Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe

Council of Trent

The Council of Trent and the Arts: Rome 1585-1621

Council of Trent, last session, December 1561 - defined the role assigned to the arts

Religious imagery was admitted and welcomed as a support to religious teaching

One passage of the decree demands that 'by means of the stories of the mysteries of our Redemption portrayed by paintings or other representations,the people be instructed and confirmed in the habit of remembering, and continually revolving in mind the articles of faith'.

Recommendations of various writers may be summarized under three headings:

  1. clarity, simplicity, and intelligibility
  2. realistic interpretation (unveiled truth, accuracy, decorum)
  3. emotional stimulus to piety

'PC' images ('piously correct') are meant to:

  • appeal to the emotions of the faithful
  • support or even transcend the spoken word

Most of the artists working roughly between l550 and 1590 practised a style that was

  • formalistic
  • anti-classical
  • anti-naturalistic
  • a style of stereotyped formulas

virtuosity of execution and highly decorative surface qualities go with compositional decentralization and spatial and colouristic complexities

deliberate physical and psychic ambiguities puzzle the beholder

intricacies of handling are often matched by the intricacies of content.

many pictures and fresco cycles of the period are obscure and esoteric

little power to stir religious emotions in the mass of the faithful.

lacked clarity, realism, and emotional intensity.