Art, as well as its dynamics of an abundance of various styles and trends of it, numerous color patterns, and decorative accents, has always been a source of beauty and cultural hereditary. Moreover, art plays an integral role in history; one of such dramatic examples is Catholic Counter-Reformation as art is known to become a powerful weapon of anti-Reformation actions and the ones aimed at Catholic Revival. The goal of this paper is to define the impact of art on Counter-Reformation and the results of it, which influenced the history of the Catholic Church.

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In order to achieve this goal, the role of artistic works during the Renaissance is observed; in addition, the paper compares the role of art in the Middle Ages. Proving the fact that art has become a powerful weapon for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the paper studies architecture, icons, frescos, music, and other works of art created during the period of the Catholic Counter Reformation. The research was based on information from a few books written by outstanding scientists. The information that was found was studied in this research, and personal conclusions concerning the issue investigated in this paper were made.

To begin with, the suppler and more natural esthetics of the Renaissance were concerned to be one of the best ways of propaganda and intrusion (in the Middle Ages, this instrument was unknown). The Counter Reformation made art play an inevitable role in divine worship. It emphasized that the church was friendly to art, “it desired, above all, to use the art as a weapon against the doctrines of heterodoxy” (Hauser 44). Taking into consideration the fungal development and the overwhelming success of church art proves the above-mentioned facts.

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It is necessary to highlight the architecture of all Catholic churches as one of the prominent parts influencing public opinion during the Counter-Reformation. “Catholic churches were designed and refurbished in accordance with the general attempt to present the religious experience as an assault on one’s physical senses, such that one’s bodily attention would be captured, and then the mind’s attention caught also” (Williamson 102). It is of common knowledge that the Counter-Reformation churches had much in common with the sacred architecture of the Italian Baroque¹. As a rule, Catholic churches emanated from Rome, and the adoption of numerous peculiarities of this style is obvious. When analyzing this fact, it becomes evident that elaborate and sophisticated interiors, as well as their décor, had a positive impact on the consciousness of not only pious people but also an abundance of those who did not take Catholic religion seriously.

The energetic style adopted by the architecture of the era of Catholic Counter-Reformation was not the only prerequisite of this process. Icon-painting, as well as fresco-painting, became a powerful weapon of Counter-Reformation. This issue is proved by the fact that a character of Catholic art, Lutheran “became increasingly defined” (Williamson 102). Moreover, Williamson asserts, “by the 17th century in areas that had remained royal to – or returned to – the old faith Christian art continued to be commissioned as a powerful polemical weapon, promoting the Catholic view of Christianity” (102). The images seen by those who entered a church influenced the consciousness of them so much that one of the crucial tasks of the Catholic Church, which included restoring and strengthening of religion, was successfully fulfilled. Citizens began to believe in transubstantiation, whereas the art of the Catholic Church encouraged the veneration and adoration of the Eucharist. It was defined as proof of the fact of “actual manifestation of Christ’s body on earth” (Williamson 105). It became a usual thing to pray for anything people desired to have.


In spite of the fact that no markets for altarpiece and official ecclesiastical art existed, religious art continued to develop; it was possible by means of private art markets. Although scenes of everyday life, landscapes, and portraiture were quite frequent, the production of religious art was popular enough. For instance, one of the most talented painters of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Rembrandt van Rijn, who “has been characterized as a painter unique in giving artistic expression to Protestant sensibilities” influenced not only the history of art but also took an important part in the process of the Catholic Counter-Reformation itself (Williamson 106). Being a foremost artist, Rembrandt used the most dramatic scenes in such paintings as Return of the Prodigal Son (1669), The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1631), Christ in the Storm (1635), An Archangel Leaving the Family of Tobias (1637), Head of Christ (1648), The Supper at Emmaus (1648), and Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph (1656). An abundance of scenes of the Bible were used for creating Rembrandt’s masterpieces. Understanding the fact that such pieces of art were popular with various people of all social levels, Counter-Reformates used these foremost paintings for the purpose of making people adopt Catholicism. Even now a lot of visitors of galleries where the Rembrandt’s paintings are represented change their minds concerning religion and Catholicism in particular.

The Image of Virgin Mary. In spite of Jesus and other saints, a central role was played by another person, Virgin Mary, who was considered to be Jesus Christ’s mother; Counter-Reformation iconography used this powerful image for the formation of consciousness of numerous people. “Certain aspects of Mary’s life such as her assumption into heaven, which rests on apocryphal sources, were contested by Protestants and were among the most important weapons of the Catholic church” (Auwera 159). Rubens was one of the most talented artists who used the image of Virgin Mary in numerous works. In the painting The Adoration of the Magi, Virgin Mary becomes a symbol of the concept of the church as a whole, in the painting Virgo Sacerdos, which is also entitled Virgin and Priest, Mary has Jesus Christ half-seated on her lap; this painting is known be a theme of animated discussions of the faithful. The significance of the image of Virgin Mary was its influence on women as she has always been considered to help mothers to prevent their children from any troubles and young girls to find a good husband. It is proved by various prayers addressed to Virgin Mary.

