Course Code
HARC 0970
Course Type
Subject Credit
Course Availability

Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. Against the backdrop of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, this course explores efforts to control the visual arts by both Catholics and Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It considers a wide range of patrons (from small confraternities, to emperors and popes), as well as a broad range of examples that include artists such as Tintoretto, Michelangelo, Cranach, Rubens and Holbein. The geographical focus is expansive, including works from England, Italy, the Low Countries and Germany.

Using a variety of primary sources, students will explore contemporary debates surrounding the appropriate role and appearance of images, as well as considering fundamental questions concerning artistic liberty and interpretation - topics that transcend the chronological focus of this course and are pertinent to current debates concerning controversial artworks and exhibitions.  

Art and Censorship contrasts the iconoclasm that took place in large areas of Northern Europe with the ‘go-ahead’ given to images decreed at the Council of Trent (1545-63). It will also examine the phenomenon of a diluted or ‘soft’ iconoclasm in Catholic countries, evidenced in the transformations made to the ecclesiastical space in this period. Drawing upon the most recent scholarship concerning the impact of religious reform on artists and patrons, students consider the mechanisms used to control and vet the arts, the new genres and typologies that arose in this period, as well as what examples of artworks being rejected or criticised can tell us about the ‘ideal’ sacred image in this epoch.

Sample Syllabus:

  1. ‘Here the Arts Freeze’: The Impact of Iconoclasm
  2. Cranach’s Pragmatism
  3.  Hans Holbein in England
  4.  Brueghel’s Innovations
  5.  The Council of Trent and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment
  6.  Veronese and the Inquisition
  7.  Transforming the Sacred Space
  8. Caravaggio’s Rejected Works
  9.  Artist and Diplomat: Peter Paul Rubens

Introductory Readings

Marcia Hall, The Sacred Image in the Age of Art, Yale University Press, 2011

David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response, University of Chicago Press, 1989

Jeffrey Chipps Smith, The Northern Renaissance, Phaidon Press, 2004

Linda Murray, The High Renaissance and Mannerism: Italy, the North and Spain 1500-1600 (numerous editions)

Renaissance Art Reconsidered: An Anthology of Primary Sources, eds. Carol Richardson, Kim Woods and Michael Franklin, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006

Anthony Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy 1450-1600 (numerous editions – focus in particular on the chapter concerning the Council of Trent and religious art)

Alexander Nagel, Michelangelo and the Reform of Art, Cambridge University Press, 2000