Chapter 53

The sacred baroque in the Catholic world

What we call the “baroque” is an art historical period and style spanning the 17th and most of the 18th centuries that originated in Europe but manifested throughout many parts of the globe—developing into what some consider to be the first truly global style.

Juan Martínez Montañés and Francisco Pacheco, Christ of Clemency (Seville Cathedral), c. 1603–1605, polychromed wood

Have you ever thought “this is so baroque” after seeing or experiencing something bizarre, lavish, grotesque, or over-the-top? Such terms are usually associated with the baroque style, which is in reality much more complex and diverse than popular use implies. What we call the “baroque” is an art historical period and style spanning the 17th and most of the 18th centuries that originated in Europe but manifested throughout many parts of the globe—developing into what some consider to be the first truly global style. As a result of the spread of Catholicism, colonization, and trade, materials, objects, and artists moved across more distant geographies and were more interconnected than ever before. 

Left: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Saint Peter's Square (photo: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.); center: Domenichino, Saint George Killing the Dragon, c. 1610, oil on wood, 52.7 x 61.8 cm (The National Gallery, London); right: Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes), 1718-37, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (Mexico City; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Left: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Saint Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro), Vatican City, Rome, 1656–67 (photo: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.); center: Domenichino, Saint George Killing the Dragon, c. 1610, oil on wood, 52.7 x 61.8 cm (The National Gallery, London); right: Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes), 1718–37, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (Mexico City; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The baroque is characterized by an astonishing diversity of artforms and materials, and it includes approaches as seemingly disparate as the shocking realism of a Spanish polychrome sculpture, the theatricality of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s architectural designs, the rigorous classicism of Domenichino, and the profuse ornamentation of a Mexican retablo.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables (Soult Madonna), 1660–65, oil on canvas, 274 x 190 cm (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables (Soult Madonna), 1660–65, oil on canvas, 274 x 190 cm (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid)

It is possible that when you read the term “baroque” you immediately recalled images of violently decapitated saints, crucified Christs, enraptured Virgin Marys, and overpoweringly ornate churches, and for good reason. Religious art is an overwhelming aspect of baroque art. As a consequence of the Counter-Reformation—the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation after the Council of Trent (1545–63)—religious images filled every realm of the expanding Catholic world. In sharp contrast to Protestants, who generally mistrusted religious images because they could lead to idolatry, Catholics zealously promoted their use as aids for teaching, persuasion, and devotion, while establishing parameters to ensure their efficacy and decorum.

Left: Peter Paul Rubens, The Descent from the Cross, 1612–14, oil on panel, 420.5 x 320 cm (Cathedral of our Lady, Antwerp); right: Rembrandt, Descent from the Cross, 1633, etching and burin, 52.2 x 38.3 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

This doesn’t mean that Protestants didn’t have religious images, but as seen in works such as Rembrandt’s Descent from the Cross, their approach to religious subjects was fundamentally different. In tune with Protestant ideas, here Christ’s sagging body emphasizes his humanity and is far removed from Rubens’s heroic and classically inspired figure that stresses Christ’s supernatural divinity. Rembrandt’s etching is more about how the episode from the Scriptures connects with one’s individual salvation than about the communal contemplation of the body of Christ in a church during mass. 

In this chapter, the first of two devoted to the baroque, you will learn about major developments in baroque sacred (religious) art from a global perspective, focusing specifically on Catholic art and architecture. With examples ranging from places as disparate as Rome, Mexico City, and the Philippines, we will try to answer the following questions: How did artists approach the task of creating images that could at once teach, persuade, and inspire devotion? How could they convey the idea that the Catholic Church was the most powerful and triumphant despite threats from both Protestantism and the prevailing religions in the Americas and Asia? How did churches transform to accommodate new religious and social realities during this period? What were some of the new religious iconographies? And how did themes, forms, and materials travel across the globe for the purposes of devotion?

