The Protestant Reformation caused an uproar within the Catholic church in the early 1500s. Doctrine, traditions, and even the integrity of prominent leaders, were questioned. The church was forced to reevaluate major issues in order to maintain its high power.
Thus, the creation of the Council of Trent.
The Council of Trent sought to define the faith and practice of the Counter Reformation Catholic Church. In doing so, the Council dictated that art should reflect the heart of the Catholic Church. Metaphorical and complex works of art would be discouraged, so as to ensure the understanding of the piece and clearly establish its religious purpose.
The Council was looking to draw people back into the church.
A clear and convicting piece of art may be just the trick!
Feast in the House of Levi by Paulo Veronese
No, that will not do! This picture contains “buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and other such scurrilities…”
The Last Judgment by Michelangelo
To this the Council said: Every superstition shall be removed … all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust… there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God. And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy Synod ordains, that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image, in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except that image have been approved of by the bishop.
The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio
The Supper at Emmaus clearly depicts Jesus revealing his identity to two of his disciples, and an apparent stranger, after the resurrection. This piece of art met all of the guidelines set by the Council of Trent and became the epitome of Counter Reformation Art. It is as if time is frozen, thus allowing the viewer to slowly take in every angle of the painting. Jesus is portrayed without a beard which was very contrary to the times, yet beautifully captures his restoration to life. Caravaggio captured a beautiful moment in his interpretation of Luke 24:13-35 and the Council was well-pleased.
To hear a full reaction of the piece from Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, click the link below:
Buettner, Jamie. “Embracing Jesus: Mystical Union With Christ In Seventeenth-Century Art And Imagination.” International Journal Of Religion & Spirituality In Society 3.4 (2014): 13-27. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 June 2015.
Mukern, Daniel J. “Supper At Emmaus.” Priest 67.4 (2011): 10-28. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 June 2015.
“Supper at Emmaus” Encyclopedia of Art Education. web. 18 June 2015.