Heinrich Heine sounded the trumpet when he declared that the flanks of a Titian Venus were a more powerful anti-Catholic declaration than Luther's ninety-five theses. Later, the Jew Warburg made the revival of pagan antiquity the central question of Renaissance studies, and Panofsky's highly influential development of this tradition in turn revealed a markedly Jewish tendency to privilege word over image. The latter-day application of the Mosaic law, the reader is amazed to learn, paradoxically underwrote the paganization of the Renaissance. According to Traeger, all of this has wildly distorted the interpretation of Renaissance art, and he is here to set the record straight: "The Renaissance was Catholic" (p. 37).

It is hard to know where to start in responding to these claims, but a good place is to point out that Traeger's enemies are windmills. An obvious obstacle in Traeger's depiction of an aestheticizing and secularizing Burckhardt is Burckardt's essay on the altarpiece, a typological study of sacred art in its functional context that was extraordinary for its time and, as the recent tide of scholarly literature indicates, has found a lively readership amid the recent interest in the modes and functions of religious art. …