Read essays that introduce the sacred baroque in the Catholic world

morales grid

The Council of Trent and the call to reform art: an introduction

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52 (Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome)

The global baroque: an introduction

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A New Language for a Renewed Catholic Church

Annibale Carracci, Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way (also known as Domine quo vadis), 1601-02, oil on wood, 77.4 x 56.3 cm (The National Gallery, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Annibale Carracci, Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way (also known as Domine quo vadis), 1601–02, oil on wood, 77.4 x 56.3 cm (The National Gallery, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

For religious images to be effective during this period, they had to be credible, relatable, and emotionally appealing, and baroque artists developed or refined important artistic innovations within this context. 

Pedro de Mena, Mater Dolorosa, c. 1674–85, partial-gilt polychrome wood, 63 × 58.7 × 38.1 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Pedro de Mena, Mater Dolorosa, c. 1674–85, partial-gilt polychrome wood, 63 × 58.7 × 38.1 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Think of the imposing way in which three-dimensional figures appear to occupy a real space in works by Annibale Carracci and the striking hyperrealism of Spanish polychrome sculptures like Pedro de Mena’s Mater Dolorosa, made with carved wood and enlivened with paint and other media such as glass for the eyes and tears, and real hair for the eyelashes. 

Francisco de Zurbarán, The Crucifixion, 1627, oil on canvas, 290.3 x 165.5 cm (The Art Institute of Chicago)

Francisco de Zurbarán, The Crucifixion, 1627, oil on canvas, 290.3 x 165.5 cm (The Art Institute of Chicago)

The dramatic and symbolic contrast of light and dark (tenebrism) with which Caravaggio and Francisco Zurbarán imbue their holy figures is another characteristic, as is the dynamic movement (the forceful diagonals and ascending movements) often employed by artists like Peter Paul Rubens and Gianlorenzo Bernini. 

Georges de La Tour, The New-born, 1640s, oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm ( Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes)

Georges de La Tour, The New-born, 1640s, oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm (Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes)

Artists like Artemisia Gentileschi and Georges de la Tour painted figures with restrained emotion but dramatic contrasts of light and dark, creating psychological intensity. More significantly, think of how all of these artists involve the viewer in their work, forcing them to empathize with the figures represented.

Caravaggio, Calling of Saint Matthew, c. 1599–1600, oil on canvas, 322 cm × 340 cm (San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Caravaggio, Calling of Saint Matthew, c. 1599–1600, oil on canvas, 322 cm × 340 cm (San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This section focuses on three European examples that showcase different, but coexisting, early Baroque artistic solutions to the Counter-Reformation concern with the role of images. The first essay examines Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew—revolutionary at the time for its unabashed use of live models and ordinary people, its influential tenebrism, and its use of a contemporary setting. The second essay focuses on Annibale Carracci’s Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way, a painting that perfectly sums up Carracci’s classicizing and quasi-archeological approach to religious imagery—that is, his concern for historical accuracy in representations of biblical episodes. The final essay looks at a hyper-realistic polychrome sculpture created in collaboration between the sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés and the painter Francisco Pacheco in Seville (Spain) that stresses direct communication between the figure represented and the believer.

Watch videos and read an essay about a new language for a renewed Catholic Church

Jesus beckoning to Matthew (detail), Caravaggio, Calling of Saint Matthew, c. 1599–1600, oil on canvas, 322 cm × 340 cm (San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Caravaggio, Calling of Saint Matthew: Caravaggio captures a spiritual awakening, with only light and gesture identifying these figures as divine.

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Annibale Carracci, Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way (also known as Domine quo vadis), 1601-02, oil on wood, 77.4 x 56.3 cm (The National Gallery)

Annibale Carracci, Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way: A work whose emotional immediacy signals the emergence of Baroque art.

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Juan Martínez Montañés and Francisco Pacheco, Christ of Clemency, c. 1603–05, polychromed wood (Seville Cathedral)

Juan Martínez Montañés and Francisco Pacheco, Christ of Clemency: The sculptor was the “God of Wood,” but it’s the painter who brought this work to life.

