From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism and the Arts in Italy, Ca. 1550-1650

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From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism and the Arts in Italy, ca. 1550-1650. Edited by Pamela M. Jones and Thomas Worcester. [Cultures, Beliefs and Traditions: Medieval and Early Modern Peoples, Volume 14.] (Leiden: Brill. 2002. Pp. ix, 277. $130.00; euro96.)

Until fairly recently scholars have seen the relationship between Catholicism and the arts in the century following the Council of Trent in predominantly negative terms. According to this traditional narrative, as the Church re-established control over its flock and reasserted its authority, it placed restrictions on the creativity of artists. It was intent on making these artists conform to the needs of the community at large, rather than to their own highly individual internal subjectivity. In many respects, this view of the period suggested that the great reform of the Church came at the high cost of putting an end to the artistic glories of the Renaissance, thus plunging European culture back into a kind of new Middle Ages. Only with the Enlightenment was Catholicism's stultifying grasp on cultural production loosened. The present volume is part of a broad trend that seeks to counter this old view and redefine the complex and many-faceted dynamic that was the relationship between art and Catholicism in this period.

The nine essays gathered together here treat a commendably broad range of material, with pieces on painting, theater, music, and literature. Joining together this wide-ranging group is the fact that most are rather tightly defined case studies. Moreover, they nearly all examine artistic production not from the top down, but by examining individual examples of artistic production and seeing how those were interwoven with the changing and varied religious values of the day. The authors remain at all times flexible and open-minded when it comes to defining the nature of that interconnectedness. They do not present a monolithic Catholicism to which artists somehow adapted themselves, but a richly nuanced and varied religious environment that was seamlessly integrated with artists' lives and output.

The first section of the book, "Italian Artists as Saints and Sinners," comprises an essay on the painter Caravaggio by David Stone, one on the courtesan and poet Veronica Franco by Flora Bassanese,and one on the playwright Giovan Battista Andreini by Michael Zampelli. Stone's essay is especially noteworthy here for its radical re-reading of the relationship between Caravaggio's art and life. Building on the kind of analysis Paul Barolsky and others have developed for Michelangelo, Stone suggests that Caravaggio painted his David with the Head of Goliath, with its famous self-portrait of the artist as Goliath, as part of an elaborate campaign to fashion an artistic and Christian identity through his painting. …