Time for a change, Michelangiolo

Jan 20, 2022 | Authentications & attributions

4 Dicembre

There are specific days that have changed the course of history and art history. The end of the Council of Trent on 4 December, 1563 is one of them.

In fierce opposition to the Catholic tradition, and in the name of the fight against licentiousness and luxury, the Protestant reform decided to avoid all grand images of the life of Christ, Mary and the Saints from places of worship.

Even going so far as to push for the destruction of those already present.

The Council of Trent, one of the bulwarks of the Counter-Reformation wanted by the Catholic Church, met to assess and  affirm the correct doctrine in all key sectors.

The question of religious art was one of them.

In explicit opposition to the Protestant reform, the council ruled that it was permissible to use images. But not only, it reiterated how artistic representation was the most effective means for religious education. But precisely for this reason the images had to be easy to understand and sober.

This had an immediate impact. For example, the theme of the crucifixion lost its narrative spirit, full of characters and actions, to reduce to just the cross and a little more. While there was a boom in tormented saints, first of all Saint Jerome and Mary Madgalene.

In fact, one of the very first effects was the censorship of nudity. Anticipated from the request to cover with breeches the naked figures in Michelangelo‘s Last Judgment, in a few years Christ is depicted with the tunic even when he is baptized in the waters of the Jordan.

Nudity is also covered for the Baby Jesus. If before his genitalia were clearly evident to testify to the double, human and divine, nature of Christ,  when “handkerchiefs” appear to casually cover right there, it is likely that the work was produced after 1563.

Well, a diagnostic campaign will anyway give more precise results!

In the photo a detail of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, where the “breeches” made by Daniele da Volterra to cover the pudenda are evident

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