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All that glitters: The Church Triumphant

Main altar inside Santa Prisca y San Sebastián, Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico (photo: Javier Castañón, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Main altar inside Santa Prisca y San Sebastián, Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico (photo: Javier Castañón, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How could you convey the idea of the triumph of the Catholic Church over heresy (whether it was understood as Protestantism or as the various religions practiced by Indigenous peoples outside of Europe) and its doctrines visually? Baroque artists and their patrons had no doubt: holy figures should be monumental and forceful, as if they moved with inner energy and supernatural vitality, architectural elements should be massive yet dynamic, and there should be lots of (real or seemingly) precious materials such as gold or multicolored marbles. This section looks at works that visually express the power of the Counter-Reformation Church from the early 17th to the 18th century.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Cathedra Petri (or Chair of St. Peter), gilded bronze, gold, wood, stained glass, 1647–53 (apse of Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Cathedra Petri (or Chair of St. Peter), gilded bronze, gold, wood, stained glass, 1647–53 (apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Many of these developments originated in Catholic Europe in the first half of the 17th century, especially in Rome. As the headquarters of the Counter-Reformation and the domain of powerful popes, Rome was a magnet for international artists wanting to participate in the city’s renovation. The church’s attempt to reaffirm its power included urban planning, the building and decoration of new churches, and the transformation of old ones. 

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldacchino, 1624-33, 100′ high, gilded bronze (Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldacchino, 1624–33, 100′ high, gilded bronze (Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The most significant was the church of Saint Peter’s, which hosts Bernini’s Baldacchino, a massive bronze structure that is neither fully architecture nor sculpture. Standing a staggering eight stories high and marking Saint Peter’s tomb under Michelangelo’s dome, the Baldacchino is one of the most brilliant visualizations of the triumphant church as it conveys the supremacy of the papacy through its sheer scale and the vibrant energy of its solomonic (or spiral) columns—a quintessentially baroque feature that encapsulates the period’s dynamism.

Peter Paul Rubens, Elevation of the Cross, from Saint Walburga, 1610, oil on wood, center panel: 15′ 1-7/8″ x 11′ 1-1/2″ (now in Antwerp Cathedral)

Peter Paul Rubens, Elevation of the Cross, from Saint Walburga, 1610, oil on wood, center panel: 15′ 1-7/8″ x 11′ 1-1/2″ (now in Antwerp Cathedral)

One of the international artists working in Rome was the Fleming Peter Paul Rubens. His imposing Elevation of the Cross—created for a church in Antwerp—is one of the best representatives of this new spirit as it transforms the crucifixion of Christ into a moment of monumental victory. In fact, Rubens’s works were the basis of numerous versions created in Europe and the Americas through prints.

Left: Schelte à Bolswert, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1630–90, engraving, 27.3 x 17.2 cm, after the painting by Rubens (The British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Miguel González and/or Juan González, The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1700, oil on panel with inlaid mother-of-pearl, 93 x 74 cm (private collection, Monterrey, Mexico)
Left: Schelte à Bolswert, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1630–90, engraving, 27.3 x 17.2 cm, after the painting by Rubens (The British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Miguel González and/or Juan González, The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1700, oil on panel with inlaid mother-of-pearl, 93 x 74 cm (private collection, Monterrey, Mexico)

Almost at the exact same time that European powers (such as Spain) expanded their empires through the conquest and ensuing colonization of territories in Africa, the Americas, and Asia, missionary orders (such as the Franciscans, Augustinians, and especially Jesuits) sought the opportunity to evangelize the populations who inhabited them. In this evangelization process, images were key, and with the aid of prints (like those after Rubens) disseminated by missionaries, the baroque style soon expanded and transformed across the globe—in some places well into the 18th century. 

Miguel Cabrera, The Virgin of the Apocalypse, 1760, oil on canvas, 352.7 x 340 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA)

In the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain, Miguel Cabrera’s monumental Virgin of Apocalypse—in which the Virgin steps dynamically over a dragon and which is also based on a print after Rubens—and Jerónimo de Balbás’s gigantic gilded retablo (altarpiece) are prime examples of this triumphant baroque. The latter establishes the primacy of the estípite column, an inverted pyramid that became one of the most distinctive features of the Mexican baroque, sometimes called ultrabaroque for the profusion of ornamentation and the break with classical rules.

Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes), 1718-37, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (Mexico City)

Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes), 1718-37, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (Mexico City)

Watch videos and read essays about the Church Triumphant

Peter Paul Rubens, Elevation of the Cross, from Saint Walburga, 1610, oil on wood, center panel: 15′ 1-7/8″ x 11′ 1-1/2″ (now in Antwerp Cathedral)

Peter Paul Rubens, Elevation of the Cross: Rubens’s muscle-bound figures struggle to lift the cross and seem ready to burst through the painting.

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Detail, Miguel Cabrera, The Virgin of the Apocalypse, 1760, oil on canvas, 352.7 x 340 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA)

Miguel Cabrera, Virgin of the Apocalypse: Cabrera fancied himself the Michelangelo of Mexico, but chose to borrow the format and iconography of Rubens.

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldacchino, 1624-33, 100′ high, gilded bronze (Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldacchino, Saint Peter’s: Over 60 feet tall, this daunting bronze canopy is part architecture and part sculpture.

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Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes), 1718-37, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (Mexico City)

Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes): This multimedia architectural altarpiece took two decades to complete, and required teams of workers in many media.

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The Spaces of Global Faith

Mural painting imitating the appearance of textiles, 17th century, Chapel of Canincunca, Peru (Photo by Ananda Cohen-Aponte)

Mural painting imitating the appearance of luxurious textiles, 17th century, Chapel of Canincunca, Peru (Photo by Ananda Cohen-Aponte)

As the buildings in which Catholics gathered to worship together, in some cases dating back to early Christian times, churches were instrumental in creating a sense of community. It was also in churches that believers were exposed to sacred images, and that the splendor of the Catholic Church manifested most fully. In colonial contexts, churches had the added significance of being places of conversion, but they also allowed local artists, artisans, and craftsmen of various origins to enrich baroque forms with their own traditions, religious iconographies, and ways of seeing. Churches not only fulfilled a religious function but were also sources of collective pride, identity, and expression. In this section, you will learn about some of these baroque sacred spaces. 

Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, Church of Il Gesù, Rome (consecrated 1584) with Giovanni Battista Gaulli (il Baciccio), The Triumph of the Name of Jesus (ceiling fresco) and Andrea Pozzo with Alessandro Algardi, Pierre Legros, Bernardino Ludovisi, Il Lorenzone, and Jean-Baptiste Théodon, Saint Ignatius Chapel (left transept), commissioned 1695, bronze, gold, silver, and many semiprecious stones, most notably lapis lazuli

Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, Church of Il Gesù, Rome (consecrated 1584), with Giovanni Battista Gaulli (il Baciccio), The Triumph of the Name of Jesus (ceiling fresco), and Andrea Pozzo with Alessandro Algardi, Pierre Legros, Bernardino Ludovisi, Il Lorenzone, and Jean-Baptiste Théodon, Saint Ignatius Chapel (left transept), commissioned 1695, bronze, gold, silver, and many semiprecious stones, most notably lapis lazuli

The first video examines one of the most influential baroque Roman churches, Il Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuit order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in Rome in 1540 with the specific mission of defending and spreading the Catholic faith around the world. While the recently renovated Saint Peter’s (whose original foundation dated from the time of emperor Constantine) represented the antiquity of the Church, Il Gesù looked into its promising future through the mission of evangelizing non-Christians, and served as a model for many other Jesuit buildings across the globe (for example, St. Paul’s College in Macau). 

