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The two paintings, The conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio, and lady writing a letter with her maid by Vermeer, reflect the religious conflict between the Protestant and catholic cultures of 16th century Europe.
Before we take a look at why they reflect the religious dispute, first we must know some background on what caused it. Humanism and Clericism. During the renaissance humanism stood for the intellectual attitudes of the ancient world paired with the wide acceptance of the existence of God. Humanists were interested in aesthetics, saw the usefulness of historic knowledge, and were convinced that man's main duty in life, was to enjoy his life soberly and to be active in his community. It was believed that those who studied the past would be able to lead better, more responsible lives. On the contrary, there is something called Clericism, where people believed G-d reigned supreme to all and that humanism remained useless because the mer man was worth so little.
The statue of David best describes the ongoing influence of Protestant and catholic controversy on the visual arts. Michaelangelo uses David, a character from the Old Testament as his subject matter. The story goes that David, a mer man throws a stone with a slingshot at the mighty giant Goliath and kills him. (Your basic good vs. Evil.) Michaelangelo uses Clericism in this piece by incorporating a story from the bible, and on the other hand also incorporates his humanism influence into the work of art by placing himself as the character David; Giving us the impression that even the mer man can overcome his problems with knowledge of how to defeat them, instead of continually relying on the almighty to solve your problems for you. David shows the 2 conflicting views in a magnificent statue form.
Another Magnificent piece of artwork is Leonardo's sketch of a man within a circle. Vitruvius adding a quote to the piece later on, "man in his perfect proportions, is the center of all things", suggests that this piece was influenced by humanism. We say this because the piece portrays a mere man as the center instead of what the catholics may haved placed, that which god would be in the center of the circle. Catholics, Priests, and church officials alike would not approve of this irrational idea and the sketch itself.
A christian priest & scholar, Martin Luther, was a man of thought, as well as a man of action.
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When we talk about what helpedcause this sudden revolution in both the catholic church and in art, we are also able to look upon a man named Gallileo. Gallileo discovered that the earth revolved around the sun and not vise versa. The Catholic church believed this was heresy, a belief in conflict with religious beliefs, because it was the idea that God did not control the planets and the stars, but in fact science overthrough those naieve religious beliefs.
Catholicts effect on art (Clericism) was that of the Baroque era. Baroque art attempted to bring people back to the churches and re-establish the power of Rome. Mainly found in southern european countries such as the mediterainian, it was a style widely used as propoganda. This style of art, like many other retains specific attributes that would classify a painting as a 'Baroque' style of art, such as; a direct sense of motion; strong contrast of light and dark; hightened emotion; the blurring of distinction between illusion and reality; and the breaking down of the barrier between the painting and the viewer. All these traits can be found in the painting the conversion of st. Paul by caravaggio (1601). Measuring a grand 90 1/2 x 70 in., this painting really catches you attention and is somewhat 'in your face'. It contains a picture of St. Peter falling off his horse, with hands outstretched towards the light of God. All outside areas are nearly pitch black , giving us our contrast between good and evil (light and Dark.)
When looking at the paintings of the prodestant countries, with the influence of humanism, we can see in their art that light is used to symbolize 'the light of reason', shadows are kept to a minimum; and the light makes everything clear and understandable. Instead of glorifying the church as the subject matter like baroque does, subjects chosen for painters dealt more with the average person and their daily life. This is exactly what Vermeer used when choosing his own subject matter. In one particular painting, lady writing a letter with her maid (1670), the 71 x 59in composition moves the eyes towards the women from both sides. From the right we see a chair and a rich oriental rug covering the table; the chair invites us in, while the table is a barrier. From the left the sequence is a dark curtain, the window, and an exquisitely rendered translucent curtain that seems to be painted from light itself. The mistress is dressed in a starched blouse, rendered with sharp polygons of white, and pearl jewelry. On the floor in front of the table is a seal and sealing wax for completing the letter, and also a crumpled sheet, which may be an initial version of the letter she is writing, or it may be the letter to which she is responding.
The large painting on the wall behind the women is The Finding of Moses. This indicates that somebody must be rescued and cherished, but it is not clear who that is. On the window that the maid looks at can be seen the emblem for Temperance.
When we compare both works from Vermeer and Caravaggio we first must look at the content of the 2 paintings. Vermeer portrays a lady sitting down at a table writing a lette, while her maid looks out a window placed within the room. This painting depics a point in time of this lady's life and has no direct religious content. Whereas Caravaggio uses st. Paul, (a religious figure), falling off a horse, outstretching his arms to the light of the lord. This gives us an amazing religious impact of 'if you dont convert back, you will be forgotten, and therefore will not be helped in desperate times of need'. Caravaggio uses the Baroque style of art to show clericism's view on the society & since being a incredibly large piec, would in a indirect way try to get people to follow in catholic fellowship; and would be directed to those who fell aay from the catholic view. The naturalism style vermeer uses is intended for all people in its minute size, and is used to make you think and interperet your own beliefs of what the church really is meant for.
16th century Europe's dispute between protestant and catholic beliefs greatly effected the art world as they knew it. Humanism & Clericism divided not only countries and cultures but also the artists of the century forever. Split between baroque and naturalism, viewers were left with the pressure of wether or not to rebel, and take the path leading to the protestant church or not.