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Baroque Art, the Catholic Church, and the Virgin Mary


After a century of religious wars, pro-Vatican Baroque art featured big canvases, dramatic statues, exuberant architecture, and immaculately conceived Virgin Marys. It reminded all of the glorious Heaven that awaited the properly faithful.

Complete Video Script

[14] After decades of war, in 1648, an exhausted Europe reached an uneasy peace that enabled Protestants and Catholics to co-exist. But it left Europe split into two camps: Protestants mainly in the northern countries, Catholics in the south — each with its own culture and style of art. The art of the day was Baroque and it fit Catholic lands perfectly.

[15] The Baroque style — with its bright colors…big canvases…dramatic statues…exuberant architecture…and over-the-top ornamentation — appealed to the emotions. Put it all together — as Baroque artists loved to do — and the ensemble packed a powerful message.

[16] After all this turmoil, Catholic Europe craved stability, and the Baroque message was pro status quo: obey the pope and the established order…and things'll be okay. It's no wonder Baroque was the favored style of Catholic rulers.

[17] The Baroque style flourished in Rome — especially at the Vatican, the headquarters of the Catholic faith. Art became a tool of the Church. To help reinvigorate the faith and counter the Protestant Reformation, churches were made more welcoming — with bright, spacious interiors and dazzling art. Art that made complicated theology easier to understand.

[18, Saint Peter's Basilica, 1626] The grand church of St. Peter's was decorated in the Baroque style to make a statement. The message: to proclaim the legitimacy of the Roman Catholic faith as the one true faith and the pope as its leader.

[19] The altar radiates these Catholic ideals, with sunlight pouring like the Holy Spirit through its alabaster window — illuminating the symbolic throne of the first pope, St. Peter, and all the popes since. With its sheer size — 600 feet long, big enough for thousands of worshippers…colossal cupids…and massive Baroque canopy, St. Peter's has given centuries of pilgrims and worshippers a glimpse of the heaven that awaited them…if they stayed true to the faith.

[20] Catholic worshippers were comforted by endearing images of the Virgin Mary, or Madonna. This eternally patient and loving figure took many forms: from sweet and motherly to direct and accessible to the protector of the faithful.

[21] Wrapped in warm colors and soft light, this Madonna embodies the Catholic belief that Mary was born completely pure — conceived "immaculately." Art could convey that notion more powerfully than any high falutin' Church declaration.

[22] Baroque artists even helped the faithful experience the miraculous, depicting otherworldly visions in a believable, down-to-earth way — illustrating the intense religious devotion of the age.