Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

The degree to which confessionalization shaped Europe’s cultures can only be suggested here. In art and literature the measured harmony of the Renaissance gave way to the nervous dynamics of the Baroque, which stood in the zone of tension between insecure fragmentation and a fervent security of faith. Theodore K.Rabb has interpreted this change as the search of a deeply unsettled age for a new security. (79) This “struggle for stability” developed in alliance with the confessionalizing process and manifested itself in art. The Baroque was congenial to confessional Europe, because it resacralized art following its desacralization by the Renaissance. As in politics and society, however, this meant not a return to a predominantly ecclesiastical art, as in the Middle Ages, but a new union of sacred and profane in art and culture which opened the way, over the long run, to secularization.

The Baroque was an expression of confessional Europe, too, in that it made -and makes, as any traveler to Central Europe can see- the religious schism visible. Differences between North and South aside, the Renaissance style was unified and international, just like the humanist republic of letters. The Baroque, by contrast, was fragmented and torn, chiefly along confessional lines. At first glance, this difference may seem to contradict our thesis of the functional equivalence of Protestant and Catholic confessionalization, for how could one conceive a greater incompatibility than that between the riot of color, form, and life of the southern, image-oriented Catholic Baroque and the cool, northern sobriety of the rationally controlled word-and oratorio-oriented Protestant Baroque? (80)

The Baroque cultures nonetheless did exhibit trans-confessional similarities, notably in church and architecture, where a common rationality and deliberate effect reigned. This is true of the precisely emotional purpose aimed at by Jesuit architecture, the model of which was the Il Gesu in Rome, built in the 1570s. It is also true of Salzburg Cathedral and of the Church of the Fourteen Saints in Franconia, and of new Protestant churches, such as Hendrik de Keyser’s (1567-1621) in the Netherlands and Christopher Wren’s Saint Paul’s in London. The same could be said, moreover, of the Baroque palace architecture of both the Catholic and Protestant courts. And also of painting, where the extremes are marked by the heavenward-looking holy humans and human saints of a Guido Reni (1575-1642), on the one hand, the Biblical scenes of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) on the other. The genres and manners of expression of these pictures are undeniably quite different, but their spirits reveal a common rationality and striving for effect. If one accepts the rational program of color, form, and light in Italian and Spanish Baroque painting and in the great churches of Catholic Europe, one cannot deny that this southern, image-oriented Baroque is of a no less modern character than the Protestant Baroque of northern and western Europe. The ideal-typical postulate of their opposition, which reflects the prejudices and cliches of the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, thus needs to be relativized.

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