The Counter Reformation

  • Amarens Roman - Faculty of Medicine
  • Tammo Severin - Faculty of Behavioral and social sciences
  • Peter Vermazeren - Faculty of Law

The Saint Matthew Cycle The Contarelli Chapel Caravaggio St. Matthew
The Council of Trent (Pascale Cati - 1588)

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) marked the beginning of the Counter Reformation. After Luther's widely successful protestant reforms the Catholic Church needed to bring back the people under its fold.

Where Luther and his followers were mostly turned away from the Catholic Church by the displays of decadence and opulence the Papacy tried to convince the masses with statements and interpretations that proved the Catholic Church existed according to god's will through events and persons past.

The baroque style so predominant in that era was mostly fueled by the Catholics. All over Europe were artists and architects commissioned for works to restore the Catholic Church back to its place of undisputed eminence. In effect the Papacy used art as a form of propaganda to sway the masses in favor of their ideology over that of the protestants.[1]

Around the turn of the century, a few decades after Council of Trent, painters and sculptors like Caravaggio, Rubens and Bernini were being commissioned by the Church to make many works of art to decorate the churches and palaces of Rome. Most of these commissions still had the tenants of the Council of Trent in mind and thus contained themes and subjects aimed at persuading the audience to the side of the Catholic Church.


  1. Jan L. de Jong "The Power and the Glorification: Papal Pretensions and the Art of Propaganda in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries" 2013, Penn State University Press