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Ouro Preto, Brazil (photo: Juliana Bruder, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Ouro Preto, Brazil (photo: Juliana Bruder, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The second video turns to one of the most original and experimental architects of the Italian baroque, Francesco Borromini, known for his innovative use of space and elliptical forms. The section continues with the church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas in Peru, which features an idiosyncratic combination of European, Islamic, and Indigenous Andean elements (sometimes known as Andean Baroque), and concludes with the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks, commissioned by one of the various Black Brotherhoods founded in Brazil during the 18th century and sometimes described as “Borrominian” due to its elliptical forms and structural dynamism.

Watch videos and read essays about the spaces of Global Faith

Andrea Pozzo, Saint Ignatius Chapel, detail

Il Gesù, Rome: This church’s plan and decoration would influence so many throughout the Catholic world.

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Francesco Borromini, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane - detail

Francesco Borromini, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome: An innovative use of space and elliptical forms defines this small space.

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Luis de Riaño and indigenous assistants, The Paths to Heaven and Hell, c. 1626 (San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas, Peru)

The Church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas: The European baroque is reinterpreted with Andean building technology in this mission church on the old Inka road.

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Painting of Saint Benedict receiving a rosary from an angel

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks, Ouro Preto, Brazil: It is among the most famous of Black brotherhood churches founded in Brazil.

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Baroque Iconographies: Saints and Sinners

Artemisia Gentileschi, Conversion of the Magdalene, c.1616, oil on canvas, 146.5 × 108 cm (57 9/16 × 42 1/2 in), (Palazzo Pitti, Uffizi, Florence)

Artemisia Gentileschi, Conversion of the Magdalene, c.1616, oil on canvas, 146.5 × 108 cm (57 9/16 × 42 1/2 in), (Palazzo Pitti, Uffizi, Florence)

The development of new iconographies was another significant feature of baroque sacred art. The Council of Trent promoted devotion to the Pope, the saints, and the Virgin Mary (which had been rejected by the Protestants), and, as a consequence, throughout the baroque era, old saints were revisited, new ones were created, and local devotions flourished—often times along a burgeoning sense of nationalistic pride. The figure of Saint Peter (who was considered the first Pope and therefore the head of the Catholic Church), for instance, appears in countless images of martyrdom and conversion. We also see distant and recent saints represented in various states of spiritual rapture, and the Virgin Mary assuming attributes for new devotions. 

Juan Rodríguez Juárez, St. Rose of Lima with Christ Child and Donor, c. 1720, oil on canvas, 167.6 x 106.6 cm (Denver Art Museum)

Juan Rodríguez Juárez, St. Rose of Lima with Christ Child and Donor, c. 1720, oil on canvas, 167.6 x 106.6 cm (Denver Art Museum)

Saints were particularly instrumental as they offered models of behavior for the believer, and the canonization of recent saints such as Saint Teresa of Ávila, Saint Ignatius Loyola, and Saint Rose of Lima—the first saint from the Americas—demonstrated that anyone could become a saint. The Virgin Mary, too, acquired renewed status in her role as intercessor, in some cases verging into national obsession, as was the case with the Immaculate Conception in Spain.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52 (Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647–52 (Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome)

This section surveys some of the new religious baroque iconographies. We start with an essay about Artemisia Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene, a sensitive portrayal of the quintessential sinner turned saint. We continue with an essay about Francisco de Zurbarán’s Martyrdom of Saint Serapion, which exemplifies the popularity of scenes of martyrdom in the baroque, especially in Spain. We then move to a video about Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, a highly influential portrayal of the recently canonized Spanish mystic at the most intense moment of her spiritual vision. 

Master of Calamarca, Archangel with Gun, Asiel Timor Dei, before 1728, oil on canvas and gilding, 160 x 110 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, La Paz, Bolivia)

Master of Calamarca, Archangel with Gun, Asiel Timor Dei, before 1728, oil on canvas and gilding, 160 x 110 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, La Paz, Bolivia)

The next essay, about Murillo’s Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables, discusses the controversial devotion to the Virgin’s Immaculacy (the belief that she was conceived without sin), its complex iconography, and its significance in the Iberian world. The section concludes with an essay about the Master of Calamarca’s Angel with Arquebus, one of the most original iconographies to develop within the Viceroyalty of Peru. 

