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Shift From Religious To Secular Through Art

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The shift in art from the religious to the secular initially created some tension between the authority of the Catholic Church and secular European monarchies. Different issues during this time period consisted of art that displays the shift from the religious to the secular. I chose to look further into the Scientific Revolution, The Enlightenment, and the Protestant Reformation because they are all so different from each other, which will provide me with differing perspectives on the art. I found that each of these issues reveals something about either the political, intellectual, or cultural changes that were happening in Europe.

The Scientific Revolution was the seventeenth-century intellectual movement that challenged and overturned medieval views about the order of the universe and the theories used to explain motion. The Scientific Revolution followed the lead of late medieval science by collecting empirical data, reasoning inductively, and using mathematics to verify results. This revolution also was fixed around Neoplatonism and they believed that simplicity is superior to complexity in mathematical figuring because simplicity was the supreme sign that a solution was correct. One piece of art from this time period that shows the shift in art styles is Louis XIV at the Royal Academy of Science by Sebastian I. Leclerc. In this engraving, Louis XIV is shown visiting the Royal Academy of Science and you can see the Royal Observatory in the background. This shows how science and government joined together in a way and religion was no longer a main force in government. Artists had new attitudes, values, and tastes that they reflected in their work and was no longer confined to religious art. Another piece of art from the time of the Scientific Revolution was View of Delft by Jan Vermeer. This painting includes a vast sky with architecture and a river. The broad horizon implies that there is infinite space and reflects how there was so much new knowledge to learn about the universe and how it works. This shows how the art was no longer religion-based, but shifted to secular as people were looking more to science and math for answers, rather than any sort of higher being.

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The next topic that I decided to learn more about was The Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers sought truth through the use of reason, and viewed the world from a secular, human-centered perspective. They also believed that people could improve themselves through studying philosophy, art, and more, rather than religion. The rococo style was very popular during this time and was seen in the piece, Pilgrimage to Cythera by Jean-Antoine Watteau. This scene shows the last few moments of pleasure for departing lovers. This scene focuses more on smaller, gentler moments instead of the passions and ecstasies of the saints that was seen in the baroque style. The painting is meant to evoke feelings of sadness rather than power and control that religious works can sometimes have on people. Francois Boucher’s pieces were characterized by unabashed sexuality which shows how the art was shifting from religious to secular. In Nude on a Sofa, a suggestive pose and rumpled bed clothes are both present. This would not have been seen as acceptable in religious art which is why it shows how the art was quickly moving away from the religious themes that were established by the Catholic Church.

The Protestant Reformation was the next topic that interested me because I was curious how a religious movement could move art to be more secular. To start out, The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that divided Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent. One example would be Bruegel’s Wedding Feast that shows a Flemish-peasant wedding in a barn. This displays the Protestant Reformation artistic tradition of focusing on scenes from modern life with no reference to any religious, historical, or classical events. Another great example also by Pieter Bruegal is Parable of the Blind. In 16th century Europe, blind beggars were a common thing to see, so this painting simply brings attention to this occurrence, but the piece has no religious suggestions in it. These pieces of art during the Protestant Reformation show how artists in Protestant countries diversified into secular forms like history painting, landscaped, still life, and more instead of producing more religious art.

Insight on these topics help to explain and show how the art shifted from religious to secular. The Scientific Revolution focused more on science and mathematics, rather than religious ideals. The Enlightenment period was also important as it sought truth through reason and the art was less focused on power, but more on evoking a feeling. Lastly, the Protestant Reformation brought more attention to everyday scenes instead of having references to their religion.

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Shift From Religious To Secular Through Art. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
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