Cellini, Saltcellar, 1540-43
THE COUNTER-REFORMATION
A reaction to mannerism had set in already in the 1540s, and it gained force toward the end of the sixteenth
century. Increasingly, people disliked the complexity and artificiality of mannerist art, especially when it
was seen in religious work. The Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church’s attempt to reform itself and
to reaffirm its core beliefs after they were questioned by the Protestants, encouraged artists to develop
styles that more directly expressed religious meaning and that had more emotional impact on the viewer.
Some artists responded by painting in a sweetly appealing way, while others began to paint simple religious
works or brutal martyrdom scenes.
It should be kept in mind, however, that even late in the century when the Venetian painter Veronese was
called before the Inquisition to answer the charge of having painted a blasphemous Last Supper—the
Inquisitors felt he had misrepresented the subject by adding numerous servants, dogs, and “Germans and
dwarves”—he defended himself by saying he was simply enriching the work in the same way Michelangelo
did in the Last Judgment. Instead of changing (or destroying) the entire painting, Veronese satisfied the
Inquisitors by simply changing its title to the Feast in the House of Levi. Evidently even the Italian Inquisitors
recognized the value of this magnificent painting.
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