Read essays and watch a video about baroque iconographies of saints and sinners

Artemisia Gentileschi, Conversion of the Magdalene, c.1616, oil on canvas, 146.5 × 108 cm (57 9/16 × 42 1/2 in), (Palazzo Pitti, Uffizi, Florence)

Artemisia Gentileschi, Conversion of the Magdalene: Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene chooses between a spiritual and worldly path.

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Francisco de Zurbarán, The Martyrdom of Saint Serapion, 1628, 120 × 103 cm, oil on canvas (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut)

Francisco de Zurbarán, The Martyrdom of Saint Serapion: Zurbarán’s primary patrons were monks, and this image of St. Serapion’s lifeless body inspired contemplation.

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa- detail

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: Bernini creates a theatre for spiritual experience.

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murillo grid

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables: The most famous painting by the most acclaimed Spanish painter of the latter half of the seventeenth century

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Master of Calamarca (detail), Archangel with Gun, Asiel Timor Dei, before 1728, oil on canvas and gilding, 160 x 110 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, La Paz, Bolivia)

Master of Calamarca, Angel with Arquebus: This armed angel was a soldier of the Catholic Church’s ideological army during the Counter Reformation.

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Traveling Objects for Global Devotions

Christ Crucified, 17th century, ivory (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Christ Crucified, 17th century, ivory (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

The final section looks at precious objects of devotion that showcase the unprecedented mobility, interconnectedness, and complex geographic trajectories of materials, artists, iconographies, and styles across the Global Christian world during the Baroque. The first video examines an extraordinary ivory—a material probably brought from India—of The Christ Crucified, created in the Philippines or possibly China for a New Spanish (Mexican) or European clientele. 

Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), canvas: 99.06 × 69.85 cm / frame: 124.46 × 95.25 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), canvas: 99.06 × 69.85 cm / frame: 124.46 × 95.25 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

The second and final essay looks at Miguel González’s The Virgin of Guadalupe, an enconchado painting made of mother of pearl that draws on both Indigenous and Japanese techniques while representing a Marian cult of tremendous religious and political significance in Mexico. Evangelization partially explains the creation of these objects, but even more important are the trade routes (such as the Manila Galleon) that made possible the flow of materials, artists, and the objects themselves. Making use of precious materials made available through global trade, these dazzling objects embody the notion of baroque luxury and opulence, but also the complexity of cultural encounters that made it possible. As these artists ingeniously altered European baroque forms, an entirely new sense of baroque magnificence, ornamental opulence, and experimentation developed in the global stage.

Watch a video and read an essay about traveling objects

Christ Crucified, 17th century, ivory (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Christ Crucified: A Hispano-Philippine ivory originally from Asia, then brought to Mexico—possibly for transport to Europe.

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Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe: A miraculous Virgin from Mexico, made of mother-of-pearl.

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Key questions to guide your reading

How did baroque artists respond to the Counter-Reformation need for images that could teach, persuade, and inspire devotion? How did they convey the idea of the triumph of the Catholic church visually?

How did churches transform to accommodate new religious and social realities during this period?

What were some of the new religious iconographies? How did themes, forms, and materials travel across the globe for the purposes of devotion?

Jump down to Terms to Know

How did baroque artists respond to the Counter-Reformation need for images that could teach, persuade, and inspire devotion? How did they convey the idea of the triumph of the Catholic church visually?

How did churches transform to accommodate new religious and social realities during this period?

What were some of the new religious iconographies? How did themes, forms, and materials travel across the globe for the purposes of devotion?

Jump down to Terms to Know

Terms to know and use

Baroque

Council of Trent

Counter Reformation

Enconchado

Estípite

Polychrome

Solomonic

Tenebrism

Learn more

Collaborators

Cite this page as: Dr. Carmen Ripollés, "The sacred baroque in the Catholic world," in Smarthistory, March 17, 2022, accessed October 3, 2022, https://smarthistory.org/reframing-art-history/sacred-baroque-catholic-world/.