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

By Pamela M. Jones; Thomas Worcester | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Thomas Worcester

This book focuses on the century ca. 1550 to 1650, which traditional historiography termed the 'Counter-Reformation,' and presented as an era in which centralization triumphed in the Roman Catholic Church. According to this view, obedience to hierarchical authority was exalted as the path to eternal salvation; the distinction between clergy and laity grew; Rome imposed its will; diversity was stamped out, and artistic creativity smothered by inquisition and censorship.1 Yet current scholarship modifies some elements of this monochromatic picture.2 I consider, in this introductory essay, how our book builds upon and goes beyond recent work, and offers several new avenues of access to the complex interaction of Catholicism and the arts, in Italy, in the century or so after the Council of Trent.

The Council first convened in 1545, and its 450th anniversary occasioned the publication of several important works, chief among them Paolo Prodi and Wolfgang Reinhard's Il concilio di Trento e il moderno, and Cesare Mozzarelli and Danilo Zardin's I tempi del Concilio: religione, cultura e società nell'Europa tridentina.3 These volumes go far toward illuminating institutional history, but place less emphasis on broader cultural questions. Moreover, these are foreign language publications. By contrast, the present book consists of original works in English, and is widely interdisciplinary, including essays on the arts of painting, theater, music, elite and popular literature. This book nevertheless retains its focus on Rome and the religious culture of Italy, between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-seventeenth centuries.

The book's title, From Rome to Eternity, points to a central feature of that culture: a longing for eternal salvation. The arts had an important role in delighting, teaching, and moving Catholic audiences to live a life of faith and good works that would lead to eternal life.

1 See, e.g., Pelikan (1984), 245–303, on the replacement of doctrinal pluralism
by 'particularity' and doctrinal definition. For summaries of the historiography of
the 'Counter-Reformation' see Evennett (1970), and O'Malley (2000).

2 See Ditchfield (1995); Hudon (1996); Sella (1997); Bireley 1999; O'Malley (2000).

3 Prodi and Reinhard (1996); Mozzarelli and Zardin (1997).

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