The Reformation and the Visual Arts: The Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe

The Reformation and the Visual Arts: The Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe

The Reformation and the Visual Arts: The Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe

The Reformation and the Visual Arts: The Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe

Synopsis

This fascinating book provides the first systematic overview of religious images and iconoclasm through the Reformation to the view of the Eastern Orthodox churches, covering both Western and Eastern Europe.Covering a vast geographical and chronological span, and bringing new and exciting material to light, The Reformation and the Visual Arts provides a unique overvie of religious images and iconoclasm, starting with the consequences of the Byzantine image controversy and ending with the Eastern Orthodox churches of the nineteenth century. The author argues that the image question played a large role in the divisions within European Protestantism and was intricately connected with the Eucharist controversy. He analyses the positions of the major Protestant reformers - Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Karlstadt - on the legitimacy of religious paintings and investigates iconoclasm both as a form of religious and political protest and as a complex set of mock-revolutionary rites and denigration rituals. The book also contains new research on relations between Protestant iconoclasm and the extreme icon-worship of the Eastern Orthodox churches, and provides a brief discussion of Eastern protestantizing sects, especially in Russia.

Excerpt

The problem of the legitimacy of religious images has confronted the great monotheist religions since time immemorial. Judaism and Muhammadanism have solved it with a strict prohibition: the consequences for Jewish and Muslim art have been fateful and are still widely felt. Less well-known is the fact that in the two millennia of Christianity there have been few periods of unquestioning acceptance of religious imagery. Even in periods of an almost exuberant flowering of religious art—as in the late Gothic or the Baroque period—the feeling persisted in quite a few theological and intellectual circles that the religious image as a medium for transmitting religious truth was replete with inner contradictions. Following periods of exuberance, an austere reaction tended to set in—the question of the legitimacy and adequacy of religious imagery then came automatically to the fore. Not only fear of a recurrence of the heathen idol cults of the Old Testament (an improbable scenario, but one which often served as a convenient battle-cry) but also the striving for an ‘enlightened’ form of church and religion tended to put religious art on the defensive. Although its critics initially focused their attention on the manifold abuses connected with the cult of images as part of popular piety, the logical next step was to question the ontological status of the religious work of art.

The great Byzantine conflict over the legitimacy of religious art (726-843) had a profound influence on the political, religious and cultural history of the Eastern empire. References to the history of that ‘battle over icons’ were to play an important part in later debates, both in the historically conscious sixteenth century and in the endeavours of the Eastern Orthodox Churches to counter Protestant iconoclastic propaganda. A whole string of lesser . . .

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