Objects of Belief: Iconoclasm and Continuity in the Era of Reformations, 1450-1600


This course examines the transformation of the visual and material culture of late medieval Christianity brought about by the upheavals in beliefs, religious practice and social organization ushered in by the Protestant Reformation. It will begin by examining the rich material culture of the late medieval church and its spiritual, social and economic underpinnings, particularly in regard to relic worship, pilgrimage, and the cult of the saints. It will trace the concomitant rise in lay spirituality in the fifteenth century, which, under the impulse of the reforming ideals of the Devotio Moderna in the Netherlands and the renewed momentum of Erasmian humanism of the early sixteenth century, gathered pointed ideological force with the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of the cult of saints. Case studies drawn from the German-speaking territories, the Netherlands and England will address the outbursts of iconoclasm that engulfed many of the urban centers and the new forms of public worship that emerged, concentrating on continuities as well as the ruptures with Catholic tradition as the relationships between the material and the spiritual were reconfigured; the effects of evangelical beliefs upon the habits and rituals of domestic and civic life, upon ecclesiastical and domestic spaces, personal possessions, habits of dress and adornment, as the home, as much as the Church, became an important locus of spiritual and moral instruction; and more broadly, the material dimensions of Protestant attitudes to the written word and the book, natural philosophy, ethics, history, literature and aesthetics and the wider implications of Protestantism upon Western culture. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.