Another fact that the image of Virgin Mary played an important role in the Catholic Counter-Reformation “was characterized by a continued and strengthened adherence to the Virgin Mary, and to Marian doctrines and representations that had been attacked by Protestants, such the Virgin’s … maculate Conception to the saints …, and to the seven sacraments, with a particular emphasis on the Eucharist, in the particular doctrinal form as defined by the Catholic Church” (Williamson 102). These issues lead to making the influence of the image of Virgin Mary stronger, especially in the Southern Netherlands². In the 16th century, paintings, and the image of Virgin Mary in particularly had already encouraged Protestant reform in numerous parts of Europe; for instance, this process was peculiar for the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany. These countries became bastions of Catholic reform and Counter-Reformation. Analyzing this historical process, it is necessary to make a conclusion that art, especially paintings and images of saints (and Virgin Mary’s image in particularly) had begun to play one of the leading roles in the history of the Church, early before the Catholic Counter-Reformation started. Then, the impact of art was transformed on the Catholic Church and became a powerful weapon of influence on social consciousness.

Rubens. In spite of the image of Virgin Mary, other Rubens’ images played an integral role in the Catholic Counter-Reformation, as well. An emotional impact on the consciousness of people was natural as “in Rubens’ compositionally and technically superior altarpieces, theoretical reflections on abstract liturgical concepts, emotional experience and devotion go hand in hand” (Auwera 102). In the 17th century, the power of the image was exploited in Rubens’ paintings like nowhere else as in his works; he combined naturalism, clarity, and drama in quite a simple way; on the other hand, his manner formed a virtuoso and brilliant tool whereas the impression of his works served as a weapon of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. For example, saints painted by this artist took part in “the salvation of humanity through their intervention” (Auwera 102) whereas they were the creatures of flesh and blood in the paintings; they were not someone higher than ordinary people. These individuals seemed to be really vulnerable, and it made them closer to people in psychological and moral ways as the latter could parallel themselves with any of the saints because of the fact that their life stories could occur with anyone. For instance, in one of Rubens’ works, Mary Magdalena anoints Jesus Christ’s feet with her hair. It was natural that scenes of the Bible could not be enough; the simplicity of Rubens’ paintings, which drew visitors’ attention really much and served as a weapon in the propaganda of Catholicism was a kind of complexity’, while numerous features of simplicity made a number of faithful people believe, understand, and feel everything depicted; it was obvious that this peculiarity of Rubens’ masterpieces made these paintings a really powerful weapon of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.


The Catholic Counter-Reformates was known to be unlikely to use tyrannical policies or repressions; fear was not considered to be a weapon, which could bring the process of Counter-Reformation to a successful end. This was the reason why not only the already existing art could play a considerable role in banging Catholicism on and on, but also promoting its fungal development could become an evitable part for it. For instance, “… music was viewed by the Habsburgs as the ultimate means of propaganda: not only it was able to draw people into a church service and keep them coming back for more, but it also has the immediate ability to astound listeners and impress upon them the majesty and dignity of both God and emperor” (Sances, Weaver 10).

Analyzing the music of the era of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, it was obvious that new lyrics appeared whereas new musicians were promoted. It was supported because of the reason that good religious music puts a considerable influence on the citizens of all countries. Generally, these melodies were really memorable; the purpose of creating this music was its ability to stick in people’s minds, and indirectly, it persuaded people to go to the church more and more often. Almost all Catholic Counter-Reformates knew about this peculiarity of music, and an abundance of collections of sacred lyrics and music was distributed whereas the so-called “non-Catholic songs” had to be suppressed. It avoided an opportunity of competitiveness among various music trends; any propaganda of “non-Catholic” religions could make music not only a weapon of the Catholic Church but also a one of other religions and their advocates.

It is obvious that the so-called “new music,” which influenced the faithful so much, could not become an only weapon of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. A concept of art in the whole had to be a really powerful impact on the consciousness of any person as it was a source of an indirect propaganda. Priests did not have to persuade people to go to the church or to adopt Catholicism. Citizens saw eye-catching architecture of the churches, their interiors, and frescos. Paintings played an integral role, as well whereas the art peculiar for the Catholic Counter-Reformation was evident to be created for an influential purpose.

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