Caravaggio and Carlo Borromeo
Chapter 3. Canon Reformulation in the Age of Counter-Reformation
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CANON REFORMULATION IN THE AGE OF COUNTER-REFORMATION
Before we can address Caravaggio’s activities and works in Rome, it is necessary to understand some of the primary Counter-Reformation Italian publications prior to his arrival there in 1592, for they too are related to Borromeo’s realm of influence. The Tridentine decree both validated and defended the function of images through their cultic role—rejecting outright the Protestant charge of idolatry—and their didactic and affective efficacy for the Catholic populace. The pronouncements from the final session of the Council of Trent also made clear that the church in Rome would not tolerate any doctrinal or artistic transgressions that would give the Protestants further reason to attack their cherished traditions regarding sacred images. The overt reformatory language in art writing of the period reflects this stance. In Lodovico Dolce’s 1557 dialogue L’Aretino, for example, the interlocutors debate at length the decorousness of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.1 Similar issues of decorum appear in Giorgio Vasari’s 1568 edition of Lives.2 Vasari, for instance, adamantly made it known to his readers that he did not approve of flagrant nudity in works of art found in churches.3
The general nature of the Council of Trent’s decree on images also sparked the publication of a series of Counter-Reformatory treatises that addressed style in sacred painting, something that the Tridentine decree neglected to ← 95 | 96 → undertake.4 It is quite easy to dismiss Counter-Reformation treatises as determiners of style. There is certainly...
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